Lessons to be learned from Mariners’ moment of madness

Joe Gorman Columnist

By Joe Gorman, Joe Gorman is a Roar Expert

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    The Central Coast Mariners' John Hutchinson (left) and Bradley Porter hold back Marcos Flores. AAP Image/Paul Miller

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    As reports circulated last week about the future of the Central Coast Mariners, many wondered if this would be the end of the Gosford-based club as we know it.

    Indeed, after players were reported as not being paid, the forecast looked dismal.

    To avoid any confusion, it must be noted the Mariners look set to survive in Gosford, after entrepreneur Mike Charlesworth emerged as a white knight to settle the debt.

    And while we thank Mike Charlesworth for securing the Mariners’ short term future, spare a thought for the players who have, as usual, borne the brunt of the club’s cashflow crisis.

    With the Professional Footballer’s Association’s (PFA) 20th anniversary fast-approaching, it seems their role in protecting players remains as relevant as ever.

    The PFA was founded in the early 1990s, after players continually fell victim to the financial mismanagement of NSL clubs. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    It beggars belief that players still have to fight for their wages. Many will write off their complaints using that well-worn cliche of the overpaid, spoilt footballer. But few A-League players could ever fit this mould.

    As the PFA media release states, some have been unable to pay their grocery bills.

    On another note, the unthinkable was floated last Thursday by SBS, in a report which we now know to be a dud lead. The story suggested a Melbourne-based consortium, with links to former NSL powerhouse South Melbourne, was moving to purchase the license.

    For a moment, many could see an NSL Trojan horse ready to sneak its way into the A-League. Among the supposed plans of the consortium was to play several home games in Melbourne, while keeping the Mariners’ operations in Gosford.

    Before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s good to see the Mariners have their short term future secured in Gosford, and that players can now get on with the job of winning football matches. Their performance on the weekend was gutsy in trying off-field circumstances.

    However, the entire scenario has to be considered as a lesson for the A-League.

    Immediately after the story broke, angry Central Coast fans took to Twitter to express their outrage. Unsurprising really, considering the proposals. But while many scoffed at the idea of ‘Central Coast Hellas’ or ‘South Melbourne Mariners’, that misses the point.

    It’s not about who the prospective buyers represent, but rather their intentions for the club. No matter who purchases an A-League license, they should do so with the best interests of fans at heart.

    Club relocations smacks of American franchises, and does not sit well in the Australian context. Yes, the AFL have relocated several clubs with considerable success, but their competition exists in a very different context to the A-League.

    The relocation north of both South Melbourne and the Fitzroy Lions worked because both clubs still played many games in Melbourne due to the high concentration of Victorian clubs. This allowed original ‘Bloods’ and Fitzroy fans to continue their support, albeit from a distance.

    Moreover, the clubs and the competition were firmly entrenched due to decades of growth from the grassroots, which formed unbreakable bonds between fans and clubs.

    Club relocation in our code of football, though, would prove a lot more difficult. Not that it hasn’t been floated by football administrators and commentators before.

    In an editorial moment of frustration in 1978, Soccer World editor Andrew Dettre proposed that Hakoah adopt a “pick up model” and move its operations south to create the ‘Illawarra Stars’.

    More recently, the Wellington Phoenix managed a relocation of sorts, although it is questionable as to whether anybody really cared about the old Auckland-based New Zealand Knights in the first place.

    The franchising concept does allow clubs a certain freedom, but with the A-League only eight seasons old, it’s a dangerous precedent to set.

    Vince Rugari wrote eloquently about how the Mariners have come to symbolise the sport’s ‘new wave’. In this regard, for the Mariners to move anywhere would be crazy.

    They’ve arguably done more than any other club to bed down their base. They’ve built an academy, they’re the only tenants in the boutique Bluetongue Stadium, and this season they have even enrolled teams in the NSW State Leagues, both male and female.

    Indeed, it’s Central Coast or nothing for the Mariners.

    Sometimes, Australian football can resemble that Bill Murray film ‘Groundhog Day’. We inhabit a boom and bust world where every marketing strategy and new idea has been tried and tested. Mistakes have been made several times over in the quest for success.

