The Mariners are Champions at last - but what future awaits ?
It was a special kind of noise, a special kind of delirium.
In its lung-bursting screams and uncontrollable fist-pumping joy was a sense of absolute relief and total triumph. There was a powerful feeling of unreality, as if for a moment we had been transported to some alternate universe, a place where the glory and the spotlight would finally be ours. Fans young and old jumped on chairs and embraced each other wildly, in shock and in ecstasy, shouting “oh my God ! We did it ! We did it !”
At the end of our fourth and greatest Grand Final performance, The Mariners’ end of Allianz stadium had erupted into a kind of communal madness that could only have been inspired by that lovable lunatic Daniel McBreen.
There were no flares but the blaze of burning bridesmaids’ dresses lit up the stadium as Mariners’ fans jumped and danced and chanted ecstatically, “We are champions ! We are champions !”
To be part of that heaving mass of celebration was my greatest moment as a football fan. All the pain we had experienced together had only made the joy of finally winning more intense and more thrilling. November 2005 was a watershed but this was far more personal and for me, more emotional.
How long had we waited for this moment ? How much heartbreak had we endured in the fight to gain this prize ? How much rough terrain had our club and our players travelled as they journeyed towards this day ?
All scars of the past were obliterated the moment the final whistle sounded. We silenced the haters and the doubters. Come what may, this moment would surely become the stuff of club legend, our ultimate triumph over adversity. (How romantic is that ? And I didn’t even use the f-word).
Ten minutes earlier, I had felt the last minutes of the game dragging by at a snail’s pace. Although we had dominated the game, memories of 2011 made me watch the official time clock tick by in painful slow motion.
As the Wanderers’ fans launched into the Poznan, no-one wearing yellow felt inclined to join them. With ten minutes to go and 2-0 up, why take you eyes off your team’s most important game of all time, especially given past events ?
This is the RBB’s celebration and created an amazing spectacle, but our fans had suffered too much to put football solidarity above our own team pride. And there was so much to be proud of, so much to inspire us as we watched our team coolly and with the utmost confidence maintain their focus right to the end.
How satisfying was it to see our goals scored by Paddy and Macca, two so-called veterans whose quality and energy have been an inspiration to younger players again this season. Like Arnie, I couldn’t watch Macca’s penalty but he was never going to miss this one (thanks for staying home Mrs M !) I’ll never forget him leaping into the crowd with the toilet seat or the time he took to celebrate with fans afterwards.
And I ‘ll never forget how proud I felt watching this team and their support staff finally step up to receive their winners’ medals : the dignified and heartfelt speech by Hutcho for whom this moment must have meant so much - how would the players have got through the ups and downs of this season without him ? Our young players : Mat, Bernie, Duke, Zac, the outstanding Trent - joyfully embraced by his dad after the match. Wee Mac The Magnificent – without doubt, Player of the Season. Pedj and Rose : pace, skill, consistency, Ollie – stepping up gallantly to replace Monty who has been an absolute rock.
I could go on. But when the gold and blue tinsel rained down the emotions got well out of control. Even Arnie had tears in his eyes as he held the trophy up to the jubilant fans. It must have been the ultimate satisfaction for a man whose entry into A-League coaching three years ago was unbelievably greeted by scepticism in some quarters.
As the post-match party continued, Arnie said he’d ticked off his final achievement for the club, leading to speculation he may be moving on. A sense of poignancy descended just as we cracked open the champagne. Although we had never expected him to stay forever, it was difficult to imagine our club without him.
Mat, Bernie and Tesco would be taking their talents to Europe – not unexpected but who would replace them ? Paddy might retire to pursue coaching – huge holes in our defence. No contract yet for the crazy Marston Medal winner, leaving him open to offers.
But all this pales next to the news on Tuesday that the club is still in dire financial straits and is (once again) in danger of being forced to relocate. The situation is so critical this time that Mike Charlesworth is launching a campaign to “Keep The Club On The Coast”.
Although the FFA has said there are no plans to move the club, I’m not sure I trust their assurances after what happened to Fury. As a dedicated Mariners’ member I will do whatever I can to ensure my club survives. But I also expect the FFA to support us in our hour of need – especially as we have been the most successful club on the lowest budget and have battled through three expensive ACL campaigns to represent the A-League.
The tenacious spirit of the Central Coast and its people is at the heart of this club’s success. Move this club elsewhere and its club culture will surely die.