Some people might think Wollongong and Canberra are stronger expansion candidates than Tasmania, but the gap is now closing.
In the last week or so there have been three developments that have improved the case for the Tasmanian A-League bid.
First was the news that Western United would be taking two matches to Tasmania, with one in Hobart and one in Launceston. Then there was the release of a book that pushed back the date of the earliest match played in Australia all the way back to a game in Tasmania in 1859.
Finally, there was South Hobart’s FFA Cup match against Marconi, which drew an impressive crowd at Bellerive and showed strong local interest in the sport.
Starting with the history of the sport, Tasmania’s isn’t as well known as it is in other parts. When most people think of football’s history in Australia, they’ll think of places like Parramatta, where the first game in New South Wales was played in 1880, or they’ll think of Melbourne, where the first matches were played in 1883, including one at Lake Oval, where Lakeside Stadium now stands. They might also think of the Illawarra, where the Balgownie Rangers have a continuous history going back to 1883, making them the oldest running football club in Australia.
But the new book Chronicles of Soccer in Australia – The Foundation Years 1859 to 1949 by Peter Kunz makes the claim that the first recorded match played in Australia was in the Tasmanian town of Richmond in 1859, showing that Tasmania has its own history too. The first match in Tasmania known to have been played under association rules, however, was played in Hobart in 1879.
Moving back to the present, the recent FFA Cup Round of 32 match between South Hobart and Marconi at Bellerive drew an impressive crowd of 2617 fans. This also bolsters Tasmania’s case for an A-League licence as it adds to previous attendance results in the state.
The crowd at Bellerive beat the previous record for an FFA Cup Round of 32 match in the state set by Devonport against Lambton Jaffas in 2016, which drew a crowd of 2418 fans in pouring rain, midweek and at night. Devonport then broke that record in their very next match against Bentleigh Greens at the same ground when 3168 fans showed up again under similar conditions in the Round of 16.
As it turns out, the figure of 2617 set by South Hobart at Bellerive makes it the second-highest turnout for a Round of 32 FFA Cup match not involving an A-League side and one of only four such matches to get over 2000 people in attendance. South Hobart’s record is beaten only by South Melbourne’s 2622-strong attendance at Lakeside in 2017, just five fans more. Devonport’s figure of 2418 in 2016, meanwhile, is still the third-highest for a Round of 32 FFA Cup match not involving an A-League side.
When it comes to A-League teams playing in the state, Tasmania also has some good attendance records to show for themselves. The outright record goes to Launceston, where a preseason match between Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory got 8061 through the gates at York Park in 2007, while the record attendance in Hobart was 7000 at North Hobart Oval in the 2014 preseason.
Both of these figures compare favourably to Canberra and Wollongong.
In the case of Canberra, the highest ever figure for an A-League match was 7226 for a regular-season match between Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets in 2006. The next highest figure was 5735 for a preseason match between Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners in 2007, while the remaining four matches involving A-League sides held in Canberra ranged between 5072 and 5497 fans.
As for Wollongong, the best attendance involving an A-League side at WIN Stadium was 8029 in the FFA Cup Round of 32 in 2016 between Sydney FC and Wollongong Wolves, although it’s worth noting that this figure was boosted by away fans who only had to make the short drive down from Sydney.
It’ll be interesting to see what sort of crowd shows up in Tasmania for Western United. If they can get crowds that match those of Canberra, it’ll really help their case. Going by past figures you would have to say this is a distinct possibility.
The recently uncovered history of the sport in the state, South Hobart’s attendance at Bellerive and the deal with Western United all help to build the case for a Tasmanian A-League side. It’s also good to know that Harry Stamoulis and Robert Belteky are still interested and that plans for a rectangular stadium are still on the table, although ideally there would be two stadiums, with one in Launceston as well.
Canberra and Wollongong might be expansion favourites for most people, but these recent developments will bolster the case for the Tasmanian bid and have helped to close the gap.
Tasmania is well in the hunt.