Clive Palmer has wrought destruction on his own club (AAP Image/Laine Clark)

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Gold Coast United has reached the point of no return, with owner Clive Palmer engaging in a public war of words with the governing body, Football Federation Australia, coach Miron Bleiberg quitting after his farcical suspension, and the exodus of players beginning.

In the week since my last column, written in the wake of their lowest home crowd of the season, the club has self-imploded with Palmer doing the detonating.

From the appointment of a 17-year-old debutant as captain, the suspension of arguably their strongest asset, Bleiberg, who has subsequently quit the club, to James Brown kick-starting the player exodus by signing with the Newcastle Jets.

With Palmer reportedly meeting with the players today to discuss the future of the club, there appears to be little he can say to stop them from running to Coolangatta Airport and getting out of the rabble that is Gold Coast United.

After all, following his comments over the weekend, why should anyone hang around?

“I don’t even like the game,” Palmer told The Sunday Mail. “I think it’s a hopeless game. Rugby league’s a much better game.

“The club is a very small, insignificant portion of what I do. We’ve got over $20 billion of projects.”

And there, in a few quotes, is what is fundamentally flawed with Gold Coast United. It is Clive Palmer’s Gold Coast United, not Gold Coast’s Gold Coast United – and that’s always been the case.

Bleiberg has rightly resigned, telling the Courier-Mail “I’ll not be back”

“Clive can take my job but he took away my dignity – no one can take away my dignity.

“If Clive wanted to hurt me, he succeeded. If he didn’t mean to hurt me, he made a mistake.”

Ever since Palmer’s blustering entry into the league with brash comments of undefeated seasons, private jets and more, the club became an extension of his own ego and persona.

So why should the people of the Gold Coast care and commit to the club when their figurehead seemingly doesn’t?

It’s all downhill from here, surely – no coach, few players signed on beyond this season, what fans that remain surely questioning their loyalty to a club that is “insignificant” in the eyes of its owner, and with the governing body preparing to find any means necessary to kick them out of the competition.

Palmer’s licence agreement for Gold Coast United doesn’t expire till 2014, and despite his controversial comments, followed by the lukewarm response from the FFA, it appears the mining magnate isn’t ready to walk away without a fight.

“If we wanted to stay (in the A-League) and they (FFA) wanted to take it (the licence) off us, they’d all be in court, and Ben Buckley would run a thousand miles,” Palmer said.

“That’s the reality of it. They can say what they like … the A-League’s a joke. I don’t think I’ll ever talk to Ben again in my life, to be honest.”

If Palmer and Gold Coast United CEO Clive Mensink, Palmer’s partner in the mining world, decide they want to hang around, the FFA faces the challenging task of finding someway to either remove Palmer and Mensink from the club (but then who would want to takeover the damaged remains?) or remove the club from the competition.

The buck stops with Palmer and Mensink unless there is some legal recourse the FFA can call on.

Palmer seems to be holding out hope on moving the club out of its expensive Skilled Park renting agreement, which costs a reported $40,000 per match to the Queensland sate government (according to SBS’s The World Game), and into the council-owned Southport Tigers Rugby League Club ground.

According to The World Game, “Palmer is prepared to sink $250,000 into redeveloping the ground, which currently has just one stand – built at his own expense – into an A-League fit stadium with revamped change rooms and floodlights,” turning it into 5000-capacity stadium.

Not only does it help the bottom line, it’s a far more realistic size stadium for a club that at its last home game only filled six percent of Skilled Park (1723 in a 27,400-seat stadium).

But even if Palmer gets his way and Gold Coast United moves into Southport, his club’s brand is in tatters, with a series of own goals that has seen that club go from the 10,336 crowd that watched them defeat English Premier League side Fulham 2-1 at their birth to their current 3704 average or the 1723 that attended their last home game. Those who have stood by the club have every right to walk away after Palmer’s comments.

This current situation highlights the flaw in handing a license to Palmer: the club and, in many ways, the A-League’s future in Queensland’s second biggest region at the mercy of one man, who makes his fortune elsewhere and has little intimate knowledge or care of how the sport operates.

Now the FFA is paying the price for that mistake, with its expansion moves in tatters as Gold Coast follows the sorry path of North Queensland Fury.

