They said he’d be treated like any other player, but we all acknowledged to some extent this would not be the case.
The moment the Mariners' traditional pre-season hit out against a Central Coast Football select side moved from Lisarow to the Gosford waterfront, it was only going to be about one person: Usain St. Leo Bolt.
Changing venues was not the only enhancement made to ensure the eight-time Olympic gold-medallist a fitting reception: DJs, Fireworks and a Cheerleading routine warmed up the near 10,000 spectators that filed in.
By and large, we’re OK with all this hype. His star and charisma undiminished after 15 months away from the athletics track, Bolt has given the Coast a global profile - something it’s arguably never had before, and not like this. And we’re all on some level curious to see if he’s actually good enough to play.
While there was nothing remarkable about Bolt’s 20 minutes on the field on Friday night, he ticked all the boxes he needed to: No injuries, plenty of publicity, and thousands of Coasties who can say they watched the fastest human in history playing soccer.
Post-match, Coach Mike Mulvey said it’s still too early to decide whether Bolt has what it takes, though fitness is the main area he needs to improve in.
“Do you think he’s fit enough?” Mulvey asked the post-match press conference.
“I’m not gonna judge him on whether he can zip past someone before we get him fit. He’s already said ‘give me four months to get fit’, so we’ll see.”
“I think the next month I should be up and running at speed,’ Bolt agreed, “[and in] four months time I’ll be fit and getting a lot more time on the ball. I personally feel I’ll get a contract by then.”
“I think moving off the ball [too]. I think knowing where I should be when the ball is played to the wing or inside or defence, so it’s all about the movement.”
He came on in the 71st, just after the crowd started becoming restless with chants of “We Want Bolt!”, and started out nervously…
But he gradually became more comfortable on the field, even trying to wrong-foot his opponents and doing some cheeky quick passes. Killarney’s Tim Knight almost stole the show a few minutes later, when he curled a superb goal past ben Kennedy for Select’s only goal.
The Mariners gave him half a dozen opportunities to score a goal in the second half, but it was here the match would fail to live up to a fairytale storyline: Bolt failed to convert, later explaining it as “I was making the plays in my head before I got the ball.”
The Mariners were allowed to be Bolt-conscious after setting putting on five goals to none in the first, despite reasonable goalkeeping from Terrigal United’s Aaron Zavolkin.
While Mulvey repeated his plea to Coasties to be patient and trust in the rebuild he’s undertaking.
“Today was a game against a local Select team, and you’d expect us to win it. We scored some good goals but it’s not the finished article," Mulvey said.
"We’re going to produce a very good football team [that’s] ultra-competitive. We’re gonna rise from the ashes and produce a good football team you can be proud of.”