McKinna makes a splash

Lawrie McKinna is making use of his post as Mayor of Gosford to make sure football is not overlooked.

Over the years, plenty of politicians have claimed to be friends of football. Neville Wran, Gary Punch, Jeff Kennett, Nick Greiner and John Hewson spring to mind. In the end, what benefits did they bring to the game? Not much. Decision-making, where it counts, has remained steadfastly in the hands of rival sports. Hopefully, things might be about to change.

Lawrie McKinna can’t change the world as the new mayor of Gosford, but he can change perceptions. Football’s numerical strength – around 1.7million people either play or support the game in Australia – has always been its greatest asset. The tricky part has been to leverage that asset into influence. McKinna’s shown how it can be done.

The foundation coach of Central Coast Mariners built a profile, and a level of popularity, which translated into the ballot box at the recent NSW local government elections. Standing without a party affiliation, McKinna polled almost 18,000 votes – a record for an independent in Gosford City Council.

That mass support catapulted McKinna into the top job just a week after the poll, and the new mayor has no doubt why he got elected. ”I’m here because of the Mariners, and because of football,” he says. ”It just shows how powerful the Mariners brand is, and how important football can be.”

Unlike previous politicians with tenuous football links, McKinna is the real deal. A former NSL player, a professional coach, and these days the Mariners director of football. The genial Scotsman, now a proud Australian citizen, has bled for the game. Literally.

On a cold winter’s morning back in 2008, he sat outside the offices of local radio station 2GO and had his body hair waxed from his waist to his neck. ”I’m a hairy bastard, and believe me I was sore afterwards,” he laughs. ”But the main thing was I didn’t scream.”

The process took an hour, attracting a crowd of curious onlookers, and was broadcast live. The reason? To raise money for men’s and women’s breast cancer. ”If a woman can get a breast taken off, I figured I could lose a few hairs,” he says.

McKinna’s time at the Mariners has been punctuated by well-intentioned gimmicks. When John Aloisi arrived as a guest player, the local radio station ran a competition to welcome the Socceroos hero to the district by staging a barbeque at McKinna’s home. When McKinna became an Australian citizen in 2007 before a home game against Adelaide United, he warbled the Cold Chisel signature song ”Khe Sanh” in front of thousands of fans. He’s been a tour guide for 50 fans on the bus trip for the F3 derby in Newcastle. Just recently he wore a pink suit, tie and shoes when the Mariners match against Perth Glory was used to promote breast cancer awareness.

Most coaches I know wouldn’t have a bar of these gimmicks. McKinna has embraced them.

”People need to know you’re human, like anyone else,” he says.

”The thing is, when I do these things it’s always for a good cause. I’ve been voted in because of who I am, and I’m not going to change. If I do, I’ve told the missus to give me a slap. I think she liked that idea!”

Now that he’s in the seat of power, opportunity is knocking, loud and clear. Infrastructure – whether it’s grassroots level, semi-professional level, or at Hyundai A-League level – is the game’s biggest issue. The FFA’s national facilities audit in 2010 provided stark evidence of how far the game has fallen behind.

McKinna can’t right the wrongs of decades of government neglect, but he can do his bit. Whether it’s helping Kincumber FC get new dressings sheds at Frost Reserve, or Central Coast’s home of football, Pluim Park, complete an upgrade, or getting the local state politicians to support football in schools, or seeing whether the Mariners can assume management rights of Bluetongue Stadium in 2014, McKinna can exert his influence. And by doing that, he can provide the inspiration for other football-lovers around the country to follow suit.

”Over the years football has definitely been down the pecking order,” he says. ”We’re slowly starting to creep up, and I think my election proves that football can no longer be ignored. We can give the politicians something to think about, that’s for sure.”