As of the 2019-20 A-League season, there are 11 teams, with one more destined to arrive next season.
Expansion in the A-League is one seriously prominent topic of debate, with seemingly every football fan in Australia having an opinion on this issue. With the 11 existing clubs, the FFA should introduce three new teams for the benefit of football in Australia, in the form of the Wollongong Wolves, Tasmania and Canberra United.
Wollongong Wolves are a club that already exists in the semi-professional football scene in Australia, playing in the National Premier League NSW, which is the second division of football. The South Coast NSW region has a catchment population of over 800,000 people, and their home stadium would be WIN Stadium in Wollongong, which has a capacity of 23,000.
Wollongong would be a perfect addition to the A-League. Wollongong is commonly referred to as the football heartland of regional Australia, and their participation rates support that. Besides Sydney, Wollongong has the highest youth football participation rates. The Wollongong Wolves have gained support from the community, boasting an attendance of over 8000 people for an FFA Cup fixture in 2016.
In order to engage with this generation’s young football players in that region, the question shouldn’t be whether there should be a South Coast team – it should be when will there be a South Coast team. Playing football has a strong correlation with supporting it, and with uncontested participation numbers, it is a no-brainer to include the Wollongong Wolves in the A-League.
Another club that should be initiated into the A-League is Canberra United. Not only would this team be for the football fans in Canberra, but it would be a clear pathway for players coming through the ranks.
Canberra United are already an established W-League team, plus they already have training facilities and an ideal home ground. The support for an A-League team in the nation’s capital is certainly alive, there just needs to be a team for the community to support. Canberra came in numbers when the Australian nation team last played there, boasting a crowd of 18,500 for a game against Nepal. And it’s not the first time either, producing 19,500 supporters in 2015 and over 20,000 in 2009.
How can you have an Australian league without including its capital city? If we even have the New Zealand capital in our league, why wouldn’t we have our own?
There should also be a team based in Tasmania, playing half of their home games in Hobart and the other half in Launceston, being named Tasmania FC. Tasmania is the only state in Australia to not have a professional football team, resulting in most kids growing up following other sports like AFL. Even with no team, football has the highest participation rate for any sport in the state, which signals that there is a strong need to bring in a team.
There are only 18,000 football participants in Tasmania, which is quite low considering its population. There is no pathway and they don’t even have a suitable rectangular stadium in the whole state. There is potential for a successful team though, with a trial game fetching over 8000 spectators. There needs to be a clear pathway for young Tasmanian kids growing up wanting to play professional football and currently there isn’t. Over time support will come and there will be more participants.
The state of Tasmania needs the beauty of football in their state in order for the sport to grow. There are very few places in the world where football hasn’t connected with the hearts and souls of residents. Tasmania just needs a chance.
An argument brought up frequently is that there should be the A-League then a second division, which is directly underneath. The basic premise is that the best teams from the second division replace the worst teams in the first division. This is the system in most European countries, which is the region with the best leagues in the world.
I don’t agree with this proposal, as Australian football clubs can’t yet survive not being in the first division. Clubs like the Central Coast Mariners, for instance, don’t have the financial backbone and the support to survive in the second division.
The 11 current clubs should all be kept in the A-League, but 2020-21 establishment club Macarthur FC should not be added to the league. This idea by David Gallop has no support from the local residents. For starters, it is too close to the region of Western Sydney. Fans from the Macarthur region still have a local club in the form of the Western Sydney Wanderers. It seems that Gallop found a region with a high enough population and decided to put a football team there with no additional thought.
In order for the FFA to have successful expansion in the A-League, they need to add three clubs: Tasmania, Canberra United and Wollongong Wolves. This would create a perfect 14-team league and would bring the support for football in Australia back.