When Strebre blew the final whistle at Bluetongue last Sunday I admit I got a little bit emotional.  Ok, so that’s a bit of an understatement – I cried (with a bit of joyful screaming thrown in).  Such was the sense of relief, I felt as if we’d won the Grand Final already.

Arnie had beaten Ange, McBreen had scored another beautiful goal and we’d booked a date with destiny that had been hard-fought for as we balanced financial pressures and some gruelling ACL fixtures.  Last season the demands of the ACL had undermined our Finals campaign but this season we’d somehow pulled off the impossible : a chance to finally put our Grand Final Demons to rest.

I was haunted by The Ghosts of Grand Finals Past as I stood in the Ticketek queue on Monday morning.  How much had we been through as a club, as a team and as a group of fans on those three occasions we’d made it onto the big stage ?  I thought about the pride, the anticipation, the thrills, the adrenaline, the controversy, the heartbreak and the abject misery. 

Oblivious to my daydreams, an excited Wanderers’ supporter in front of me took a cool 30 minutes choosing a large quantity of tickets.  “I expect you’ll get about 12 people coming down from the Yellow Army ” he joked, after finding out I was buying tickets in the Mariners bay.  “It’s a bit funny that Lyall tried to get rid of your active supporters but now he’s got the RBB !  Anyway, I don’t really care if you win this one cause we’ve been the best team all season.” 

I smiled at him indulgently for a moment as I tried to think up a witty reply :  “hey, are you sure that bandwagon’s big enough for all your fans ?” or “how many trophies have you won again ?” or perhaps “when Dicko goes back to Victory, what sort of transfer fee will the FFA pay us for George Negus ? “

But any jaded comment would have fallen on deaf ears. Let’s face it, he was on an understandable high, blissfully unaware of the struggles of the average rusted on A-League fan.  Having been starved of his rightful team for the past seven seasons and watched the fairy tale finally come true, he was like a man hopelessly in love, basking in the afterglow of FFA - supported satisfaction.  

With the cynicism of the 'long-married' fan, I couldn’t help but wonder whether his beloved club would still be getting him so excited in another seven seasons time.  How would his dream team deal with playing in the ACL next year during finals time, or would the FFA suddenly find a way to make the fixtures that little bit more flexible ?  Would he keep on believing in his team through poor performances, heartbreaking losses, criticism of their crowds and players seeking greener pastures or would resentment and frustration creep in ?

 Mariners' fans have faced all this and more in their past eight seasons.  This season in particular we seemed to lurch between the sublime and the ridiculous:  top of the table for fourteen weeks while our players are not getting paid…..meanwhile they star in their own reality series “The Code” (some players seen wolfing down free snacks at the opening night screening).  Or 33 year-old Daniel McBreen winning the Golden Boot up against the glamour of  ADP and Shinji while once again we’re obliged to sell off our teenage “superheroes”.  

There was even the bizarre suggestion that The Mariners relocate to Melbourne (but Coasties die without SUN !) 

Surely it would be fitting if The Mariners ended this tumultuous season by claiming the one honour that has eluded them.  Popa has proved himself an outstanding coach but Arnie has been through the Grand Final fire and learned how to avoid getting burnt again.  You can bet he will find a way to overcome the loss of Monty because the youngsters he has nurtured over the past three years are now honed to perfection.  His faith has paid off, in both depth and absolute commitment.

But as I stood in the Ticketek queue those ghosts wouldn't let me go :  the small club that proudly fought " Bling FC” in Season One, Boogs disconsolately standing in goal after Vukes had been sent-off in 2008,  Kwassie’s euphoric celebration in front of the away bay at Suncorp, the horrorshow of the last 90 seconds, and the indelible image of Hutcho sitting on the pitch weeping into his hands. 

All three Grand Final losses were painful but the last one was a defining moment.  There was a genuine feeling that players, fans and coaching staff were truly united, united in pain and a sense of injustice.  Our painful history would be a special motivating force that spurred us on to one day become the "so-called" Champions at last.  (Plus, be honest -  could anyone stand to see Hutcho cry again ?)

So while I wished that Wanderers fan in the Ticketek queue the best of luck I really wanted to say :

 “Stand Back !  Revenge of The Mariners coming through! Your history is just beginning but ours gives us superhuman strength you couldn’t possibly imagine !  We’ll be doing it for Noel Spencer, Lawrie, Vukes,  Wilko,  Matty Simon and all those who have bled yellow and navy over the years.  We’ll be doing it with class and determination and - please football gods - no penalties and no refereeing controversy. “  

Once more, unto the breach, dear friends, once more !   Our army may be smaller than yours but here’s a history lesson -  the fewer the members the greater the share of honour.  

And when the final whistle blows, who knows ?  We might even get a bit emotional.