Who’d be a Mariners fan these days? More than a year since we had a win and looking less likely every week.
But the smallest club in the league has a great tradition of punching above their weight and we have to remember the past while looking to the future and hoping for better days.
The Mariners really have had a wonderful past. Four Grand Final appearances; two Premierships and one Championship. There are plenty of teams in the A-League who’d kill for those numbers, though all of them sit above us right now.
The Mariners’ other great claim to fame is that we’ve probably produced more Socceroos than any other club (in terms of a first professional contract). Mariners Socceroos include: Mile Jedinak; Mat Ryan; Tom Rogic; Alex Wilkinson; Matt Simon; Oliver Bozanic; Trent Sainsbury; Musti Amini; Bernie Ibini; Mitch Duke; Danny Vukovic…there are probably a couple I’ve forgotten. John Hutchinson also played for Malta as a Mariner.
So, wonderful tradition and excellent alumni, but now we’re the whipping boys – the side that no-one fears – the three point banker. Even when we score first all it does is sting the opposition into action and the floodgates duly open.
It’s bad enough watching it happen but we could do without the TV commentators questioning the right of the Mariners to be in the league. We have an A-League licence until 2034 so please remember that, pundits, the next time you’re clutching at straws for something interesting to say.
The other thing that riles me as a fan is listening to commentators identify our best players and say: “At least he’s putting himself in the shop window. There’re bound to be better clubs taking notice of his performance in a badly beaten side.”
I know they have every right to say that but why do the commentators always have to put the boot in while we’re down? Why can’t they be more constructive when analysing the Mariners’ woes?
For starters – the Mariners are the smallest club in the league, with the smallest fan catchment and the smallest budget for player salaries. Most years they spend the minimum which is (I think) 90% of the salary cap. We’re already behind the eight ball with respect to the other clubs so it might be suggested that any position above last is success.
The number one variable in a salary capped league is the coach, and number two is the fans. The Mariners were very lucky in the first eight years to have had two of the best coaches the league has seen. Lawrie McKinna was the quintessential football man who knew how to put a team together, how to get the very best out of his players, and just as importantly, knew how to connect with and energise the local community.
In contrast, Graham Arnold was making his comeback from coaching oblivion when he took the Mariners job. I’m on record as saying I was livid when I heard Arnie had the job, but it only took him two games to turn me around.
Arnie’s Mariners played some of the best football in A-League history and the side that won the 2013 Grand Final would have to be close to the best team the league has seen.
Those years saw the fans loving their team and supporting them as well, if not better, than any other club (per capita). We would have averaged just under 10k per game in those eight years and saw some huge crowds for semi finals. But in a community of just over 300,000 people, a 10k average is very good, and I’d bet much better than the per capita average of any other club. If Victory had one in thirty coming to their games in those years they’d have seen crowds of 150,000 every game!
Alas, the fans are no longer engaged at the Mariners. The team is playing badly which is a major turn off for many, but there is no great communicator like Lawrie McKinna to go on giving hope and showing the road ahead.
Instead we get silence from the likes of Mike Charlesworth and Shaun Mielekamp, or pathetic stunts like the Usain Bolt farce which completely distracted from our pre-season. Mike Mulvey must have been fuming as that unfolded, just as he fumes now as his underfunded and misfiring team limp to second place every week.
To think that the Ledman riches (and Lawrie McKinna) were first offered to the Mariners! Charlesworth didn’t want to sell, which is fair enough, but what has he done since? Forced out Paul Okon (just when he looked to be building something solid) by refusing to spend money and now Mike Mulvey is struggling along with the same constraints while all our promising youth sign for other clubs.
The Newcastle Jets, of course, have blossomed after years of mediocrity by acquiring an owner keen to invest in football and football people. There were plenty of fans in Newcastle who were furious at the idea of Lawrie McKinna taking over their club.
There’s a thread on the Jets fan forum called The Gypo CEO Death Riding Thread. It tells an interesting story as the hate slowly turns to love – I note there hasn’t been a post on that thread since May 2018.
The Jets’ success could have been the Mariners’, but that ship has sailed. What can we do to find another ship?
The Mariners used to be known as the Community Club. That was only possible while the fans felt they had access to the coach and the team, to the extent that the team felt part of the community and the fans felt part of the team. That’s what we’ve lost.
The rebuilding has to start with the coach and the fans. The club needs to invite the fans back in and require the players to be part of the community. If Mike Mulvey is uncomfortable with that approach then he needs an offsider for whom that role is bread and butter.
The number one thing the Mariners could do to try and reboot the team and community spirit would be to bring back John Hutchinson from coaching in America and make him assistant coach / club ambassador, with a view to taking over as head coach in the future.
Hutcho was the man identified by Lawrie McKinna as the heart and soul of the team and he was very much a fan favourite. Using Lawrie as a mentor, Hutcho would know how to re-engage and excite the fans, and some sort of success would surely follow.
How better to look to the past and to the future than to bring back Hutcho
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.