Almanac Soccer: Bolt! Trailblazer for the Central Coast?


Talk to any given resident of the NSW Central Coast – ‘Coasties’, to you and I – and as likely as not you’ll find they aren’t actually a local, strictly speaking.


They’ve come from Parramatta, Hornsby and Liverpool (and Melbourne in the case of this writer). They’ve come to start a family, or put their kids through school. They’ve come because it’s cheaper and less crowded than Sydney, yet still close enough to access the jobs (don’t get them started on the bloody trains or the M1, though!). 


In essence, they’ve come to use it as a base from which to pursue their life goals.


Usain Bolt will be a Coastie the moment he steps off the plane tomorrow.


Granted he’s coming from a bit further afield. And his “life goal” – being a professional soccer player – is more of a coda, coming as it does after a career as the greatest track and field athlete in human history. But it’s nonetheless fitting Bolt’s chosen to come here and come now.


With the exception of some who’d prefer to see Mike Charlesworth shell out for some experience, Coasties have mostly welcomed of the Mariners’ procuring Bolt. But they remain skeptical he’ll ever actually get a game. 


While we know so little about what he’s capable of on a soccer field this is reasonable – the Yellow and Navy itself is insisting he won’t automatically get a contract.


But if the eight-time gold-medallist is good enough, and he does line up in the A-League, it would be unhelpful for fans to judge him harshly if he’s not a star. Bolt playing at all will be a triumph – for himself, for the Mariners and for the Central Coast.


Much has been made of “The Bolt effect” – the potential for Usain to bring a much-needed global profile to Australian soccer. It would appear we’ve already had a taste of this potential: The Mariners’ comms department claims the club reached 130 million people across the globe the day they announced they were pursuing Bolt.


To put that in perspective, they’d have to have paid about $4.5 million to reach that many people through advertising. Needless to say, they’re in for millions more free PR over the next month at least.


But the value of Bolt’s time on the Central Coast and in the Australian soccer system is something that can’t be measured in dollars. Like the impact he has had on global athletics – that being to preserve its reputation and integrity in an era of doping scandals – it’ll be measured in hindsight.


It’ll be quantifiable in the playing numbers at local junior soccer clubs, and the enrolments in programs at the Central Coast Academy of Sport and Kariong’s International Football School.


It’ll be measurable in the A-League’s attendance numbers – currently hovering around 7,000 for the Mariners and 11,000 for the A-League.


Most critically, it’ll be evident in the overseas stars that follow Bolt’s path to Australia.


We all acknowledge on some level the Mariners aren’t getting an Olympic sprinter to train for them because they think he’ll make a good soccer player who lifts them off the bottom of the table. This is the real reason they’re getting him – to create a precedent.


If international footballers watch Bolt flying down the wing against the Jets at Gosford stadium – irrespective of whether he touches the ball – they’ll be watching the results of weeks or even months of the Mariners’ time and resources. 


They’ll hear that the Mariners gave Bolt no deadline to prove he had what it takes, that they were more concerned it doing all they could to give him the best chance of playing at the highest level in the land. 


And they’ll be emboldened. They’ll start to consider the A-League, and more specifically Gosford, as an option. The Mariners are selling the world’s footballers the concept tried-and-tested on Sydneysiders for decades now: “Pursue your life goal: Come to the Central Coast.”


Bolt might be an archetypal Coastie in some respects, but if the best-case scenario materializes he might also be the one to take the Coast’s identity global, and make it something the region can as one be proud of.


Surely a reward like that’s worth at least a training period?


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About Alex Darling

Melbourne-born, Horsham-based footy fan. Lover of the Saints, classic rock guitar and good writing on each of these topics.


  1. Alex, I admire your enthusiasm.
    And if Usain Bolt turning up in Gosford means more juniors trying out soccer (possible) and more punters going through the gates (I reserve my judgement) then that it is great.
    But watching the news and seeing Usain come through the airport, I cannot escape the feeling that this whole show is a circus – and merely demeans the A-League.

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