Following Mike Charlesworth’s announcement that he will be selling the Central Coast Mariners, it seems their fate is now sealed. The next question is – who could replace them?
It’s unclear if Charlesworth will be able to sell the club, but he has said he will hand back the club’s license to FFA should a purchaser not be found. Let’s explore what could happen to the franchise if that eventuates.
Things have changed a lot since the last round of A-League expansion back in 2018 and this helps to narrow things down.
Beginning with Queensland, there were four bids: Brisbane City, Brisbane Strikers, Ipswich and Gold Coast. Each of the three Brisbane bids would have to share Lang Park with Brisbane Roar while new stadiums could be built or redeveloped.
However, the Queensland government have made it clear they will not be funding any new stadiums in Brisbane. City and Strikers have since left the bidding process themselves.
This just leaves Gold Coast United, but now they have competition from the Titans and Suns it makes things even harder than before. While FFA and Fox might want a Brisbane derby, there’s little support for a second team from fans in Brisbane and the Gold Coast is a bit iffy. Redcliffe and Sunshine Coast might be options in the future.
In New South Wales, there were four bids. Macarthur and South West Sydney combined theirs and were successful, while Southern Expansion dropped out. That just leaves Wollongong Wolves.
Adelaide and Perth had bids from West Adelaide and Fremantle, but both of those bids would have to share stadiums and neither has shown that they have much support. Again, perhaps sometime in the future.
Melbourne had three bids. Belgravia Leisure had nothing to say about themselves and were dismissed by FFA. South Melbourne made plenty of noise, but in their FFA Cup semi-final versus Sydney FC they could only draw an underwhelming 5747 at Lakeside for a significant match that was heavily promoted.
They have a small group of rusted-on fans, but it doesn’t seem like there’s any broader groundswell in the wider community.
The third bid from Dandenong now seems the clear frontrunner. Melbourne’s south-east region has a population of 1.5 million people, who come from 160 nationalities and speak over 130 languages.
The region has a working-class identity, being Australia’s largest manufacturing zone and employing over 92,000 people and contributing $66.1 billion to Gross Regional Product. Then there’s the geographic separation from the CBD of 32.5 kilometres from AAMI Park.
Dandenong would initially play at a temporary 8000-seat stadium at their Casey Regional Football Centre while a permanent stadium can be built close to Dandenong Station.
Given that Western United averaged crowds of 5653 while playing ‘home’ matches in Geelong and Ballarat, Dandenong could easily better that, considering their catchment.
With the states out of the way, that brings us to the regions.
Wollongong, as I’ve already mentioned. Plus, one bid each from Canberra and Tasmania. There were no bids from North Queensland.
Canberra has a good bid with strong backing, but if the season moves to winter, they’re up against the Raiders, Brumbies and Giants. Can they handle four codes?
Tasmania has no competition in winter, has solid financial backing with a good stadium deal and they would do well to follow the model of Pacific FC in Canada.
Temporary rectangular seating is planned while a new stadium is built and having venues in two cities could avoid clashes with the fixtures of other codes if necessary.
Wollongong Wolves are an existing club with history and silverware, but money was a concern regarding their long-term sustainability last time around and it might rule them out again. They would, however, provide derbies with the three sides in Sydney as well as both Newcastle and Perth.
Given the uncertainty over finances for the Wolves – unless they can present a clear succession plan to the now 91-year-old Bruce Gordon – and problems with competing with three other codes in Canberra, Tasmania is the strongest of the three bids.
Looking abroad, there weren’t any bids from New Zealand but a number of current clubs have put forward Auckland as an option. Auckland City have distanced themselves, claiming they don’t have the financial backing for an A-League side.
There aren’t any other suitable bids at short notice from the other states. The regions are a bit iffy, and while they do have strong tribalism, it might not be enough. That just leaves Victoria and the best bid from there is Dandenong.
With a similar distance to the Melbourne CBD as Parramatta is from Moore Park and the region boasting a large diverse multicultural population with a working-class identity, it’s easy to see why some have compared this bid to the Wanderers.
From the perspective of FFA, it wouldn’t be hard to convince them that Dandenong would add more value to the league than Central Coast.
It isn’t yet a done deal and maybe a rich foreigner could pop up, or the fans could save the club themselves, but it does look bad for them. If their licence indeed goes elsewhere, Dandenong will be the ones most likely to receive it.
The potential for Macarthur and Dandenong to enter the A-League together and reinvigorate the competition is an opportunity that’s difficult to ignore.