The whoary chestnuts of Australian Soccer – Part 1: Expansion

As I relax at the beach I can say that this month of January offers to the sport fan a cornucopia of riches. A major international football tournament, the Australian Open and plenty of cricket for those fond of that sport.

As I watch sport on the telly, my mind wonders of course on my favourite sport, that is football (aka soccer) and the recurring themes that are continuously bantered around.  I can identify three. Expansion, relegation and TV rights.

These issues have been debated to death on social media, so why would I raise them again?  Well I am on holidays, what the heck?  Is like reading a trashy novel.

So let’s look at the first issue: Expansion of the A-League

Lots of debate where the next A-League team or teams should be located.  I have been somewhat baffled by some of the actions and statements coming out of the FFA about this.  It seems that they look at a demographic map and look where the higher population densities are and plan to plonk a team there.  This seemed to be the model for Melbourne Heart.  Yes Melbourne has lots of people that love football but does it mean that it it can necessarily have two teams?  I could not understand why someone who wasn’t following Melbourne Victory was going to follow Melbourne Hearts.  There was no point of difference besides ‘not being Melbourne Victory’.  And let’s face it, football is going ahead in leaps and bounds, but it is still not the main code and the proportion of potential fans for a team is not necessarily related to the size of population.

Of course the FFA got it right with the Western Sydney Wonderers.  But the elements were all there.  The  fact that Western Sydney has a distinct identity separate from the rest of the Sydney metropolitan area and it was a location which traditionally had lots of football followers and a football tradition allowed for a separate entity.  But this is not present in Melbourne City.  I suspect this would be the same in Brisbane or Adelaide (I am happy to be corrected).  The Gold Coast was another example.  Besides the location of the ground and the loopy owner, I never thought that a place which consisted basically of Rugby League fans and retired AFL loving Victorians was a place for a new team.  Yes, it is one of the major population centres in Australia but that doesn’t mean there is a ready substantial fan base.

I hope this false high population = new team thinking is not applied to a new team in South Sydney (or the Shire).  I’ve asked some of my Sydney twitter followers about whether they thought a Sutherland Shire A League team would work and they were doubtful. Let’s face it.  An area with a relatively low number of migrants (or their offsprings) from football nations is an issue.  And from what I hear the Sutherland Shire is pretty ‘Anglo’.  Some point out that the junior participation in football is very high.  But as Les Murray stated this is no indication of potential fans.  I had personal experiences here in Melbourne of children playing fooball as a sport but not interested at all in following Melbourne Victory.  They played football in the mornings and then went to watch their AFL teams in the afternoon.  They played sport because they enjoyed the activity, or their parents thought it was a good sport for children to play.  But there was no connection in following a team at all.

So where the next team should be?  Canberra?  They have a W League team that has done well.  There has been a local community that put their heart and soul in a bid some time ago and they had a NSL team. And it is the national capital after all and if we want to follow overseas leagues we should have a team representing it .  The question again is whether we would have enough fans.  From memory the Canberra Cosmos had pretty low attendances, and the population is very transient.

What about re-surrecting the Fury in North Queensland? Some stated that it was created for the World Cup bid to show that the competition was covering all the areas of Australia and ditched when the bid failed.  North Queensland is not represented by lots of Australia wide teams, also it can claim that it has a football tradition with its European migration in the cane growing industry.  It  also can be a vehicle to provide opportunities for indigenous players.  But again distance and potential fans is an issue.

One location that I’d love to have a team, but totally impracticable is Tasmania.  I know that there is a healthy local competition.  But enough people to follow a team?  Also I believe there is a strong north south split where Hobart people wouldn’t follow anything from Devenport and vice versa, so a ‘Hobart’ team is already problematic.  There could be a ‘Tasmania’ team but matches would have to be played between Hobart and a north town which would make it messy.  While the opportunity to have the only team in Australia that represents Tasmania in a national competition is enticing (not to mention the great away trips for us Melbourne Victory supporters) it is not enough for an A League team there.

So where?  

As a Victorian I am wary of yet another NSW team, but to me the best bet would be Woolongong. I was surprised why the FFA didn’t include a team there when the A-League was established.  The Wolves had a great tradition in the NSL and a healthy fan base to build on. The idea to establish a Shire team that would somewhat encompass Woolongong won’t cut it.  No idea whether the Wolves can be re-surrected in the A-League (I believe they still exist in the state league?) but I believe they could be a great inclusion in the national competition.

Right.  With expansion dealt with next up will be relegation and promotion. 

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