Why the Mariners winning the A-League is the best thing for Australian football

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Every sports fan loves a fairy tale story. Think Steven Bradbury. Greece at the 2004 Euros. Or Leicester City winning the English Premier League in 2016.

Although the A-League is only in round eight, the Central Coast Mariners are showing shades of Leicester’s incredible title run. Just like the Foxes – who were one of the favourites to be relegated in the season they became champions – the Mariners were most people’s favourites to collect the wooden spoon before the season started.

And rightfully so. The Mariners have been the A-League’s whipping boys of recent times. Over the past three seasons they have finished last on each occasion – with a combined negative goal difference of 89.

But this season, they look a completely different side. They lead the A-League and have conceded seven goals in eight games.

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After the Mariners beat Sydney FC away, head coach Alen Stajcic said the all-round team spirit mentality in his team was 10 out of 10.

His squad is very similar to the side that finished bottom last year. So, whatever he has done in the off-season has worked wonders.

It will breathe fresh air into the A-League, which has been dominated by Sydney in recent years, with the rest of the league fighting for second place. It’s a situation many fans are growing tired of. No fan wants to see one team dominate a league year after year. Think Celtic in Scotland. Or PSG in France. Boring.

Remember the old days of the A-League when regional teams were a force to be reckoned with?

When the Mariners made the first A-League grand final in 2006, no one could believe it. Amongst the public there was a feeling they were happy just to be there.

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Sure, they lost but it was a real football story. The tiny Central Coast in the big dance – against the mighty Sydney – or ‘Bling FC’ as they were known back then.

Regional towns are a close-knit community, and the same goes for their fans. Most active support members know each other. When their areas sporting club is successful, there is a collective energy in the town that is not possible in a major city.

On the way to the 2007/08 grand final, Newcastle Jets fans pulled up on the side of the Adamstown freeway in a line 20km long to cheer their side on. When they won, the town partied long and loud.

The last regional club to win the A-League was the Mariners in 2013. This was their maiden title after three previous attempts. Amongst the diehard fans who had been there since day dot, many a tear was shed.

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When the Jets hosted the grand final in 2018 the whole town was buzzing and it was a major news story around Australia – because everyone loves an underdog!

It has been tough to be a supporter of Australian football recently. The general dialogue has been negative, featuring the uncertainty of a new television deal, a lack of sponsors and the possibility of the league folding.

The A-League desperately needs a positive news story, and the Mariners are providing one.

On the weekend, Stajcic acknowledged the trauma of being a Mariners fan over the past three seasons and said the club was building to something big.

“To see the fans so happy and engage with the fans, I haven’t seen that since I’ve been at the Mariners in two years,” he said.

“The more we grow the more they’re going to be connected to the team and the community again, we can grow the club to where it once was.”

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Imagine the sight of the Mariners – in the grand final – just like the old days.

Central Coast Stadium packed to the rafters. A sea of yellow with the backdrop of the famous sauce bottles. Matt Simon lifting the toilet seat. From wooden spoon to champions.

The Central Coast community would be going crazy, as would Australia’s media.

Although it is early in the show, the Mariners may be the cinderella story the A-League so desperately needs.

Feature Image Credit: Supplied

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Adam Sheldon
Full time football addict. Passionate about any sport with balls. Covering Sydney FC A-League and W-League teams for the upcoming season.