A-League reigning premiers, the Central Coast Mariners, are in somewhat dire financial straits. With a crucial takeover potentially falling through, and the FFA unable/unwilling to provide financial aid, the club is perilously close to collapsing. The Gosford based side are sitting at second-place, doggedly chasing down the first-placed Western Sydney Wanderers, who I love so much – begging the question, “Why am I writing an article in their defence?”
Each and every one of us who follows an Australian football team, whether it be Western Sydney, Melbourne or Perth, is therefore invested in the stakes of the A-League. Each year we cheer passionately for our club, we put in hours following their highs and lows – all desiring the same overall goal: success. But what good is success in the A-League, if the A-League’s highest standard is not worth cheering for?
Let’s face it, Australia’s top-tier league is nowhere near the footballing quality of European competitions such as the Bundesliga, La Liga and English Premier League. If we wanted to watch world-dominating stars such as Leo Messi or Robin Van Persie we would tune into our television sets, or move overseas. So, why then, do we love this league?
The beauty of the A-League is that it is Australian. We are a country that has always been incredibly proud of our sporting prowess and local talent. Ingrained into Australian sportsmen and women is an attitude unique to any other. Locals come to A-League games to watch teams that truly represent their community more adequately than the attractive styling’s of Barcelona ever will.
Sure, we have foreign imports that help boost the standard of football, but the focus of the A-League has always been to host teams that both proudly represent their local communities and act as a platform for the development of young Aussie (and Kiwi) talent. These principles are highlighted in regulations such as the salary cap and the limit on international players. Success in the A-League is achieving both of these criteria to the highest extent. This is why we cheer for our respective teams and this is what each and every one of us truly hope for our clubs (whoever they are) to accomplish.
Arguably no other team has achieved this standard more consistently than the Central Coast Mariners. The Gosford based side have been here since the very first A-League season in 2004, where they participated in the first ever Grand Final. Out of the eight A-League seasons (including this one) they have qualified for six finals series (more than any other team), been in three Grand Finals, have been Premiers twice and finished in the top four a total of six times. On the All-Time A-League Ladder they sit at second, behind my Western Sydney Wanderers – a stat somewhat misleading as the Wanderers have only been in only one season compared to the Mariner’s eight. The Mariners have won 83 games in the A-League’s history, more than anybody else, and have by far the best goal-difference.
Amazing how such a small side, based on Sydney’s Central Coast has been so consistently successful – the most successful, in fact. With a male population of just over 150 000, who are more likely to be caught surfing than playing football (excuse the stereotype), this is some feat. But it does not stop there – one simply has to look at the wealth of talent the club has produced and developed over the years to see just what I’m talking about.
A quick glance at the winners of the annually-awarded Mariners Medal demonstrates some of the players they have nurtured over the years: Michael Beauchamp, Danny Vukovic, Mile Jedinak, Matt Simon, Joshua Rose and Mat Ryan. Beauchamp is a Socceroo and currently the captain of high-flying Western Sydney. Mile Jedinak is the captain and hero of English championship side, Crystal Palace. Matt Simon was one of the league’s most regular scorers and has since moved abroad. Mat Ryan is one of Australia’s hottest goalkeeping prospects, seemingly set for a very successful career in bigger leagues around the planet. Then you can’t look past other former players such as young Mustafa Amini who plays for German champions, Borussia Dortmund, or Tom Rogic who plays for Scottish champions, Celtic; the list goes on, Rostyn Griffiths, Alex Wilkinson, Hutchinson and I haven’t even mentioned their current team yet.
They have a knack for producing really good players, and giving them the proper platform to reach their potential. Their current squad boasts youngsters such as Bernie Ibini, Mat Ryan, Mitchell Duke, Trent Sainsbury, Nick Fitzgerald and Zac Anderson who are all potential future Socceroos stars. I could wax lyrical for hours, but I hope by now you get (and are potentially sick of) my point.
I’ve travelled to Gosford multiple times before the advent of the Wanderers (unable to find any sort of passion in Sydney FC) and have always been impressed with the exciting, upbeat attitude towards the club. Walking around the outskirts of Bluetongue Stadium, the streets are full of people in Yellow and Blue jerseys, stores have Mariners scarves and banners stretched across their windows. Sitting in Bluetongue with my dad as the sun sets and sparkles off the bay is almost magical. The stadium buzzes, everyone lifts to the tune of Avicii’s “Levels” or Coldplay’s “Yellow” as they blast across the PA and the crowd erupts as their heroes walk onto the pitch. Though attendances have dropped in recent years, there is no doubting the fact that those who do show up each week have as much love for their club as any other group of fans in the league. And it’s not difficult to see why.
It is hard to argue against this fact: the Central Coast Mariners represent the perfect A-League club – able to achieve consistent success [without splashing cash], and proudly representing their local community. It is for this reason that no matter what club you support, we should all unite in defence of the Mariners in these times of economic trouble. In the same way that football fans in this country bond together when under attack from the media, we need to show that the football family is ready to stand together in defence of our brothers.
If the Mariners were to collapse, the FFA unable to support them, a club that defines everything we hope to achieve as A-League fans will have died. We can not let this happen. If Football Federation Australia truly believes in their A-League, they must rescue a club that epitomises exactly what the league sets out to accomplish, a club that demonstrates the standard of success we should all desire. There’s more to a football club than money and profit – there’s the tears, sweat and blood of fans and players; there’s victory, defeat and the battle for success; there’s a culture, a passion, a family… if the Mariners collapse then these values will prove to mean little in the A-League, something all of us who follow clubs within it should not accept.
I’m a hugely fanatical Western Sydney Wanderers fan, and would hate it if the Mariners somehow beat us to the premiership or championship this season. And boy did I enjoy stealing first place from them in Gosford all those weeks ago. But I know that if clubs like mine are to be successful, then clubs like the Mariners must not disappear and have to be supported.
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