Mansfield Town defender John Dempster and groundsman cannot wait to welcome boyhood heroes Liverpool

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FACING Brendan Rodgers’ men at the One Call Stadium is a dream come true for everyone concerned with Mansfield Town.

But for two lifelong Liverpool fans on the staff – defender John Dempster and groundsman Michael Merriman – the draw was almost beyond belief.

“It was in the back of my mind it could happen when the draw was made, but it was only ever a minute chance,” said Dempster. “So when the Liverpool ball came out I was over the moon.

“But we knew we still had to get past Lincoln which is what made that goal celebration all the more special.

“They’ve given it as an own goal. But I was just pleased to get my head on it and direct the ball towards goal. The fact it hit the post and went in off the keeper doesn’t make any difference to me. I was just pleased to see it in the back of the net.”

Dempster’s father was born in the next village to Bill Shankly in Scotland and he has been a lifelong fan of the Merseysiders. “I have just followed in his footsteps,” said Dempster.

“I went to Anfield seven or eight times as a schoolboy before I signed as a professional for Rushden and Diamonds at 18. Then I had to concentrate on playing for the team that employed me, though Liverpool’s was the first result I looked for afterwards.

“My best experience was on my 13th birthday when I went to Anfield to see Liverpool beat Newcastle 4-3, which was voted the best Premier League game of all-time, which was an unbelievable experience.”

Dempster added: “Since the win over Lincoln loads of my friends, who are Liverpool supporters, have been texting me asking for tickets, but I can’t help them all. But I just might sort a ticket for my dad.

“We have seen the queues every day when we’ve come into training, but those on Thursday were a different level. It just shows the dedication of our supporters when they will camp out all night to see one of the biggest games in Mansfield’s history.”

As to the game itself, he said: “It’s the stuff dreams are made of and if we can make a game of it I would be happy.

“We only have a minute chance. But if we can prepare properly you never know. Stranger things have happened in the FA Cup.”

Groundsman Merriman said: “I have been a fan since I was 12 years old. I just picked them as a friend at school, Lee Hallam, was a fan and I was knocking about with him.

“I only watched them on TV until I was about 16 and then I went to my first game which I think was against SK Brann when Tore Andre Flo ripped us to bits.

“I started going to see more games with my girlfriend Zoe, who is now my wife, and we would go with a group of fans from Shirebrook market place.

“The trips were organised by Irene Gascoigne, who was a massive Liverpool fan.

“We went home and way for three or four seasons before I got this job.”

Merriman will never forget sitting watching the third round draw on the TV.

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “I was sat watching it at home with my wife and son and when Liverpool came out I didn’t see the rest of the draw as we were just going mental.

“Then we had to go through the agony of beating Lincoln. I have never felt so ill in my whole life.

“I was at the Millennium Stadium and the play-offs but never felt this ill with the carrot of what was to come.

“I badly want Mansfield to win it, but a 0-0 draw would be great. Going back to Anfield would be the chairman’s dream. He would be laughing.”