    That said, it’s pleasing to see this issue has been picked up by so many columnists, most notably Ray Gatt at The Australian.

    In the same newspaper, veteran sports writer Patrick Smith commented recently journalists shouldn’t become “cheerleaders” for their sport.

    With the A-League at an all-time high, it’s a timely reminder. Introspection and caution is arguably more important in the good times than the bad.

    As successful as this season has been, it’s crucial to recognise that the A-League is only as strong as its weakest link.

    Joe Gorman
    Joe Gorman

    Joe Gorman is a football journalist with a particular interest in sports history. After completing his thesis on football in Australia, Joe started with The Roar in October 2012. He tweets from @JoeGorman_89.

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    The Crowd Says (19)

    • Roar Guru

      March 26th 2013 @ 5:55am
      NUFCMVFC said | March 26th 2013 @ 5:55am | ! Report

      Even though the teams are technically franchise models, we need to move them in the other direction, and as the A League become more independent the teams in turn need to become more like actual clubs and less a case of mere franchises. That may have made sense in terms of a start-up league but the grip do the FFA on teams trademarks etc and things like web pages need to be loosened. E’ve made some progress with kit manufacturers, but if we literally had a team move location this would not be good for a league teams.

      People set out to follow a team that represents their home town/region and if it looks like it may be a case where the brand can up and leave that will make people wonder why they are bothering in the first place. If Mariners fail then the license should be sewn up as it was with gc and nq and a brand new license set up in its place, eg ws became wsw, not the ws united or ws fury as failed expansion teams were sewn up and not relocated, and people have embraced wsw more as a result

      As for this idea about melburniqn consortium, don’t think there is much to say Melbourne wants a second A League team let alone a third so as a Melburnian the idea put forward last week was always seen as an absurdity

    • March 26th 2013 @ 6:46am
      Striker1 said | March 26th 2013 @ 6:46am | ! Report

      Credit to the players of CCM. Recognition must be given to GA and his boys.Other clubs that don’t have the financial obstacles of the mariners struggle football wise and under achieve.CCM are the other face of the coin and with no marquee players and a small budget they might regain the premiership and at the same time are the only Australian representative left in the AFC.Impressive.

    • March 26th 2013 @ 7:38am
      Stevo said | March 26th 2013 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      This underlines the need for the FFA to be careful about matters like expansion, relegation/promo, WC bids and other flights of fancy. The most appropriate and responsible thing to be doing is to continue to ensure a stable financial footing for the HAL – this means a 10 team comp for this current media deal and for probably the next as well. Seems prudent. As for the SBS scoop, who would have thought they would run with a half baked story like that? – well only if you still believe that some of the former NSL teams we dudded by Lowy and now was their time to re-emerge and enter the HAL with the gentle assistance of Les and Craig.

      • March 26th 2013 @ 8:26am
        Kasey said | March 26th 2013 @ 8:26am | ! Report

        How SBS have dropped the ball (excuse the League pun) in recent years is very saddening to a long-time football fan. They used to be the go-to guys. Now they are resorting to trolling fans to get page hits.
        1. First HAL troll of the season was the attempt to con WSW into thinking their new team would be called the Western Pride. This latest troll attempt is aimed at both the bitters who are desperate for a Trojan horse glimmer after years of turning their noses up at all things HAL.
        Just pathetic. They would really want to lift their game before becoming our FTA broadcast partner later this year!
        As for the Mariners, what really annoyed me were a few idiots writing things on FB like “Mariners gone to South Melbourne! Sucked in Gosford!” What a sh*t head attitude to have. A potential Wimbledon to Milton Keynes travesty on our own doorstep and all some wonks can do is continue to heap insult on the little club that could and its small number of loyal fans:(
        This game needs stability. I hope Gallop can deliver a 5 year period of consolidation of the gains made since 2005. If we do not take at least the current 10 clubs to the next broadcast agreement, I will consider Gallop to have failed in a key metric.

