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United wants to win - and its opponents want to be relevant

Manton St Tales

Tonight’s FFA Cup semi-final is a chance for Adelaide United to make another final, but for the Central Coast Mariners, it means much more than that, writes Spiro Karanikos-Mimis.

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“Who’s playing?”

I wasn’t sure how to exactly answer that question. Was it genuine? Was it a subtle dig? Could they not see my scarf?

I decided to play the game.

“Adelaide United,” I replied.

The next question floored me.

“Against?”

It was clear that the gentleman manning the counter at the newsagency on Mann Street in Gosford had absolutely no idea there was a game of soccer that evening.

He was even more oblivious to the fact that his local side, the Central Coast Mariners, were playing.

His newsagency was no more than 400 metres away from the stadium.

This is how my day in Gosford began and really, it was a warning sign of what was to come.

Having travelled to Gosford by train from Sydney, I was excited to set foot in the coastal town and lap up the atmosphere of an away game.

The night before the Socceroos has sealed qualification to Russia so I expected a jovial scene.

“Soccer fever,” I thought.

The Mariners had beaten Sydney FC the week before and had belted out a rousing rendition of Darryl Braithwaite’s Horses after the win.

So I was expecting a few sideways glances as I traversed the streets with my friend, a revved, hostile home crowd and multiple sledges from the stands.

How wrong I was.

Please don’t get me wrong, it’s always great to get to an away match.

You form a bond with the other fans of your club that have travelled to the game, you knock back a few extra beverages and eat at a nice restaurant (if you’re visiting Gosford, try the Asian restaurant in the Leagues Club).

As I sat at the abovementioned Leagues Club located directly across from Central Coast Stadium, a local came up to me and asked me why my friend and I were in town.

Barely 5000 turned up that night to watch the game.

We were treated to the amazing sight of the Mariners’ brass band walking from one grandstand to the other playing their jolly tunes, but inexplicably stopping when they walked past the supporters’ group.

I inquired with a United fan who lived in Gosford and who attended Mariners home games about why this had happened.

“They’ve had had a falling out,” he said.

“Someone from the supporters’ group poured a beer into the tuba.”

I’m not making this stuff up.

After the game, perfect strangers came up to us in the street.

I braced myself for a torrent of abuse: Adelaide’s Ryan Kitto had scored a 93rd-minute winner no more than 30 minutes earlier.

Surely their blood was boiling.

“Congratulations, you deserved it,” they said with a smile.

A smile!

“We always lose.”

Was I in the twilight zone?

And so, I concluded, very few people in Gosford cared about the Central Coast Mariners and those who did, accepted they weren’t any good.

This was in November 2017 and things haven’t gone better since: multiple coaching changes, the failed Usain Bolt experiment and two wooden spoons.

Tonight’s game is a big deal for United.

It will be a chance for manager Gertjan Verbeek to firmly establish himself as a crowd favourite and get his charges into a third consecutive FFA Cup Final.

For the record, I think Adelaide will be far too strong and will play Melbourne City – who comfortably won their semi-final last night – in the final.

I will be devastated if we don’t win, like many of you will.

But tonight’s game is of colossal significance for the Mariners.

Should Central Coast win, it could be the push the team needs to re-capture the imagination of the locals.

More importantly, they will probably regain some respect from fans and commentators of the A-League, who see them as the league’s basket case.

And should the final be played in Gosford, it will provide a chance for the FFA and the administration of the beleaguered Mariners to try something: swing open the gates.

Yep, you read that right. Don’t charge an admission fee.

This will almost certainly ensure a full house and it might just be enough to get a few more season tickets out the door.

An FFA Cup final might just be the best thing to happen to the Mariners in a very, very long time.

Spiro Karanikos-Mimis is InDaily’s soccer columnist.

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