Tales from Tianjin - Mariners On Tour

It’s here! The ups and downs of the Hyundai A-League season haven’t given us much time to think AFC Champions League, but it’s now upon us. The second attempt at continental football for the Mariners has a huge air of positivity surrounding it – after a largely disappointing but nonetheless symbolic debut in 2009.

Central Coast Mariners General Manager - Marketing and Commercial, blogs from Tianjin, China.

It-s here! The ups and downs of the Hyundai A-League season haven-t given us much time to think AFC Champions League, but it-s now upon us. The second attempt at continental football for the Mariners has a huge air of positivity surrounding it - after a largely disappointing but nonetheless symbolic debut in 2009.

The numbers gathered at check-in A at Sydney International Airport reveal the passion behind the team at the moment. It-s a long long way from Terrigal to Tianjin - but Air China Flight 175 has a certain Coastie feel - revealed by yellow & navy dotted throughout the departure hall. Twenty Mariners die-hards on the Official Supporters Tour know there-s something special about competing in this prestigious competition and so do the dozen Yellow Army tourers that make up a solid travelling contingent.

As we sat down for a round of departure drinks (on the club!), the group was in high spirits. “I reckon Arnie should be sacked if we don-t win!” says Paul Kent, from Mangrove Mt, before a grin creeps across his face, followed by a chuckle and a much needed clarification “I-m joking of course. He-s the best domestic coach in Australia, I hope to he stays with us for for a long time. His expertise and learning from Guus Hiddink put him in a position to lead us very well in Asia.”

For nearly everyone on the trip it-s their first time to China, & John Cragg says it-s really quite surreal. “I still find it amazing that I can support my team from the Central Coast on an international stage. It-s against the odds that we-re in the A-League at all with such as small population - we-re still very much here & regularly knocking off more fancied teams!” said John.

Ken Knight isn-t making his first trip to the world-s most populous nation, but this trip is going to be different. “It-s always been with business before, mostly to Shanghai and the southern manufacturing hubs - lots of pressure. This time I get to do some real sightseeing, with my wife who has never been, such as Beijing & The Great Wall. And sampling first-hand the feeling of the Mariners in the ACL of course which will be very exciting,” he said.

Now it-s no secret that Graham Arnold too has high ambitions for the team in this competition - and after arriving into our exceptionally comfortable hotel in Tianjin, it was off to the outskirts of the city & the TEDA business compound to see how Arnie was preparing the boys.

The smog was thick & the temperature close to freezing, but clad in bright yellow jackets & with smiles on our faces - the official supporters tour brought a Mariners warmth to the city. We were literally stopping traffic. Everything had been going perfectly under the expert lead of our funny & informative local guide Charlie. But when our bus driver failed to note the height limit on a freeway entrance, we clattered to a stop, bringing down a huge metal archway & stopping one whole side of a six-lane freeway in the process. Luckily nobody was hurt, but already terrible traffic had intensified to a new level. Our only choice was to get on a local bus for a 45 minute zig-zagging trip through the Tianjin suburbs, which meant missing training.

We finally made it to the team hotel, and somehow, everyone was still in great spirits. They certainly saw the funny side! As did the players when they arrived and first day in China ended with a casual mingling session at the hotel bar. The boys were polite, insightful & extremely happy to see their travelling fans - and the tour members had plenty of questions about the preparations & the atmosphere in the squad. It was easy to tell that it isn-t just fans that get excited about continental competitions, the travelling squad was visibly buzzing ahead of Matchday 1 of the AFC Champions League.

If you're interested in joining an official supporters tour to Japan, booking are about to close so check out the information herehere.