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Are Southern Expansion the club the A-League needs?

Craig Foster and the late Les Murray were the face of Southern Expansion at its launch. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Expert
12th April, 2018
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3509 Reads

It’s not every day a new club comes along with solid finances, an existing supporter base and big-name endorsements – and still has questions asked of it.

If Southern Expansion are the right new club for the A-League, why does so much of their bid feel so wrong?

Let’s start with the claim that they won’t cannibalise Sydney FC’s support, as bid chairman and former New South Wales premier Morris Iemma told The World Game website in midweek.

“The people of St George don’t see themselves as part of Sydney FC at all. There is no relationship there,” said Iemma.

Yet on the very same day, Sydney FC chief executive Danny Townsend told local newspaper The St George and Sutherland Shire Leader that a third of their fans hail from the region.

“Around 32 per cent of our fans come from St George and the Sutherland Shire areas and we want to accommodate them with A-League content,” Townsend said.

So which is it? Someone, it seems, isn’t telling the truth.

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Then there was Iemma’s claim that Sydney FC have “all of the eastern suburbs, north shore, inner west, lower north shore and inner north west” to draw fans from.

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Perhaps. But the whole point of Sydney FC was to unite football fans across the length and breadth of the city. Western Sydney Wanderers changed that dynamic, but there was an obvious geographic divide that allowed them to do so.

Yet a clear delineation between the southern suburbs of Sydney and the rest of the city simply doesn’t exist.

Then there’s Wollongong.

It’s one thing for Southern Expansion to mark St George – a long-time football hotbed – and Sutherland Shire as their own territory. But Wollongong is not in the same city, and it has a storied football background – replete with a ready-to-go standalone A-League club with a stadium of its own.

Why can’t Football Federation Australia admit both Southern Expansion and Wollongong Wolves as expansion clubs?

Or, if not, leave Wollongong out of the expansion equation for now and admit the Wolves and their picture-perfect boutique venue further down the track?

WIN Stadium at night

Why the rush to admit Southern Expansion at all?

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Money, of course. And by the sounds of it, Southern Expansion will have plenty thanks to the generous backing of Chinese conglomerate the Jiayuan Group.

They’ve said they plan to build a purpose-built stadium at Loftus – but in the meantime, they propose to split their home games between Jubilee Oval in Kogarah, Southern Cross Group Stadium in Cronulla and WIN Stadium in Wollongong.

More power to them if they think that’s the best way to build a fan-base, but are supporters really going to travel between three distinct regions to watch a team play?

And if that’s the case, don’t they already do so to support Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers anyway?

For the sake of full disclosure and the benefit of anyone from Southern Expansion reading this column, it’s not exactly a secret that I support Sydney FC.

But the proximity of certain parties to the expansion hopefuls raises another important question.

Craig Foster is free to be the public face of any expansion bid he wants. But in doing so, is there a conflict of interest in the way the club is talked about by his other main employer, SBS?

Then there’s Iemma, who along with being chairman of Southern Expansion, is heavily involved in cricket – even suggesting a fortnight ago that he’d like to lead a review into Australia’s recent ball-tampering saga.

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None of this is to imply that Southern Expansion are setting themselves up for failure. Their public proposal document suggests they’ve got plenty of faith in the business case.

But Football Federation Australia has made a habit of making mistakes recently.

Here’s hoping they don’t make another costly one. The A-League simply can’t afford it.