Central Coast Mariners are currently 4th on the A-League ladder, with a host of teams within striking distance. The defending champions have long been punching above their weight, but it seems this season that the regular holes that appear in their campaign vessel, just can’t be plugged. Will they ever have a steady ship?
Losing promising young players has been a fact of life for the Gosford based club, and it’s something that the hierarchy are happy to celebrate. Former manager Graham Arnold recently echoed those sentiments in an interview with Robbie Slater. On Tom Rogic leaving Arnold said, “It was the philosophy of the club, and we needed it for the club to survive at the time.” Further evidence of the philosophy can be found in the following departure list: Michael Beauchamp (left for Europe 06-07), Mile Jedinak (left for Europe 2009), Mustafa Amini (left for Europe 2012), Matt Ryan (left for Europe 2013). Add to that the club stalwarts who took Asian paydays: Alex Wilkinson (Korea), Matt Simon (Korea), and Michael McGlinchey (Japan). While the club likes to inform us that they will never stand in the way of a youngster jetting off to further his career, they forget to realise the fans are suffering.
The Mariners have stunned us with two premierships and one championship from the eight A-League seasons so far. They’ve appeared in four of the end of season championship matches and an amazing six times in the finals series. But a look at attendance averages is very disheartening for A-League officialdom. Over the eight and a half seasons of the A-League the Mariners have averaged a lowly 9,422 (excluding finals), despite their continuing success. With no other professional sports outfit representing the Central Coast area in a national competition, it’s unfathomable. But Graham Arnold was proud of the club’s attendances, “. . . there’s a population up here of 250,000 and if you can average 10,000 a game you are doing great.” Herein lies the problem; if the Mariners are hamstrung by a small population base to call on for fans, what will happen in the future? The A-League’s salary cap will grow gradually larger, and the Mariners crowds won’t. They will never attract out of town fans (in their current guise) as they continue to let go of stars and are reluctant to purchase a marquee player (Aloisi’s short tenure is excluded). Basing your club on the West Ham model is futile. What have all the transfer fees done for them?
This season the Mariners are dead ducks, with the retirement of centre-back Patrick Zwaanswijk compounded by manager Arnold’s mid-season disappearance with conditioner Andrew Clarke and midfielder Michael McGlinchey in tow. Throw in the season ending injury of Marcos Flores and it’s groundhog’s day for Mariners fans. A future of mediocrity seems the only destiny for the Central Coast Mariners and their foray into the Tom Rogic ‘loan chase’ will most definitely come up fruitless. Perhaps the only hope for the Gosford club is owner Mike Charlesworth, with his plans to boost the local economy and make the Mariners ‘Centre of Excellence’ the home of the Socceroos. Good luck Mike.