Sprint king Usain Bolt fulfilled a boyhood dream Friday in making his much-anticipated football debut, exciting fans but tiring quickly in a 20-minute cameo for Australia’s Central Coast Mariners.
The Jamaican superstar, a huge Manchester United fan, has been handed a chance to train with the A-League side for an indefinite period in a bid to prove he has what it takes to earn a professional playing contract.
His arrival has generated a massive buzz at the club’s base in Gosford, 75 kilometres (47 miles) north of Sydney, and some 10,000 people packed the Central Coast Stadium — a virtually unprecedented turnout for a pre-season game.
It wasn’t quite Old Trafford but there was a lively atmosphere with a brass band on hand to get the crowd going.
“It’s a wonderful moment to play at a high level, in professional football,” Bolt said after the Mariners beat an amateur side 6-1.
“It was good, it was what I expected. The crowd gave me a big ovation which I really appreciated. I was a little bit nervous but as soon as I got on the field the nerves went.”
After only a handful of training sessions since arriving last week, the fastest man on earth watched avidly from the bench as the Mariners began dismantling the Central Coast select side.
He didn’t have long to wait to celebrate with his team getting on the scoresheet barely 20 seconds after kick off thanks to a sweet strike by Jack Clisby from the edge of the box.
They were 5-0 up at a half-time and a massacre seemed imminent, but the part-timers battled hard in the second half.
The eight-time Olympic champion wore gloves and appeared relaxed, despite his nerves, as he followed the match intently.
On a chilly night, he stayed warm on the sidelines by stretching and jogging with the 32-year-old happily giving the thumbs up and high-fives to fans.