A deep affiliation with football in Gosford made becoming a founding Central Coast Mariners member an easy decision for Martin Rayner.
Originally from the UK, Rayner moved to Australia in the 1980’s to start a new life on the Central Coast, and just as it did in his early years in England football became a key aspect of his new life in New South Wales.
He invested himself into the game as both a player and a coach from the moment he arrived but it took until the mid-2000’s for Rayner to find an avenue to express himself as a fan of the game on the national stage, when the Central Coast Mariners became a founding club in the A-League’s inaugural 2005/06 campaign.
Now, on the eve of members week, Rayner says becoming a member of the Mariners side was an absolute no-brainer.
“For me being a football fan all my life, it was an easy decision to be made – go straight in and sign up,” Rayner said.
“Football has always been in my blood, I’ve been playing or coaching on the Central Coast since 1982.
“You grow to love the Central Coast as a community, but then with your passion being football all of a sudden there’s a local side that gets sent into a national league, again there was no decision to be made, I wanted to be a part of it.
“As much as people on the Central Coast will tell you their part of the Coast is better than everywhere else, when someone outside of the Coast says something about us we all tend to say, ‘no, we’re all the Central Coast’.
“It was a really unifying thing and the only sporting club that represented the Central Coast on a national level, so for me it was a perfect fit.
“With all the people around me I knew from local football, we were all pushing each other out of the way to sign up.
“For us it was always the reason we would get together: our love of football and growing up together, spending time playing in the same football teams or coaching, involved in the same clubs with people you get to know, it became a place to go and catch up with your mates and watch your local team play.”
Since the Mariners first stepped out in Gosford Rayner has been there as a member every season bar one.
In that time Rayner has developed a deep understanding of what the Mariners faithful expect of their team each season, with an emphasis on grit and determination more than tallying the silverware collection as the years go by.
“I guess with some clubs there’s an expectation that ‘we’re a big enough club, we should be winning’, there’s that expectation that they need to finish top,” he said.
“I think with the Mariners and being the Central Coast, we just wanted to compete with the big boys.
“If we went out there and we battled, we fought, even if we went down, we had given everything we had… in the stands there’s been games where we were disappointed if we’ve gone down, especially in those early days, but you could see the guys had given everything and we’d accept it.
“Players that the Coast got behind: André Gumprecht, [John] Hutchinson, guys like that who were all heart, and Matt Simon to this day, Ziggy Gordon – the guys who you see they really want it, they’re the ones who the Coast get passionate about because you can see they’re fighting for it.”
Despite the premium the Mariners faithful put on performing with heart, results do matter in the end for fans such as Rayner who in recent history have suffered through season’s filled with testing times and lean results.
But in the league’s early days the Mariners experienced a rapid rise to prominence which preceded an incredibly challenging pursuit of a maiden A-League Championship, a journey Rayner followed every step of the way.
“The first [Grand Final] against Sydney, the thing I remember from that day was it felt like we had made it because we were there in the Grand Final,”he said.
“No one expected the Central Coast at the start of the year to be up the top, so to be playing Sydney, just to see the boys walk out there, that’s still one of my fondest memories of the Mariners.
“The result didn’t go our way but we were so proud.
“After the game you could see the team was devastated and the fans, but there was just that sense of pride.
“I think that was really a landmark day for the club.
“I was there when we lost to the Jets [2007/08 Grand Final loss], probably the less said about that the better against our rivals from down the road.
“That was a bit more gutting I think, there was a little bit more expectation there.
“The Brisbane game [2010/11 Grand Final loss], I wasn’t in Brisbane but I certainly saw enough of it.
“Losing in the way it ended up happening, that was gut-wrenching.
“There was a little bit then i think of ‘okay, yes we’re competing but can we please get over the line?’
“I think there was a sense that we deserved it.
“Then being there for the Wanderers game [2012/13 Grand Final win], the feeling amongst the fans was we were in with a massive shout in the game and to get the result, there was celebration, there was relief, there was a feeling that we deserved this, the club deserved this.
“Every player that had pulled on a jersey from 2006 onwards deserved that, anyone who had been involved with the club.
“We loved to compete and fight but it was about time we got that win and then got that trophy.
There were plenty of tears that day, it was great to be there.
After enjoying the club’s early success Rayner and the Mariners have recently endured a six-season run without finals football.
As a member through the good days and now through the more trying days, Rayner says he can see light at the end of the tunnel, with an exciting crop of young, local talent driving his optimism his side can be a force in the A-League once more.
“There’s some really good talent coming through on the Central Coast,” he said.
“There is some young talent here, there’s just that little bit of belief as much as you have belief at the start of every season with the club.
“The type of player, as I spoke before of Gumprecht and Hutchinson with heart, we’ve got people like Matt Simon still here playing a mentor role, people like Ziggy Gordon who brings so much passion to it, you just feel that’s what we need.
“We’re not going to make any bold predictions like ‘here we go, we’re doing the double’, but i think we’ll certainly be more competitive this year.
“I think you’ll see if the boys get ad event start to the season there’ll be a bit more belief and a positive feel amongst the players and also the crowd and the club itself, and who knows what could happen?”