Culture club: Mariners on right track

You can’t see it from the road, or the nearby train line, but tucked away in the scrubland of Tuggerah is the A-League’s best-kept secret.
Nanjing Night Net

It’s a football-only oasis, a place where the round ball is king, and where the Central Coast Mariners are planning to build the best football club in Australia.

If you want to know why they’re competing for the title for the third straight year, look no further.

The Mariners’ Centre of Excellence was long thought of by the football fraternity as a questionable project: big on ambition, low on dollars. Supported by government, stymied by red tape. Perhaps more trouble than it was worth?

That it may have seemed at times, but with the end product in sight, there can be doubt no longer. It is a brilliant piece of infrastructure.

No wonder owner Peter Turnbull – even as he battled to free up funds to keep the club going – never really wanted to sell his stake to a group of interested Russians last year. This was his master plan, after all.

Central Coast coach Graham Arnold raves about it. ”It’s one of the main reasons I stayed here instead of going to Sydney FC.” It’s a rare public acknowledgement of investment. He is, after all, chiefly responsible for the perception that the Mariners – who play the cashed-up Sky Blues in Gosford on Saturday – exist on the smell of an oily rag.

The club built clean, modern facilities but then handed the keys to the players and coaches to let them drive what happened inside.

Wanting their own touch on the dressing room and medical facilities, the younger players went and bought the paint and brushes to deck it out in Mariners colours.

The club docks the players $20 a week to feed them breakfast and lunch. Everyone has to be present for both. ”That way we get to control two-thirds of their diet,” Arnold notes. ”They don’t even notice – and it makes them bond even more.”

They eat nearby in something of a bush hut that looks as though it should be on the banks of the Hawkesbury River. Arnold makes the new players shake the hands of all visitors to the hut, even the press. ”Respect is everything around here,” he says. Everyone does their own dishes and volunteers are thanked for cooking the meals.

But there’s still some humour about. A Western Sydney Wanderers’ team poster hangs in the kitchen (the purpose left unstated) and Andrew Clarke – the club’s one-man medical, sports science and high-performance unit – turns a blind eye to the scoffing of Troy Hearfield’s birthday cake.

There’s very little bling in the parking lot. Showing off wouldn’t go down well with the senior players, who are the ones responsible for how the entire squad carries itself.

To steal a phrase from the Sydney Swans, it’s clear they have a ”no dickheads” policy. ”When I’m talking to the group, be it in a video session or a group session, I only highlight the positives,” Arnold says. ”If I have to make a criticism to a player, I’ll do it in private, and only with a view to making him better next time.”

It’s why the Mariners will contend again, with another lot of young, level-headed players leading the charge.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.