Central Coast: Smallest club, biggest heart

Marcos Urena (12) of the Mariners celebrates with Daniel Hall (23) after scoring a goal during the FFA Cup 2021 Semi Final match between Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on January 18, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. Picture: Izhar Khan

It was Simon Hill who said after the Central Coast Mariners’ grand final win in 2013, “They are the smallest club with the biggest heart”.

He was right then as he would be saying the same thing today. The Mariners are a community club, represent the little guy.

From day one, they have been looked upon as that little fish that the bigger fish don’t mind swimming in the same pond with. Not much of a threat to anyone but cute that they are here.

Being honest since the final whistle of that grand final, we haven’t really caused as much as a ripple in that same pond.

Wooden spoons, a succession of managers and imported players that seemed to be here for the delights of the beach at Terrigal and not the palm tree renowned Central Coast stadium.

As fans we show up, sit in our normal seats and in pre-game chats convince each other that today is the day. It often wasn’t.

It was put to me in a conversation once that being a Mariners fan must be like riding a rollercoaster of emotions. I replied that I guessed it was except a rollercoaster has some high points that counter the lows.

As you do when you’re a passionate fan you yell from the stands, you slump in your seat after conceding a goal, shake your head and for a split second think whether you’ll be back next week. However, you know you will be, there’s no doubt.

The years have been tough. Not only for the fans and community, but also for the hardest working staff in the league. Behind the scenes the Mariners staff operate without peer and as I’ve said many a time, if premierships were won based off the workrate of the backroom staff, then the Mariners would be undefeated champions of the decade.

It is tough even for a hardened passionate fan to keep your head up and continue to turn up to games, buy that membership and support in whatever way you can.

However, saying that, seeing the drive, passion, and spirit that these guys have, it then becomes a no brainer.

The Mariners are a club, a family and when you support the Central Coast you are backing the community and not just the eleven players on the park.

So, after all the struggles of previous years along comes a bloke called ‘Staj’.

I always felt that Alen Stajcic had a point to prove to the big boys, he found a club who was pretty much in the same boat.

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Promoting youth that had that exuberance and spirit to give it a crack, the Mariners defied the majority of expectations and finished third in the league. That’s right third from top.

It was a phenomenal effort and word spread that after this result, could it be that the Mariners were back in the mix?

Could the magic of Alen Stajcic, take the boys from the shade of the sauce bottles to the highs of years gone by? Well no.

While the cowbells of Macarthur were still ringing in our ears after our finals defeat, ‘Staj’ was gone, moved on, see ya later, I’m outta here.

As a fan I was shocked that he left. I’ve coached football teams for many years and strived for that season where you can just tell that the squad is primed and ready to go that step further next year.

It felt like the air was being slowly deflated from our balloon and fans on social media literally dropped their heads.

It was good while it lasted right. Were we back to being that club with Marvin the Viking mascot, palm trees and giant sauce bottles and a cannon that fired after a goal…but were heading back to wooden spoonville?

I can tell you that amongst the fans, discussion on the next gaffer was rampant. Who would come in? Who could continue the roll that we appeared to be on? Enter Nick Montgomery.

I knew ‘Monty’ was going to be a hardworking, give me everything and more, type coach. He had done wonders for our NPL sides and knew the talent that was already within this club. If anyone was going to get every last percentage of effort out of this squad, Monty was the man.

When you watch your team play you want to see spirit, you want to see passion, you want to see them give you the full 90 minutes, plus injury, plus more.

Central Coast Mariners celebrate victory after the FFA Cup 2021 Semi Final match between Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on January 18, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. Picture: Izhar Khan

Leave it all out there on the park and just give it everything.

This Mariners side do that and being honest we haven’t been doing this for many seasons prior to this. There is a different feel around the grounds when this Mariners team run out, you can feel it in your heart it’s a totally different gravy.

So, the Central Coast Mariners beat Sydney and reached the FFA Cup final. As a fan I haven’t stopped smiling (even with doing a PCR test this morning), and don’t think I will for a while yet.

The journey has been tough, and the losses and the wooden spoons have contributed greatly to this old man’s grey hairs.

This club has been battling away for seasons and the fans of the club have been holding on by a thread.

We have waited for some success for many a year, and to us reaching a cup final must be how it feels like those who have conquered the peak of Everest.

Even some of the most passionate Sydney fans, that I’m proud to call friends, are happy for us.

They wanted their team in the final but know how much of a struggle it has been for Mariners fans over the years.

Feeling the pain of every loss over the years doesn’t just heal but seeing the efforts and subsequent results that are being achieved now have blown fresh air into the lungs.

The league is standing up and realising that the results of last season were no fluke. Fans are smiling, and there is the slightest scent of optimism that is flowing amongst the supporters.

The love I have for this club knows no bounds and as much as I’m proud that we have reached the final I hope with every fibre in my body we can lift the trophy.

Maybe this little fish has grown up and is going to cause more than a ripple in this season 2022.

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