Straight from the stands
Expansion is the biggest challenge facing the A-League and the FFA today. It’s central to the future of football in this country – and the reputation of the league cannot risk another mis-step like Gold Coast United. (I still maintain North Queensland Fury could have had a viable future... and can still, even if it’s not in this round of expansion.)
As our in-depth feature starting on page 40 shows, there is a wealth of options available to the FFA – some admittedly better than others... but for every weakness in each major bid we profile, there is also a significant strength. Yet as we go to press, the buzz around town is that the two current front runners are a second team for Brisbane based on the Strikers’ bid but playing out of Suncorp Stadium, and the South Sydney side first considered when Wellington Phoenix’s future was in doubt. Hear that? That’s the sound of football fans’ hearts sinking... Outside of FFA HQ and the South Sydney bid team itself, it’s almost impossible to find anyone excited by the idea of a new Cronulla-based franchise. Sydney FC already cover the area, and if South Sydney want to stretch their reach down to Wollongong, the Wolves would rather have their own team in the competition, thanks very much. It would largely cannibalise Sydney FC’s existing fanbase rather than draw in a new audience – and it’s hard to believe there are no better options to target within the Sydney area. And while the Brisbane Strikers’ bid is an excellent idea, stadium sharing with their derby rivals is a terrible idea. It’s just one of the (many) lessons we learned from the Melbourne Heart debacle. Clubs need their own fortress, their own home, their own identity - and Strikers already have a home at Perry Park. It may not be up to A-League standard yet, but they and the FFA need to focus on getting a commitment for an upgrade from local government as part of the bid. No upgrade? No A-League. Meanwhile, South Melbourne continue to be shunned by the FFA. A proud history, an existing fanbase, a geographic and cultural difference from the two other Melbourne sides AND their own stadium... yet the FFA appear to have little interest in bringing them into the A-League fold. Adelaide’s two bids also have merit, but the perpetual case for Canberra seems to be lacking backers at this crucial time. For me, if TV bosses demand another Sydney side, I’d (controversially!) add one based out of Liverpool or Bankstown, plus South Melbourne, and second teams in Adelaide and Brisbane, with an eye to Canberra and Wollongong and then Geelong and Fury to round it out to a 18-team league (or 20 if you also take in Tassie and Fremantle). Easy!