CENTRAL Coast Mariners supporters have an opportunity to quiz Football Federation CEO David Gallop and A-League boss Damien de Bohun about the challenges facing the club in the first of three fans forums to be held on Monday.
The arrival of the FFA’s big guns is seen as a continued commitment by the governing body to the growth of football in the region, despite the club’s recent financial struggles.
It’s the first major initiative by the Mariners since Mike Charlesworth took majority ownership of the reigning Premiers three months ago in the wake of damaging headlines about missed player payments and annual losses of up to $2 million.
The forums are a forerunner to the Mariners’ ambitious Target 5000 campaign, and a roll out of community engagement programs next month, aimed at adding a further 1500 memberships to last season’s tally.
Charlesworth, who is keen to see a big turnout for the first event at Tumbi Umbi, said fans shouldn’t underestimate the significance of Gallop and de Bohun’s presence on Monday night.
“It’s the sort of message that football is here to stay on the coast and we want to get people behind us,” Charlesworth said.
“We believe there’s a great future for the club in this region and I certainly don’t believe that David Gallop would be taking his time out unless he wants to invest in us and the region. So, we’re very proud to have him up here.”
The Mariners Chairman will be joined on the forum panel by club director Peter Turnbull.
“I would imagine that people want to know how we’re going to emulate last year’s success on the pitch," Charleworth added. "And I think there may be some questions from people in terms of how we’re going to achieve a sustainable professional football club based in Gosford.
“So (there'll be questions) both from a playing perspective and a commercial perspective. But I think that at the first forum, because David Gallop and Damien de Bohun will be there, a large percentage will be more from the perspective of football in this country rather than just the Mariners.”
Charlesworth said he had “every confidence” in football’s administration but made it clear he’ll have a few questions of his own to put to the FFA and A-League chiefs – not least of which is the overall game plan for growing the sport in Australia.
“We at the Mariners are only as successful as the league is,” he said. “There’s no point in us winning the Championship if the league flounders.
“We want to get carried along with the success of the league so I think everyone is going to be interested in what their initiatives are going to be. It’s okay us getting it right on the coast here, but unless they get it right things are not going to work.
“Membership, sponsorship, merchandise – everything’s got to come together. There’s not one single answer to driving a sustainable football club. There are a whole lot of different initiatives and a lot of that will obviously come down from the FFA in terms of financial assistance.
“But it’s not just in terms of financial assistance – it’s about marketing assistance and other areas of the business that they’ve got expertise in that we’re tapping into and I think a lot of other clubs are.”
The Mariners have long been the source of investment speculation. A Russian consortium is said to be waiting in the wings and there is said to be interest from China. In March reports surfaced of a move on the franchise by directors of ex-NSL club South Melbourne.
But despite the club's huge on-field success it still faces major hurdles off the park, with a sprawling 90km catchment of just 300,000 people. Sponsorship is key local support has been tricky.
Wyong Council recently ended its deal with the club but now Gosford City Council - led by Mayor and former Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna - are looking to renew their sponsorship after a three year break.
“If you compare us with the other major cities in terms of the size of their catchment and size of their population then we’re at a huge disadvantage,” Charlesworth said.
“We average around about 10,000 (at games) – so we were the sixth best supported club in the A-League last year.
“What I’m saying is that we haven’t done a particularly bad job – there’s probably a greater level of community ownership within the Mariners than possible any other club in the A-League. There’s more sense of belonging here because it is a relatively small area with a very successful football club.
“But we have to build on that because we lose money at the current rate, in terms of average gate and members.
“We’ve made huge strides over the last two to three months since I’ve taken over. I’m very pleased about where we’re sitting today but there’s an awful long way to go and there’s a lot of challenges along the way.”
The first fan forum kicks off on Monday from 7pm in the Mingara Showroom, Mingara Recreation Club, Tumbi Umbi, followed by a forum on July 22 and August 21.