The hottest ticket in town

Central Coast Mariners 2 Adelaide United 0

There’s something special brewing on the Central Coast this season. It’s not just the dazzling entertainment on the field, this is a movement that has captured the whole region and has made football fans across Australia sit up and take notice of the Mariners as they march into their first Grand Final in ten years.

Last weekend, arriving in Gosford two hours before kick-off, the town was buzzing. Bay Road brewery was turning people away. Dane Drive, the Wembley Way of Central Coast Stadium, was already blocked by the queue waiting to get in to this fantastic venue. This semi-final second leg, the third instalment in a mini-series of vital games against Adelaide United and the first of those taking place on the coast, was being billed as a sell-out. The local community was here in force. Oversized printed face masks of all the home team’s favourite players were being sold outside. A smattering of away fans, including Red Wig Man himself, lined up alongside eager supporters of the home team. Inside the stadium, the half-time dance crew went through their final rehearsal on the field as the various media teams went about their pre-match tasks. The Paramount Plus desk was ready, already lit up and ready to recieve the football pundits and presenters for this mountain of football. Two security staff helped each other straighten their beanies in preparation for the impending chill. This was a Central Coast Mariners home game on a different scale.

The opening of the gates was obvious to those inside. Noise started to fill the stadium. Fans spilled down into the lower sections of the seating areas, reaching their seats still well over an hour before kick-off. The home team’s goalkeepers were the first to appear to applause, followed by the rest of the players from both teams. Vibe manager Andy Bernal roamed the field, chatting, cajoling, observing, he even sat in a reclining seat on the players’ bench in contemplation, and generally emitted an air of readiness for the task ahead. Club legend Matt Simon provided the dummy in a warm-up routine, the stadium filled up and the players vacated the arena as the spare seats began to disappear. By kick off, with the flames and fireworks providing welcome warmth from the cold conditions, only a block of seats was remaining in the away end, and even that was being swallowed up, some late seat sales being made before the ‘sold out’ signs went up at the ticket office. The Mariners’ band walked up and down the aisles of the main stand, upbeat tunes getting the fans moving, the Mariners’ cannon was tested, and all was good in the world.

The spectacle on the field was scripted almost to perfection. Adelaide United soaked up pressure and almost caught out the Mariners at the other end when Zach Clough struck the post. Marco Tulio gave the crowd a thrill with some outrageous skill on the right, and he had visiting goalkeeper Joe Gauci scrambling to prevent a grass-cutter from squirming through his legs into the goal. The game was poised at half time for an exciting conclusion. Mariners’ Brazilian star Moresche warmed up in front of the half-time dancers, giving an appropriate backdrop to his samba skills. The second half gave the home fans exactly what they wanted. Crowd favourite Sammy Silvera tucked in a goal and Marco Tulio pounced to finish sublimely when a deflection kindly fell his way. The game was all but over as a contest, but Adelaide kept going to give the game an edge. Nestory Irankunda struck the post which could have sparked a comeback. Christian Theoharous came on for the home side and provided terrific entertainment, teasing, jinking and tying the visiting defenders in knots. Socceroos star Jason Cummings had chances but his radar was slightly off as he chased his club’s goalscoring record, but the Central Coast Mariners cruised to victory in front of a jubilant full-house and a buoyant Yellow Army behind the Adelaide goal.

The Central Coast Mariners family poured onto the field at full-time. The entourage was added to when an eager fan burst from the crowd and was intercepted and then saved from security by bouncer Bernal. The Cumdog’s old pal Lewes must have forgotten his security pass. A second intruder obviously didn’t have the family connection or the Scottish patter and was wrestled to the ground and marched off, as the players stood around and chatted. Daniel McBreen looked even more like Robbie Savage than ever. The rolling interviews continued, the expectant fans thinning out, most remaining though in the hope of saying a personal thanks to their heroes. The now customary family shot, made fashionable again by Aussie photographer Serena Taylor at Newcastle United in the Premier League, saw players, staff, family and friends eventually converge to pose in front of the home fans to capture that winning feeling, a shot taken from the top of a wobbly ladder that will not look out of place on Nick Montgomery’s mantlepiece once this fantastic season is over.

Had we seen the next champions of Australia here tonight? The fans believe so, the players are certainly capable enough, and their trio of victories over high-flying Adelaide United stand them in good stead for the road trip to Parramatta next week as the APL’s festival of football concludes at Commbank Stadium. This spectacle in Gosford though was special. There was romance in the air as the city turned out in force to help its number one sporting team over the line, and if football is to grow in Australia, there is much to be taken from nights like this. An appropriately-sized stadium, easy access, passionate fans and above all an exciting product on and off the field, all ingredients for a successful and sustainable A-League, right now and well into the future.

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