So, Central Coast Mariners owner Mike Charlesworth is reportedly considering selling the soul of the club to the Red Devils, otherwise known as English Premier League and world football giants Manchester United.
Worse still, and much to the alarm of the Mariners faithful, the Sydney Morning Herald suggests if the deal comes off, United will rebrand the club and relocate it to the sporting death trap of the northern suburbs of Sydney.
Excuse the expression but, what the?
Nobody can begrudge Charlesworth for looking to make a killing. When a club like United come calling, and the dollar signs light up like a pinball machine, one would be foolish to not at least give the opportunity serious consideration.
I am no great fan of Charlesworth. He has cut the club back to the bare minimum, failed to provide proper investment and made some crazy decisions over the years.
But he has also lost a lot of money attempting to keep the franchise afloat and, without his money, the Yellow and Navy would have sunk some time ago.
If the deal and relocation eventuates, good luck to him. But such a move would destroy any smidgin of a legacy he might have managed in the past, and it will be Australian football – and the proud Central Coast community – that will be left to count the terrible cost.
Speaking as a long-time Mariners supporter and season ticket holder, the game simply cannot allow one of the A-League’s few true community clubs to be shafted, rebranded and parachuted into a Sydney region that does not really possess a sporting soul. Especially when they are top of the table for the first time in an age.
Australian football history is littered with the corpses of foreign clubs which have come here expecting to reap the financial rewards and take advantage of the country’s big bank of young talent.
Manchester United would disenfranchise thousands of fans
Scottish club Rangers did it with Northern Spirit in the former National Soccer League and it did not end well. Rangers departed in haste, leaving a shell of a club that eventually played in front of 300 people at Warringah.
Manchester United also had a dabble on a smaller scale, investing in youth development at Parramatta Eagles before ending the relationship.
Even now, United’s arch-rivals and EPL champions-in-waiting Manchester City, backed by the football conglomerate that is the City Football Group, own Melbourne City in the A-League, having taken over the club known as Melbourne Heart before rebranding it.
CFG have at least done some decent work with Melbourne City in both the A-League and W-League and are actively attempting to engage a wider fanbase. That said, the Victorian club have not really captured the imagination and are still very much searching for an identity.
In contrast, the Western Sydney Wanderers, at just nine years old, have shown what can be done by tapping into a local community. Granted, their on-field results of the past three or four seasons have not made for pretty reading, but the club have led the way in community engagement and spent a considerable amount money on building a state-of-the-art training and academy centre.
There is also the question of what Manchester United’s owner, the Glazer family, would gain from relocating the Mariners.
Yes, the global influence of the United name and brand is not to be underestimated, but that does not mean United fans who follow different A-League outfits will jump ship simply to support another because their Premier League club bought it.
Take Melbourne City, whose middling crowd figures suggest very little Manchester City-Melbourne City crossover support. As a lifelong Liverpool fan, I would not defect from the Mariners to follow another A-League franchise bought by the Reds.
Mariners chief executive, Shaun Mielekamp, did not outright deny the story on Tuesday.
“‘Meetings’ have happened with loads of clubs around the world and it is normal when the club is up for sale,” Mielekamp tweeted. “But speculations are nothing more than speculations and its (sic) important like in the pre-season none of this distracts anyone at the club – it is just noise.”
To make this work – and, as with any business boasting big money, there is a chance it could – United would have to be willing to invest properly, keep the club where it is and buy Central Coast Stadium.
Any relocation, though, would be an unmitigated disaster. There is nothing to gain from it. The Central Coast football community will not cop it and, as the saying goes, lose the club and you lose the fans.
United would disenfranchise thousands of fans with no guarantee of replacing them with anywhere near the same number in any new region.
Football is not about branding; it is about passion and community spirit – and Manchester United would do well to remember that.