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Official Review by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Situated on the Brisbane Water foreshore, Central Coast Stadium is the main sports stadium on the Central Coast of New South Wales, about an hour north of Sydney. The ground has had eight different names since 1915, but was commonly known as Grahame Park. Following a stint as Bluetongue Stadium, the venue has recently returned to the ownership and management of Gosford City Council.
Plans for development of a stadium for the site were raised in the late 1990s after the North Sydney Bears rugby league club looked to relocate up the coast in an effort to cement their future following the so-called "Super League War". Construction was infamously delayed by inclement weather with the stadium eventually opening in 2000, with a capacity of 20,059 spectators.
However, this turbulent period in rugby league history saw the Bears controversially merge with the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles to become the Northern Eagles. The joint venture club split their home games between the new stadium and the Sea Eagles spiritual home at Brookvale Oval. After fans failed to support the team, the team reverted to become Manly in 2003, and left Central Coast Stadium without a regular tenant until the birth of the Mariners in 2005.
The Central Coast Mariners are a foundation club of the A-League, which followed the old National Soccer League as Australia’s premier football competition. Despite being one of the smaller franchises, the Mariners have achieved strong success, including a Championship in 2012-13. As the only national professional sporting team on the Coast, the Mariners receive good support from the local community, although there have been rumours of a possible relocation to North Sydney.
As well as the Mariners, Central Coast Stadium periodically still plays host to National Rugby League matches and was also a venue for the 2003 IRB Rugby World Cup, in addition to being the home ground of the Central Coast Rays of the short-lived Australian Rugby Championship.
(Note: exchange rates between the Australian dollar and the US dollar are relatively on-par as of the time of this posting, March 2013, so all prices are listed only in local Australian currency.)
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Central Coast Stadium offers fairly typical stadium food and beverage: standard selection, average quality, and relatively pricey. There are numerous concession stands, so it is quite easy to purchase a quick bite and a drink, although you're certainly not going to receive a gourmet meal.
Hot food on offer includes hot dogs ($5), fish and chips ($9.50), meat pie ($5), and hot chips ($5). Drinks are of the Coke variety with availabilities including 600ml soft drink ($5), bottled water ($4.50), and Powerade ($5). Various meal deals provide some relief from the prices. There is also a specialised Mexican outlet due to open which will provide more variety.
Alcohol is also available, with most drinks costing $6 or more, including Carlton Draught, Victoria Bitter, Cascade Premium Light, wine, and premixed spirits.
While the Mariners do not pack the stadium out, the atmosphere is notable nonetheless. Upon entering the stadium, there is a wall of fame which is a nice touch. The view is aesthetically pleasing with the stadium a great vantage point overlooking Brisbane Water. If you're sitting on the eastern side of the ground, you may be lucky enough to see the sun set beyond the opposite grandstand, as I was.
There is a video scoreboard located at the southern end and several merchandise outlets around the stadium. At half time, there are some cheerleaders and junior teams playing on the ground, but there aren't a lot of extras in terms of atmosphere here - it's mostly about the game itself and the fans. Both teams conduct basic warmups on the pitch prior to play commencing.
One of the sponsors, who produce tomato sauce (ketchup), have several large inflatable replicas near the scoreboard and also fly a small blimp around both before the match and at half time. It doesn't really add to the experience, but is a bit quirky and different.
Crowds are currently around the 10,000 mark, with all areas offering good views and a loud experience. The ground staff members are generally friendly and helpful.
Gosford is the major centre of the Central Coast, an hour north of Sydney. Located at the southern end of the Coast, Gosford sits on the edge of Brisbane Water. This area of the Coast is popular with tourists, particularly towards Terrigal, which is a 20-minute drive away. The best option for entertainment before or after a Mariners game is likely the Central Coast Leagues Club, just across the road. CCL has numerous bars, cafes, and restaurants. Central Coast Stadium is also within walking distance of the Gosford CBD and numerous other dining options, as well as the popular Erina Fair shopping centre. Further afield, the Australian Reptile Park is at Kariong, and I highly recommend the beachside suburbs of Terrigal and Avoca if you plan on staying for the weekend.
I'm sure the Mariners would love to see more people attend games, but the fans that are there do a great job of enhancing the experience. There's plenty of yellow and crowd participation throughout the game.
The "Yellow Army" sits in Bay 16 at the northern end of the ground and includes a brass band and drummers. This group leads many of the chants, including the oft-used "Who do we sing for?", which they direct at other sections of the crowd who reply, "We sing for yellow!" - a fairly common football chant no doubt, but also pretty effective in engaging fans.
For the most part, there is little need for bells and whistles here, as it is mostly the crowd generating the excitement and atmosphere. Kudos to the fans and supporters groups who make the stadium buzz, even when attendance is not at capacity.
The Mariners have healthy rivalries with Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets, which makes these the games to look out for if possible. As with many Australian crowds, the fans also celebrate ironically in the opposing team's misfortune which adds some humour. The game I attended saw an early Mariners goal at the expense of the Jets goalkeeper, who subsequently received cheers following his next (easy) save.
Much of the crowd wears the team colours of yellow and blue. While the Yellow Army had a banner which might be seen as fairly antagonistic towards the opposition (it was a local derby after all), there was no true animosity towards opposing fans, in addition to their supporter's bay were also mingled throughout the other sections of the stadium.
Central Coast Stadium is easily accessible by car and is within walking distance of Gosford Train Station. If you're not already on the Coast, the M1 Pacific Motorway extends from Sydney to Newcastle. The Kariong exit will then lead you onto the Central Coast Highway and a 10-minute drive down into Gosford.
Parking is not fantastic, so get there early. There's parking on either side of the stadium - either near the Central Coast Leagues Club on the eastern side or the railway station on the western side. I chose the western side, and got a great spot free of charge.
Once inside, access is quite easy although manoeuvring in and out of your seat can be a bit tight. Food outlets and bathrooms are close by, wherever you are located.
Central Coast Stadium and the Mariners offer good value for money. Tickets are well priced, with general admission from $24 for adults and $12 for children, with family tickets priced at $60. Reserved seating is $30 for adults and $14 for children, with family tickets at $75. This is very reasonable considering the quality of sport and the overall experience. The food is unfortunately not great, but free parking is a huge plus (get there early!).
A free newsletter, The Loose Cannon, is handed out upon entry which provides some brief news in addition to listing each line up. The Mariners are active supporters of their community in terms of fundraising for worthy local causes. They also receive credit for the view, friendly staff, and merchandise.
It's great to see the Mariners performing above their weight on the field. They've qualified for the Asian Champions League on three occasions in their short history. Given their budget restraints, when it comes to on field talent, the Mariners have done a great job getting the most out of the players they can afford. They're also an important part of life on the Central Coast. With the development of the Mariners Centre of Excellence at Tuggerah, hopefully the club can stave off rumours of relocation to Sydney and remain on the Coast.
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