    • March 26th 2013 @ 9:24am
      nordster said | March 26th 2013 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      Equalisation in sport will pressure clubs from smaller catchments on a recurring basis…happens in the aleague, happens in every salary cap/floored league around the world in the form of relocations, as well as redistribution payments aka Bailouts.

      The only way to really secure the future of the Mariners and other clubs with naturally lower support bases, is to accept reality and allow them to scale down where needed. The floor in the salary cap is a major fixed cost pressuring small clubs…even with the new tv deal that should be used to cover basic operating costs not the wage floor.

      • Roar Guru

        March 26th 2013 @ 10:46am
        dinoweb said | March 26th 2013 @ 10:46am | ! Report

        nordster, the floor in the salary cap is there for a reason. The HAL is a full time professional league, not semi-professional. As such, the players deserve to be recompensed at a minimum level. Decreasing, or eliminating the wage floor would have a negative effect on the playing standard of the league.

        We all live in a similar system thanks to the government enforced minimum wage.

        In the case of the HAL and it’s “redistribution” payments, much of the leagues income goes straight to the FFA, eg TV rights, finals income, and certain sponsorhsip arangements, amongst others. Until the FFA relinquishes control over some of these key revenue sources, they will always be making such payments, and I have no problem with those payments going where they are most needed, if it helps to maintain or increase the current level of the competition.

        • March 26th 2013 @ 10:51am
          Kasey said | March 26th 2013 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          Oh geez, there goes the thread.
          Prof. Nordster’s Soccernomics101 coming up for the gazillionth time:(
          Have at it.

          • March 26th 2013 @ 2:19pm
            nordster said | March 26th 2013 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

            Why comment if u are not interested? Do u not know how to use the scroll? 😉

        • March 26th 2013 @ 11:06am
          Michael_Newcastle said | March 26th 2013 @ 11:06am | ! Report

          You have a point about minimum wages. Hopefully the new TV deal will allow more certainty for player wages by providing more $$ than the floor.

        • Roar Guru

          March 26th 2013 @ 11:40am
          dasilva said | March 26th 2013 @ 11:40am | ! Report

          You do know the FFA minimal wage is above the government enforced minimal wage. If people can work full time on minimal wage there’s no reason football players (especially youth players) can’t as well. Also the salary floor doesn’t mean that the league isn’t fully professional. It’s just mean the wage of the entire squad isn’t paid above market value. The players are still on full time contacts with the same conditions that any full time employee has in Australia.
          Let say player a is happy to sign a contract at a lower wage but a club has to pay more money to reach the salary floor. The players wage would be inflated which put pressure on the club

        • March 26th 2013 @ 2:15pm
          nordster said | March 26th 2013 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

          I agree that for the most part we want a professional league. But overall i would rather see SOME clubs be allowed to go below the floor…maybe 50pc or less if need be…and be slightly less professional but still viable. Its not a complete disaster to have some clubs be spending more than other on wages.

          Equalisation is doing great harm to the game in australia…not just professional but also the semi pro ranks which are important and need connecting to the top tier at some point. The current approach is too across the board and lacking nuance. Also there are many legit arguments against the minimum wage which i will not bore u with, google them for yourselves (walter block) provided u can handle having long standing views be challenged…

      • March 26th 2013 @ 10:55am
        Michael_Newcastle said | March 26th 2013 @ 10:55am | ! Report

        This is absolutely right. People often talk about the cap, but as often as not, it’s the floor that is the problem.

        Allow the new TV deal to cover a lower floor & operating costs (perhaps controlled through a trust account between FFA & the clubs), then smaller clubs can survive and hopefully thrive.

        As you said, lower supporter bases will limit potential for growth in regional clubs.

        One size will not fit all, no matter how socialist you want the league/FFA to be.

        • March 26th 2013 @ 2:19pm
          nordster said | March 26th 2013 @ 2:19pm | ! Report

          Just remove the floor and allow the clubs the freedom to choose how they allocate tv monies…liberty is a very important principle in business and economics and is very often overlooked. There is no need for any floor…some clubs should just embrace a more youth development role by giving lower wage, inexperienced players a run. It will even make Han Berger happy! 🙂

          • Roar Guru

            March 26th 2013 @ 4:40pm
            dinoweb said | March 26th 2013 @ 4:40pm | ! Report

            Nordster, if the wage floor is a problem, there is nothng stopping clubs from employing less players.

