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Billionaires don’t make a club, fans do

by Engelbert Schmidl on Mar 27, 2012

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Though it’s not yet a foregone conclusion, it is looking increasingly likely Gold Coast United could soon go the way of their sadly departed Queensland compatriots, North Queensland Fury.

Aside from the obvious disappointment of having yet another A-League club fold and the effect this has on the players, staff and fans of the club, there’s another aspect of this crisis that - once the dust settles and the media spotlight falls elsewhere - we won’t hear much about.

The Gold Coast will become one more region that represents a lost opportunity for Australian football. It will join far north Queensland from the A-League era, but it will also join western Sydney, Wollongong, Canberra and the Gippsland/south-eastern Melbourne growth corridor as an area once represented in Australia’s top league.

Over the years, football has had great opportunities to establish and prosper in these areas, however, the incumbent governing authority of the day (ASF, Soccer Australia, FFA) has managed to squander these chances. We now we have the lamentable situation of Frank Lowy trying to spruik a licence to run a club in western Sydney to a market of potential club owners who must be decidedly sceptical about the whole enterprise in light of what has happened with Clive Palmer on the Gold Coast.

The business of expansion for the A-League has been tricky. Thankfully, Melbourne now has two teams, a situation befitting a city of its size and football pedigree. Melbourne Heart continues to grow and a passionate, healthy rivalry with the navy blue side of town has developed into one of the shining lights of the competition.

That western Sydney - long a rare football stronghold in this country - has been left on the backburner for so long begs an explanation. Look at the former NSL clubs that still operate in the region, the number of junior players and the history of player produced and it becomes even more baffling why it has taken so long to get a club up and running.

It can only be hoped that if and when a club comes into existence it will also spark some life back into Sydney FC, which has looked listless on and off the field for the past season or two.

But my big hope is that FFA does not forget about the Gold Coast.

In fact, I hope FFA starts working on creating a community groundswell for clubs to one day be established in Wollongong, Canberra, once again in far north Queensland, and even in Gippsland/south-east Melbourne. These are all areas with football communities that if properly supported could one day play a part in a national competition.

The generally acknowledged failure of Gold Coast United to connect with its local football community should serve as a lesson that, in future, any move to establish a new A-League club will come off the back of a genuine grassroots involvement with such a club.

Melbourne’s two clubs have worked hard behind the scenes to connect with local football fans and clubs and create a sense of identity and community for fans. The raw material is there in places such as the Gold Coast, Wollongong and Canberra for FFA to start stoking the fire that may one day see these proud football towns among Australia’s football elite once again.