As is so often the case when people are faced with hardship, fans of the Central Coast Mariners on Saturday night shielded themselves from the realities of the ineptitude of their side with gallows humour.
“We are staying up, say we are staying up!” rang out from the blue and yellow clad faithful as they watched their side capitulate against Wellington Phoenix to the tune of a catastrophic, 8-2 defeat.
It was the Mariners 16th defeat of the 2018-19 season – four more than any other side in the A-League – and pushed their goal difference on the season out to an astounding -32 – 11 goals worse than any other side in the competition.
Repercussions for the defeat were felt immediately, with gaffer Mike Mulvey removed from his post in the wee hours of the morning by Mariners management; a statement put out by the club thanking the 56-year-old for his service and advising that there were to be no other departures from his staff.
The Central Coast Mariners can today advise that the Club has parted ways with Head Coach Mike Mulvey, effective immediately.
— Central Coast Mariners (@CCMariners) March 9, 2019
That Mulvey needed to depart was obvious, he clearly was not producing results on the field and the self-destruction of the Mariners locker room in recent days demonstrated that he was no longer in control of the playing group.
However, the Mariners problems run a lot deeper than Mulvey.
As their own fans so aptly pointed out on Saturday night, the Mariners maladroitness is unlikely to go beyond a reshuffling of the coaching staff, statements about a new direction and promises of a return to the heights that saw the club capture the A-League championship in 2012-13 and premierships in 2007-08 and 2011-12.
Competing in the A-League, the Mariners will be back playing in the top tier of Australian football next season, even though they will comfortably collect the wooden spoon and likely only add to a losing record that has seen them only win 19 of their last 129 games (a win ratio of under 15%).
Such sustained poor-performance should supposedly be an anathema to the salary capped nature of the A-League, which, in theory, is supposed to ensure some level of equalisation across the competition.
— FOX Sports Football (@FOXFOOTBALL) March 9, 2019
Yet, despite this, the club has failed to even qualify for finals since the 2013-14 campaign which saw them reach the semi-finals after finishing the regular season in third.
Since then, fans of the Mariners have been forced to suffer through two wooden spoons, two eighth-placed finishes and exits in the FFA Cup’s round of 32 in the previous through iterations of the Cup competition.
In almost every other footballing league in the world such a sustained period of ineffectuality would result in the club’s relegation to a lower tier; either allowing them to settle at a level more apposite to their abilities or inciting them onto investment and innovation to earn a place back in the top tier.
In Australia, of course, that is not the case; with Mariners’ chair Mike Charlesworth granted one of ten (soon to be 12) A-League licences by the FFA to operate in the Gosford market without fear of promotion and relegation.
While exponents of the current system will contend that it is imperative for shielding the investment of individuals like Charlesworth, encouraging him to invest money into the club and create a footballing infrastructure in Gosford, such an environment is also allowing the Mariners to stagnate.
Without the impetus of possible relegation to spur investment, the Mariners have endured as one of the lowest spending teams in the A-League and have given no indication that that is likely to change.
The club’s biggest splash in the offseason was the pursuit of Olympic Gold Medallist sprinter and decidedly non-footballer Usain Bolt. Other high-profile acquisitions such as Ross McCormack, Tommy Oar, Aiden O’Neil and Khalifa Cissé were either busts or have underperformed.
At a time when the likes of Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers are opening up new, multi-million-dollar academy and training facilities, sides such as Sydney FC and Melbourne City continue to pour money into their football departments, cashed up expansion sides Western United and Macarthur South West Sydney will soon enter to enter the league and the PFA is agitating for the removal of the salary cap it would appear – if spending trends hold true – as though the gap between the Mariners and success is only going to get wider.
Indeed, in the current footballing ecosystem, the Mariners greatest contribution may very well sit in their status as one of the greatest conceivable advertisements for promotion and relegation.
Should other teams prove themselves capable of financially supporting themselves in a national second division who could deny clubs such as Wollongong Wolves, South Melbourne or Brisbane City the chance to invest and secure themselves a chance to compete at the highest level in favour of a side that is setting new benchmarks in futility?
The Mariners should be capable of turning things around, their multiple premierships and championship can attest to that.
Nonetheless, perhaps it is the time that there was a stick present alongside a carrot in encouraging them to do so.