With the Gold Coast Suns AFL club established and on the rise as they mature into the competition and marketplace, the Gold Coast Titans NRL club battling for their own renaissance, the Gold Coast Blaze NBL club a competitive summer opponent, and the possibility that Cricket Australia’s Big Bash League could expand into the Gold Coast, United appears to have little hope of surviving in a market that arguably can’t sustain all these clubs.

It was always questionable whether Gold Coast could sustain an A-League franchise. But once Palmer and co started on the path of tarnishing their own brand – no community engagement, setting incredibly unrealistic expectations, crowd caps, public war of words, internal bickering and more – they had no chance of rectifying given they were selling to a region as competitive and fickle as the Gold Coast.

Today the club is officially a basket case. They will claim the wooden spoon, as they were always destined to do when they failed to replace their departing big names at the end of last season with experience, relying far too heavily on youth. And the squabble over the future will only drive that promising youth to other more stable clubs.

To add insult to injury, Wednesday night’s rescheduled home match against league leaders, the Central Coast Mariners, looms as a further embarrassment; their record lowest crowd of 1658 surely in danger of being lowered.

If the FFA can convince Palmer to move on, then the priority switches to filling the void – keeping the A-League at 10 teams is vital at a time when the governing body is negotiating the next television rights deal, and western Sydney remains fertile land for the game.

This should be a motivator – two birds with the one stone. Easier said than done, yes, but essential for the league as it stands at the crossroads. There’s no alternative.

The damage is well and truly done on the Gold Coast. There is no going back.

In response to Palmer’s comments, Ben Buckley said, “I remind Clive that as a chairman and owner of a club, he has obligations to the competition, his fellow club chairman and investors in the other nine clubs, and to the game itself.”

Gold Coast had already let down the competition, the other nine clubs and the game itself before Palmer’s comments. The reality is it does so every time it plays at home and cameras beam pictures of empty grandstands across the country. As I wrote last week, that does untold damage to the A-League brand.

This, now, is beyond bad publicity. Gold Coast United and Palmer must go.

More opinion:
Mike Tuckerman: Say goodbye to Gold Coast United
Luke Doherty: A-League’s Palmer feud expected to drag on

Adrian Musolino
Adrian Musolino

Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.

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The Crowd Says (69)

  • February 20th 2012 @ 7:47am
    Lucan said | February 20th 2012 @ 7:47am | ! Report

    This is a debacle.

    Palmer is villain #1 in this, but I think serious questions need to be posed to Buckley, Gorman, and the FFA about how such a goof can be allowed to buy into the HAL and run it the way he has.

    If private ownership is still the desired model, hunt foreign investors who will allow the football side to be run as a football side. Palmer OUT, Tinkler OUT, Buckley OUT.

    • February 20th 2012 @ 9:51am
      WoobliesFan said | February 20th 2012 @ 9:51am | ! Report

      Absolutely Lucan.

      Hard, hard questions must be asked of FFA.

      As for Palmer – a classless person beyong doubt…..all that money proves he didn’t get rich from being humble and professional.

    • February 20th 2012 @ 1:28pm
      Nick said | February 20th 2012 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

      I agree that that the cause of this problem is Palmer.

      But the reason he was given ownership in the first place was because he made big promises, and the FFA believed him because he is ludicrously rich. The private ownership model is not a flawed concept, if the FFA ran themselves more effectively then Palmer wouldn’t be blowing up the whole time about the way they run the game, although he probably would have started complaining about something else. If you take a look at the EPL the owners have to abide by a strict set of laws and if they go outside of these the FA has the ability to fine them or the club.

      In short the FFA need to harden up and take Clive head on, show some fight and stand up the Palmer.

  • February 20th 2012 @ 8:07am
    CrossIT said | February 20th 2012 @ 8:07am | ! Report

    There is so much wrong with Football in this country it’s not funny, however a laughing stock we should never be.

  • February 20th 2012 @ 8:09am
    Chris said | February 20th 2012 @ 8:09am | ! Report

    While Palmer’s comments are reprehensible and bewildering for a club ower, what exactly is the FFA supposed to do? Unless he breaches any of the conditions of the licence, Palmer can stay for the full length if he so desires. Just why he would want to after his comments on the weekend is mystifying, but who know what goes on in the mind of Clive Palmer.