            It is also my understanding that clubs will receive the equivalent of the full wages cap as from next season thanks to the new TV deal. If they don’t reach the cap, I have heard of nothing stopping them from spending the balance on anything else.

            I really don’t see what your continuing problem is with this issue.

            • March 26th 2013 @ 11:31pm
              nordster said | March 26th 2013 @ 11:31pm | ! Report

              The continuing problem is with a high fixed base cost…which is what the floor is…the rationale is that its worth the impost in order to attempt to have an equalised league. I just disagree from the point of view of wanting self sustaining and scaleable clubs.

              Why not let them employ the same number of players on less? Why the fixation on a distortion of the labour market with an arbitrary floor level? Makes no sense on economic terms…but yes it is enforced for equalisation purposes is my understanding…thats an anti competitive concept but another issue entirely… 🙂

            • March 27th 2013 @ 12:52pm
              dasilva said | March 27th 2013 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

              +1 for Nordster

              A salary floor increased the cost of running a club.
              The higher the cost the more likely the club would reach financial trouble. Of course the TV rights will cover the salary cap but the issues will be that this will be impediment for future expansions.

              If the idea that all clubs must be equal for the league to succeed attitude continues than this severely restrict the ability for the A-league to expand especially in areas such as North Queensland ( in fact they ask FFA to continue on for another season but with salary less than a floor but they were declined by FFA), Gold Coast, Canberra, Tasmania etc.

              If we accept there are big clubs and there are little clubs. This means clubs can be created and join the league (and hell this will open things up for promotion and relegation) because it’s not too expensive to join the A-league

              If we believe that all clubs must be equal. Then the fixed cost it takes for joining the A-league to be “equal” is too high for too many future clubs and they will never exist in the A-league.

              It’s better for clubs to exist as small clubs than there is for clubs to not even exist at all due to equalisation measures

              Also a salary floor is a disincentive for youth players for the first team squad (of course their are regulations for youth players in the youth league and I believe there is a minimum youth player in the first team squad but there isn’t an incentive to have more players than that )becausse the wage bill must reach a certain high levels. Clubs are at a risk of paying above market value for players. They are not going to do that with youth players who never played a professional game as they are being payed more money. With experience players they can reach the salary floor without paying above their market value.

              If we have a talented youth player and a talente

    • March 26th 2013 @ 11:01am
      Midfielder said | March 26th 2013 @ 11:01am | ! Report

      OK OK OK Bias for sure…

      What amazes me is any tho to look at the issues and discuss other than in a tabloid style …

      Where was the analysis to break down the issue between funding of the Team and the funding of the COE…. where was the analysis of where the COE is at current income streams and future income streams….

      Where was the analysis of the COE, developing players an on selling them….

      I would have loved someone … anyone to actually dig deep with the club on these issues….

      Very say … nay disappointing in the extreme that we are no wiser as to the construction phase… if the commonwealth money is held in a trust account… all of which I assume is true … to write a headline and then not attempt to do any research or analysis was as I said disappointing in the extreme…..

      AS for SBS the Mariners moving to South Melbourne which they still implied was on the cards on TWG last night …. as with the Lucas Neil issue and the Western Pride … they seem to want one of their preferred NSL teams back…

      Something that comes out of MV, PG, Roar in fact most teams aside from SFC & WSW is the almost Sydney is the key and Sydney is the most important …. love how SBS have changed since they got the rights but they still seem to harbour something of the past…

      • March 26th 2013 @ 11:57am
        Australian Rules said | March 26th 2013 @ 11:57am | ! Report

        Started reading and thought, is that you Joe Pesci? 😉

    • March 26th 2013 @ 12:46pm
      Johnno said | March 26th 2013 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

      Mid agreed, the subtle digs at the Mariners by SBS , was appalling, and if you know the landscape , the agenda was obvious.

      They really don’t want the mariners around. Les has lost it too, he needs to retire.

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