MARINERS MAD: Hazel Smith with last year’s marquee signing Luis Garcia, a Spanish international who had previously played for Liverpool in the English Premier League.
MARINERS MAD: Hazel Smith with last year’s marquee signing Luis Garcia, a Spanish international who had previously played for Liverpool in the English Premier League.

Mariners' No.1 fan bleeds yellow and blue

NOTHING will keep Hazel Smith away from Central Coast Mariners' home games - not even her granddaughter's wedding; she's been warned.

Hazel, at 74, is proud to say she's a one-eyed Mariners fan, and hasn't missed them on home ground since the team's inception in 2004.

While the team that reached the grand final in their inaugural year has had a few tough seasons of recent, including a wooden spoon, Hazel's never given up hope or her season seat, and reckons they should make the finals this year with new coach, ex-Socceroo Paul Okon and his new signings.

A 1-0 pre-season win over Wellington Phoenix on September 12, just after we spoke, would have given her heart.

The 2017 season kicks off on Saturday, October 7 with a derby against the Newcastle Jets.

The local derbies are always passionate matches, Hazel said, especially with the Jets and Mariners now giving fans complimentary access to each other's grounds for the face-offs, meaning it should be a good turn-out of over 10,000.

Originally from Newcastle, Hazel's been living on the Central Coast for over 50 years and despite being involved in soccer all her life, following her dad (a Newcastle goalie himself in the 1920s) to her brother's matches, she said there's no divided loyalties - she'll be cheering for the Mariners all the way.

"They're still my team whether they win or lose," Hazel said.

"You don't stop backing them or going to games just because they're not on top."

But, unfortunately, others haven't felt the same, and Hazel is keen to get fans back behind the local boys.

"That's what we need - people to get behind the local team and stay there," Hazel said.

She said the introduction of overseas marquee players had made it tough on the locals, who couldn't match the deep pockets of the likes of Melbourne City, supported by England's Manchester City.

But she said they still boasted the largest number of players going on to play nationally for the Socceroos, and she's hopeful of a big turnaround with this year's signings of Dutch midfielders Tom Hiariej and Wout Brama and Spaniards Alan Baro (centre back) and striker Asdrubal.

"So long as we win a few games and we're competitive, I'll be happy. But we've got to aim for the finals, don't we?" she laughed.

Hazel has been at each of the Mariners' grand final tilts and admits "crying her eyes out" when they went down to Brisbane in a penalty shoot-out in 2011.

She'll also never forget the exhilaration of their premiership win over the Western Sydney Wanderers in 2013 in front of a crowd of over 40,000.

"I was too scared to believe we would win, just being there was exciting, but the win was the icing on the cake," she said.

And speaking of cake, when it comes to birthday cake, the Mariners had something special for Hazel, with one of their biggest fans being presented with the game coin to toss by the team's first coach, Laurie McKinna on her 70th birthday.

She holds season tickets for four generations of her own family, including her two-year-old great grandson, and urges others to get behind what she says is a real family-centred club, with a great spirit.

Full season membership includes all 13 home matches at Central Coast Stadium for as low as $16.15 per game, as well as entry to the derbies at Newcastle.

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