Where are you ... fans brave the wet weather during the match against the Victory. Photo: Getty Images
Enough talk about the Central Coast Mariners being a community club. Although it might be a heart-warming tag, a harsh question needs asking: Is the community taking the club for granted?
As an unspoken rule, the Mariners are a sacred lamb for criticism, but this isn't about them. It's about those who populate the area this very club represents with remarkable distinction.
Put simply, they aren't coming to games like they once did. In the 2007-8 season, the Mariners finished on top of the table and boasted a healthy average home gate of 12,738 – not including a sold-out final against Newcastle. Two years later, as the Mariners missed the finals, that figure dropped to 7388.
Mitchell Duke of the Mariners celebrates a goal during the Central Coasts' 6-2 thrashing of the Melbourne Victory. Photo: Getty Images
Now crowds should be right back up there – especially as in the three seasons under Graham Arnold, the Mariners have finished second, first and, this season, are on track for first again. Yet in not one of those seasons has the average crowd been over 10,000.
Where has everyone gone? The stock-standard defence is that the region has the A-League's smallest catchment, and while that's true, the 15,000-strong crowds that turn up on New Year's Eve and for the visits of Alessandro Del Piero (despite his late withdrawal) prove the interest is clearly there.
Ask people around the Coast, and they'll say it's simple things that drive attendances: success, attractive football and community engagement. Yet the Mariners comprehensively tick all three boxes.
No one is more bewildered than "Arnie". He mentions it at most press conferences, offering the same, impassioned spiel about how the locals are missing out.
Some argue the Mariners are predictable; more mechanical than entertaining. But 7-2 and 6-2 triumphs over Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory respectively challenge the myth. Scoring 43 goals this season – seven more than anyone else – absolutely demolishes it.
The time has come not for words but actions. If a crowd of just over 6000 can be excused last Saturday night due to the monsoonal conditions, there can be no such excuses this week.
First, the Mariners are playing their opening Asian Champions League fixture on Wednesday night. They're facing four-time K-League champions, Suwon Bluewings – one of Asia's most famous teams, spearheaded by "The People's Rooney", Jong Tae-Se, the focus of global interest for North Korea at the 2010 World Cup.
The Mariners bear some national responsibility this year. The recent ACL restructure means that, instead of having three participants like last year, we now only have one. It's not a competition they can take lightly.
But three days later, it's the really big one. They host the Western Sydney Wanderers, a clash between first and second where the winners will assume top place.
Given the way both teams are playing, this is a contest that will garner national interest, and could well rate its socks off on pay-TV.
The natural enmity between these two clubs is significant. So much of Central Coast's much-talked about youth has been plundered from the western Sydney area – perhaps fitting, given how tens of thousands of former "Westies" have migrated beyond Ku-ring-gai Chase in recent decades.
The Wanderers' first ever game was against the Mariners. The only team they haven't beaten? The Mariners. Wanderers captain Michael Beauchamp was the defensive cornerstone of the Mariners' foundation team. It was rejuvenated Wanderers striker Mark Bridge, then at arch rivals Newcastle, who famously sunk the Mariners with his brilliant goal in the 2008 grand final.
Maybe it will be Joey Gibbs, who agreed terms with the Mariners before the Wanderers offered him a senior contract, who scores the winner this Saturday.
Either way, the storylines are all there. Don't worry one bit about the how many visiting fans will make the journey. It's a quick trip up the F3 by car, and almost as fast by train from Strathfield. Thousands will be travelling to sing for the Wanderers, and quite possibly witness slice of history. They'll create an ear-splitting atmosphere.
So the challenge must be put to the people of Central Coast. If you really care for this magnificent team on your doorstep, be at Bluetongue Stadium on Saturday night.