Lonely Planet Writer

Crowds are flocking to see Usain Bolt play soccer Down Under

The world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt has thrilled Australian football fans by embarking on the next chapter of his sporting career with the New South Wales Central Coast Mariners A-League team.

The world's fastest man Usain Bolt makes his soccer debut in Australia
Central Coast Mariners player Usain Bolt makes his debut with the Central Coast Mariners. Photo by: Speed Media/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 32-year-old debuted at a friendly game at Central Coast Stadium, about an hour north of Sydney, on 31 August. He took the field for 20 minutes in a friendly between the Mariners and Central Coast Football, which the Mariners won 6-1.

Bolt retired from athletics in 2016, and has since searched the world for a football team to call home. Over the last year, he has trained with Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns and Norway’s Stromsgodset. The Mariner’s represent an interesting choice. Considered one of the more modest clubs in the league, the team is based in Gosford on the New South Wales Central Coast, about one and a half hour’s drive north of Sydney. They play in navy and yellow, and Bolt wears number 95, a reference to his 100-metre world record time of 9.58.

Usain bolt waiting to make his debut for the Central Coast Mariners
Usain Bolt looks on from the bench during the pre-season match between the Central Coast Mariners and Central Coast Football at Central Coast Stadium on 31 August  2018 in Gosford, Australia. Photo by: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

So is Bolt any good? Critics are undecided on his potential, but many have suggested that while his physique and fitness are obviously ideal for sprinting, he may not have the endurance required to play A-League football.

As Bolt himself said ‘I think the first 15 [minutes] was good, the last five I could feel my back getting a little bit tight. But overall I wasn’t too tired so that’s a good sign.’

At this stage, Bolt has been invited to train with the club and is still chasing a contract. ‘I think the big fellow did OK,’ Coach Mike Mulvey said after his first game. ‘He was on a hiding to nothing a little bit nervous, but I’m quite happy with him.’

Usain Bolt with the fans after his Australian soccer debut
Usain Bolt greets fans after the pre-season match between the Central Coast Mariners and Central Coast Football at Central Coast Stadium on 31 August 2018 in Gosford, Australia. Photo by: Ashley Feder/Getty Images

One thing is certain, the eight-time Olympic champion is boosting crowd numbers, with 25% more people attending his debut game than the Mariners’ average home crowd last season. Meanwhile, 60 countries showed the game live, including in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Bolt left Australia for France just three weeks into training to fulfil a prior commercial commitment but is expected to return on 16 September, when fans eagerly await his next appearance.

Match tickets are available through the Central Coast Mariners website.