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Opinion

Mariners are lifting the spirit of Central Coast community

Alou Kuol of the Mariners celebrates with the fans Source: Getty Images

It's the feelgood story of an uplifting A-League season that keeps on giving ... and who knows where it will all end!

The breath-taking turnaround of the Central Coast Mariners has galvanised a sporting community that had grown accustomed to failure from one of the competition's smallest clubs.

The Mariners - who were champions of Australia in 2014, remember - had been in decline for several years amid grave reservations about its ownership and its future as a professional club.

Many top players would not touch the Mariners and those who did wanted out while thousands of supporters abandoned the listing ship.

It was no surprise that the club ended the truncated 2019-20 with the wooden spoon, its fourth in five seasons.

Fast forward seven months and the Mariners are sitting comfortably at the top of the ladder with 24 points from 11 matches, seven ahead of Macarthur FC whom they beat 2-0 in their last game on Monday night.

With coach Alen Stajcic guiding an interesting mix of experienced veterans and keen starlets to the sort of heights that seemed unimaginable not that long ago, the community is beginning to rally behind its football team.

This is indeed a fairytale that is adding romance and value to a competition that has emerged from the Covid chaos with flying colours.

It is far too early to declare Stajcic's stellar side as favourites to do a 'Leicester' and win the championship, particularly in such a crazy scenario where any team can beat any other on any given day.

Yet even if the Mariners do not go the distance and succumb to teams with greater resources, they have established themselves as a competitive unit that comprises steel and grit at the back, flair and enterprise in midfield and a dose of explosiveness up front.

Needless to say, the Gosford club's long-suffering fans are thrilled to bits.

"The Mariners have reinstated a sense of pride in the coast and its football after five or six years of poor results," says Phil James, a spokesman for the Yellow Army supporter group.

"There has been an exodus of fans who abandoned the team and only a few rusted-on fans stuck around.

"But this year's results from a group of men who are playing for the jersey have encouraged many of those fans to come back. Hopefully more will follow.

"You also have locals like Matt Simon and now Matt Hatch coming on, alongside Oliver Bozanic, who is arguably the best thing that has happened to the club in the last five years.

"The club has had several problems in the last few years but its value has definitely risen this season and will keep rising if youth coach Nick Montgomery keeps churning out decent players."

Scott Levi, who has a daily breakfast show on ABC Radio Central Coast, is in an ideal position to gauge public interest.

The influential broadcaster says the Mariners are the talk of the town and are reaping the rewards of a policy of nurturing young talent.

"The Central Coast is inundated with academies that are run by former Mariners greats like Andre Gumprecht, Josh Rose and Patrick Zwaanswijk while Montgomery is the youth team coach," Levi says.

"These guys are producing several talented players who are good enough to play in the A-League, not just for the Mariners but also for several other clubs.

"Thousands of young kids from the area therefore can see a pathway to the A-League ... and the Mariners are providing that by not being afraid to give young players a chance. Children can aspire to be the next Hatch, for example.

"Ours is a strong rugby league area ... very Anglo-Saxon. But the community that recently has seen an influx of people from South America, Africa and Asia is slowly getting behind the team that is performing above expectations after several years of disappointment. Maybe this is an opportunity for football to establish a stronger presence in the area.

"The Mariners fans have a reason to smile again and now that the Covid restrictions are easing we should be able to get more fans to our home matches, starting from the big game against Perth on Sunday."

Perhaps the last word should go to Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, who knows all too well what the Mariners mean to the community after leading them to their only championship seven years ago.

"I will always have a soft spot for the Mariners and all the great memories we had there," Arnold says.

"I am so happy to see them do so well although I'm sure Alen knows there is a long way to go.

"The energy of the players and the supporters is just great to see.

"It really frustrates me to hear people saying they should move to Canberra. The Central Coast is a fantastic community that loves its region and its football club. The Mariners fans are brilliant, they have football in their blood."

Source SBS The World Game