Would Southern Expansion be better off ignoring the Illawarra?

Mike Tuckerman Columnist

By , Mike Tuckerman is a Roar Expert

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    It would make more sense for Sydney and Wollongong to provide two new A-League teams, so why does Southern Expansion want to represent both cities?

    The most impressive element of Monday’s surprise announcement was undoubtedly the fact that Southern Expansion – surely a working title only – has already attracted a $12 million bank guarantee from Chinese property investors the Jia Yuan group.

    That’s some serious coin in a league hardly flush with cash, and the fact the club has also pledged to build a boutique football-specific stadium strikes all the right chords.

    There’s no denying a steering committee featuring former Socceroo Craig Foster and ex-SBS commentator Les Murray also boasts some serious football nous, when a common refrain has been that there aren’t enough ‘football people’ involved in running the game.

    In many respects, Southern Expansion looks exactly like the sort of expansion team the A-League desperately needs. So why do some key elements still seem somewhat askew?

    The elephant in the room has got to be Sydney FC – who have every reason to fear that another Sydney-based side will cannibalise their support.

    Unlike the obvious geographic and cultural ties that make Western Sydney a clearly-defined part of the city, there’s no such delineation the further south you go.

    And if Southern Expansion are to join the Wanderers in the league – and it’s worth remembering the Central Coast Mariners have long coveted the northern suburbs of Sydney – it begs the question of how much of the city is left for Sydney FC to represent.

    But perhaps the biggest head-scratcher is the inclusion of Football South Coast as part of the bid.

    Covering the Illawarra and South Coast regions of New South Wales, the association is also home to two-time former National Soccer League champions Wollongong Wolves.

    The Wolves have their own expansion plans, a suitable venue in WIN Stadium ready to go, and the supposed backing of billionaire Bruce Gordon.

    WIN Stadium at night

    If Gordon was serious about investing in the Wolves, it’s fair to ask why he hasn’t done so already.

    And if Southern Expansion spurs other expansion bids to get their affairs in order, so much the better.

    But if Southern Expansion are to represent the St George, Sutherland and Illawarra regions as proposed, then where will they play?

    And if they build a football-specific stadium, where will it be? And if the stadium happens to be built in St George – one of the spiritual homes of football in Australia – why would Wollongong fans travel some 70 kilometres up the motorway to watch them?

    If those fans don’t already travel to watch Sydney FC or Western Sydney Wanderers, will they support a club that could potentially play as little as four games a year in their own backyard – and then only for a limited time?

    You only need to look to the St George Illawarra Dragons to witness the awkward reality of cross-regional clubs, although Southern Expansion has already tweeted that it would be “nice to emulate them”.

    At the end of the day, Foster is right when he says that football in Australia needs substantially more investment, and Southern Expansion deserve kudos for taking the initiative – even if the move potentially coincides with Foster’s current employer SBS losing their A-League broadcast rights.

    And attracting foreign investment is also a good thing, although it remains to be seen how backing an A-League club might affect the Jia Yuan group’s other commercial interests.

    But while any club that brings $12 million worth of backing to the table will almost certainly get the green light from a Football Federation Australia no doubt keen to retain control of the expansion narrative, plenty of questions still remain.

    Foremost among them is perhaps the simplest question of all: why doesn’t Southern Expansion simply service the St George and Sutherland regions, and leave Illawarra to the Wollongong Wolves?

    Mike Tuckerman
    Mike Tuckerman

    Mike Tuckerman is a Sydney-born journalist and lifelong football fan. After lengthy stints watching the beautiful game in Germany and Japan, he settled in Brisbane, and has been a leading Roar football columnist from December 2008.

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