Some years ago English football fans were delighted by a series of articles (and then books) penned by The Secret Footballer – a chap who claimed to have been a player and was lifting the lid on the murky, narcissistic and uber-indulgent world of professional football.
The books and articles (in The Guardian) were very successful and it was a national pastime, for a while, to try and guess his identity.
I never quite believed he was a footballer because his stories were so detailed – if they really had happened then other people involved must have been able to put two and two together to work out who he was – and subsequently fingers have since been pointed at former Portsmouth ginger Dave Kitson as being the elusive TSF.
However his actual identity never really mattered because his stories were a fabulous insight into the pro footballer’s world – how it all truly works behind the scenes – on the pitch and off it.
And in that spirit, I’ve found someone deep inside the Mariners willing to spill the beans on how the club are preparing for the new season under Alen Stajcic. You’ll never guess who he is though.
AD: So tell me how the boys are looking.
Secret Mariner: You know what, we’re looking really good. Alen has brought back the strong sense of team that the Mariners were always famous for. Everyone’s buying into the discipline and the vision, and people who’ve been around the club for a long time tell me it’s the best vibe they’ve felt since Arnie was here.
What is Stajcic doing that hasn’t been done before?
I think it’s just his personality. He’s used to winning and he’s used to preparing in a way that gives you every chance of winning. He’s incredibly thorough…every last detail is taken into account and if there’s a way of doing something better…or an opposition weakness we can target…Alen’s gonna find it and send us out with a plan to exploit it.
It was an easy win over Maitland in the FFA Cup.
We should have scored a few more but we were totally dominant. That was a performance to inspire confidence in both the players and the system, and it’s great that we’re still alive with more meaningful matches to come. It’s so much better having proper matches in such a long pre-season, and Robbie Fowler's Brisbane will be but chaff beneath our chariot wheels.
How are the new Korean recruits going?
Unfortunately, one has gone home as he wasn’t able to commit to the level of fitness Alen wanted. But Kim Eun-Sun is tearing it up. He is really going to drag us up in terms of quality. Danny de Silva is looking like he’s got something to prove…Alen has clearly been in his ear. He’s such a good man manager and I reckon he’s been telling Danny how hard he’ll have to work to win back the fans after sodding off to Sydney. But if you really want to see how things have changed, just have a look at the older players. Mulvey let the older players bludge at training. Alen has them all working their butts off.
That all sounds great but how can Mariners fans have any confidence in the team after so many diabolical seasons?
I’m sure it’s hard for the fans. You’d have to say they were spoiled in a way…so many years of success under Lawrie and Arnie, they’re hard acts to follow. So everything that’s happened since has been doubly disappointing because the fans were used to regular silverware. Obviously, I can’t promise silverware this year, not least as everyone else has strengthened also…but I reckon I can at least guarantee we’ll be competitive.
Tell me something to make me believe you...
Okay, one of the things Alen has introduced this year is a games room...with pool tables and stuff. The team isn’t allowed to leave training until at least an hour of hanging about in the games room. It might not sound like much but it’s forced us to socialise and become mates off the pitch.
You’re right. It doesn’t sound like much.
I get that. I also get that you’re a fat, old bastard who never got anywhere near a proper football team, but you have to see it and feel it to see how strong it is. One of the staff was telling me how over the last few years he’d see players straggle off in ones and twos after training, but now, everyone leaves together in one big happy group. We’ve become friends off the pitch and with all the positives on the pitch…I just know we’re going to be fighting that much harder for each other. It’s gonna be a good year.
So there you have it. The (rather insulting) Secret Mariner reckons Alen Stajcic’s pinball led recovery is going to take the Mariners to a whole new level.
I’d have more confidence if they were playing FIFA and Subbuteo.
Stay tuned for more from the Secret Mariner.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets and will have a couple of exciting announcements shortly.