Ray Gatt: Mariner at heart

Seating and Active Support update

For a little over 47 years as a sportswriter, I was very fortunate to sit in a press box behind a permanently closed glass window, shielded from the elements while watching a plethora of events both here and overseas.

Obviously, the focus was totally on the job, ensuring you got the facts correct, making sure you met the newspaper deadline and then making it downstairs in time for the press conference before refiling the story with quotes.

Lost in all of that, however, was the enjoyment of simply being a fan.

The thought of getting the job done and the fact the press box usually drowned out much of the sound of the fans, didn’t help you get a true sense of the atmosphere that goes with making a football match or sporting event something special.

Ray Gatt and his co-workers at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Nothing beats being in the middle of a raucous crowd and absorbing every sight and sound of a full house.

But, since my retirement, I have been able to finally experience what I have been missing out on – and to enjoy being a fan and a part of the Central Coast Mariners family and community.

While I have been a paid up season ticket holder of the club for the past eight years, the constraints of my job meant I was only able to get to use it on a regular basis last season as the Mariners went on that magical and unforgettable journey that saw us make the finals for the first time in a long time under Alen Stajcic.

Sitting in my seat next to my wife (also a season ticket holder) and a couple of friends, there was nothing better than wearing my Mariners members cap, having a pie in one hand, a beer in the other and jumping out of my seat whenever the Mariners scored or won.

And, yes, I have even booed the referee when I thought he had been too harsh on the Mariners!

Also, not having to worry about writing and filing a story and instead go the club before the game and at full time to dissect it with friends over a beer is a delight and something I have savoured.

I have often been asked why the Mariners? Why follow them when I have lived in south western Sydney for almost all of my life?

Well, one of my earliest childhood memories was the regular visits to the Central Coast, in particular the foreshore at Long Jetty, when you could actually swim in the Tuggerah Lakes.

We picnicked and swam for hours, returning home exhausted, glowing red and in pain from the sunburn.

When I got married we bought a fixed caravan at Duncans Lakefront Park at Long Jetty, right opposite where I used to picnic and swim as a kid. We had that caravan for 20 years, travelling there for weekends and holidays, before acquiring a unit at The Entrance a couple of years ago.

When the Mariners came along with the introduction of the A-League, it was simply the perfect fit, though, as a journalist, it was difficult to keep my liking for the club under wraps initially.

I remember clearly, though, that I was the only journalist to tip them to win the inaugural A-League title before the start of the 2005-06 season. Sadly, Lawrie McKinna’s team fell agonisingly short in the grand final, sunk by a Steve Corica goal set up by Dwight Yorke.

There was a lot of heart-break in the finals after that before Graham Arnold helped deliver the ultimate and much deserved prize of a championship in 2013 with a glorious grand final win over Western Sydney.

That was a very difficult day and I can tell you it was extremely tough keeping the emotions in check, though writing the story was a breeze and one of the most pleasurable things I have had to do!

There have been rough times since then, but the club, in the capable hands of CEO Shaun Mielekamp, the board, management and coach Nick Montgomery, is on the right track.

There’s definite hope for the Yellow and Navy and the wonderful fans that have stuck by the club for so long.

It is the fans that are the lifeblood of the Mariners. From the beginning, that’s what has always struck me about the club.

I look around and I see so many families proudly wearing the club colours from the grand parents, to the parents to the kids. They typify the Central Coast – hard working, honest, fiercely loyal, faithful and with a #WontBackDown mentality.

The Mariners are a true community club and I am honoured to accept a part time role as its ambassador for KEEPUP (the A-League’s official news app) and to provide columns, feature stories and interviews from inside the club.

And the good part about all of this? I can still cheer loud and long for the Yellow!