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Assessing Bolt is an exercise in avoiding indulgent negativity

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13th October, 2018
52

The disdain reached that rare level of intensity in seeing Usain Bolt score twice for the Mariners against a Macarthur South-West combination XI, where the caustic simmerings bubbled over sides of the pot, extinguishing the flame beneath. 

His first goal was struck low and hard, a good striker’s finish, and the slight deflection it took off the heels of the defender flummoxed the goalkeeper, who might otherwise have done a little better dealing with a shot hit from a tight angle at his near post.

His second goal was a gift given to him by a terrible defensive mix-up, and the open goal tap-in that resulted gives zero insight into his finishing abilities. 

Seeing this, the sour thought that catalysed the aforementioned mental boil-over was one steeped in spite. These two goals, Bolt’s smiling face, the joyous cheers from the 6,000-strong crowd present to see him start his first match for Central Coast; this was all a primer, I thought, for the great hoodwink to come.

These goals would justify the one-year contract that will follow them, and we’d drive away in the newly painted lemon, racing stripes and hot-rod red, with the used-car salesman smiling and thanking God for delivering unto him another sucker. How I wished he’d missed, or fallen over comically, or been winded after five minutes like he had been in his last run-out. An ugly wish, to be sure.

One goal, scored against a collection of disparate second-division players who are a fortnight into their holidays, does not a footballer make. The chances Bolt missed – in particular an opportunity squared to him across the face of goal, that for some reason he attempted to convert with his favoured left foot instead of his right, and ended up missing the ball completely – were as telling as the chances he took. 

Usain Bolt of the Mariners leaves the field following his Central Coast Mariners debut.

Usain Bolt is fit, but is he football match fit? (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Furthermore, the idea that exposure of any kind is always a good thing is not one to which I subscribe.

The light being shone on football is being squarely trained on Bolt; that the A-League, or the Central Coast Mariners, or Gosford, or whoever, are half-lit in the dappled overglow, slightly off to the side of the main attraction, does not make this all worthwhile.

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Most of the international coverage is about Bolt’s personal crusade; our little league is not the lede here, and it is valid to question the actual, tangible value of giddily regurgitating how many channels or newspapers or Twitter accounts have been spotted indulging in a bit of Bolt-watching.

Are we, the Bolt critics, snobby naysayers, negative Nancys of the most insufferable order, lashed stiffly to their high horses, trotting around arrogantly? Or are we right to feel disgruntled about the fact that the A-League, a competition we all think deserves to be given more serious attention, has been relegated to the role of a supporting character in a farcical pantomime?

The show seems to be popular, sure, but no one buys a ticket to go back and see it again next week.

And then I looked at the latest club membership figures, and saw that Central Coast have now slipped below Wellington as the least-supported club. The last four seasons, the Mariners have managed league finishes that read as follows: tenth, eighth, tenth, eighth.

There are ways for clubs to pull themselves out of the doldrums, and until now I’ve always thought that cheapening themselves in this way, allowing for a retired superstar sprinter to use them as a tool to achieve his own personal footballing daydream, was too debasing a method to consider. 

But perhaps Central Coast’s situation is dire enough to excuse it. Perhaps lolling in negativity about this is too indulgent, and it’s not the domain of the moron to see Bolt as an engine for positive progress in Gosford.

This doesn’t mean you have to start unironically declaring Graham Arnold cap him, or calling for the team to be renamed the Central Coast Bolters, or even advocating for Bolt to receive a contract. But there is value in towing yourself out of the bog of derision, a thick track of loamy muck into which we’ve willingly driven and become mired.

Usain Bolt controls the ball in his Central Coast Mariners debut.

The jury is still out on Usain Bolt. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

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It would to willingly suspend the faculties to try and convince anyone that Jordan Murray scoring for the Mariners – having been the NPL’s best goalscorer last season – would have generated more than a blip on the non-football media radar if Bolt hadn’t also scored twice in the same game.

When the corner was swung in, the match announcer was so focused on Bolt – who didn’t even contest for a header – he didn’t notice it was Murray who had scored until the ball had bulged the net

It’s hard not to look like a crying bore when, having bemoaned the non-football media’s lack of interest – or, often, active hostility – in the A-League and Australian football, you moan even more once they start covering – of all things – a pre-season Mariners match with some enthusiasm. What this entire affair with Bolt was exposed is the unease with which Australian football fans tread across the sporting landscape.

We want our league to be more supported, better served, more exposed. Perhaps we aren’t allowed to be indignant when the methods of achieving – or attempting to achieve – that aren’t exactly to our liking.