    And while the decision to hand the licence to Palmer in the first looks silly in hindsight, at the time it looked like a sensible course to take. In fact, there are expansion proponents in other codes (e.g. the NRL) who are advocating going after private ownership as a model to move forward.

    The reality is any methodology of expansion has risks – probably the real problem was that the FFA deviated from its own plan to bring two new teams in before they had originally planned to. It’s a shame, but there isn’t a league in the world that hasn’t had problems with teams coming in and leaving the comp – no reason to think the A League would be any different.

    • February 20th 2012 @ 9:32am
      Clayts said | February 20th 2012 @ 9:32am | ! Report

      Wouldn’t Buckley et al be able to make a case for bringing the game into disrepute and damaging the A League brand? Sure those comments break some rule in the licence?

      • February 20th 2012 @ 11:01am
        Nathan of Perth said | February 20th 2012 @ 11:01am | ! Report

        The problem is that whether it does or does not, Clive will start legal proceedings the moment the license is yanked. He has indicated as such and given he had a go at pursuing legal action against a freaking Arbitrator he’s crazy enough to do it.

        • Roar Guru

          February 20th 2012 @ 11:36am
          The Cattery said | February 20th 2012 @ 11:36am | ! Report

          It’s a good point Nathan, it seems to me that we’re heading for the courts, maybe even just for a bit of fun on the part of CP.

    • February 20th 2012 @ 11:27am
      Roarchild said | February 20th 2012 @ 11:27am | ! Report

      Con lost his license for not paying players I believe.

      Clive isn’t paying that German guy whose contract he tore up because he felt like it by the looks of it ……

      • Roar Guru

        February 20th 2012 @ 11:37am
        The Cattery said | February 20th 2012 @ 11:37am | ! Report

        Thanks for the reminder, I wonder if that would give the FFA some sort of grounds?

        You can bet that right at this minute, both parties are spending tens of thousands of dollars on lawyers going through the licensing agreement with a fine tooth comb.

  • February 20th 2012 @ 8:15am
    agga78 said | February 20th 2012 @ 8:15am | ! Report

    I believe this will be a blessing in disguise for football, Gold Coast is the black hole of professional sport in this country and both Rugby league and AFL will feel the burn of the so called promised land in the future.

    Clive Palmer has tried everything to make his own club fail, at the beginning the club started off ok, they had an average of 5000 or so and more for bigger matches this despite his antics prior to starting up the club, as soon as he went totally off the rails with a crowd cap the punters stayed away and the situation has not been recoverable since.

    FFA have to focus on areas where they can grow the sport, West Sydney has to come as soon as possible and Frank Lowy has to put his hand in his pocket to fund them or find a group who can. Lowy has given little funds to the game whilst reaping the rewards of dealing with major players at FIFA. Time to really give something back to the game frank.

  • February 20th 2012 @ 8:39am
    West Sydney said | February 20th 2012 @ 8:39am | ! Report

    Good bye Gold Coast Utd! youve always been a waste of space in the A-league!

  • February 20th 2012 @ 8:50am
    Nevin said | February 20th 2012 @ 8:50am | ! Report

    Well Said Agga but multiple issues here – the ownership models are not great at the moment. Single ownership models are fraught with danger and there are umpteen examples of clubs going into crisis when there owners go bankrupt or no longer care about the team (ala Palmer) they are funding e.g. Adelaide united, Eddie Groves and 36ers and many of the NBL franchises (NBL since changed the ownership models and credit practices with some success). This is the FFAs mistake in failing to set out a clear agenda and ownership model. The FFA is again to blame for abysmal market research and stadium deals are at the crux of the matter with several clubs e.g. Roar, GCU even sydney at times playing in stadiums that are too large and cost too much to rent. I say let GCU continue on as a basket case whilst negotiating TV rights all the while shoring up the Western Sydney or next expansion franchise. The next team must be a success as the A-league can ill afford another failed expansion team given the abject failures that NQ and GCU have been. It needs community engagement, a multi-lateral ownership model and great marketing. No time for that this season nor will the cost and legal outlay be worth it, aim for 2013/2014 season. As the AFL have shown, a membership based model probably provides the best model for success but whether this is sustainable in the A-league with much smaller fan bases remains to be seen

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