A League Expansion Sees History Repeat in WA

The Football Federation of Australia has said that they will not entertain an expansion of the A-League until a new broadcast deal for the 2017-18 season and onwards is finalised. However that has not stopped a number of clubs and consortia putting their hands up and saying that they want to be a part of any expansion.

South Melbourne who were a force in the old National Soccer League is one club to have said that they now want a seat at the high table, and newspapers in Melbourne last week were reporting that the FFA would be meeting with officials from the club. This may be a sign that the FFA are thawing on their original approach that any football before the A-League never really happened.

It has been reported that South Melbourne plan to play home games at their current home ground the 12,000-capacity Lakeside Stadium rather than playing at one of Melbourne’s bigger stadia. The club is expecting to attract an average of at least 10,000 fans during their first season in the league. This would be a real fillip for the club as they currently have a 40-year lease on Lakeside Stadium and only need attendances of 1,500 to break even.
South Melbourne have reportedly already raised the $5 million required to cover the cost of an A-League license fee.

It was reported on the East coast that North Queensland, Brisbane Strikers, West Adelaide, Canberra and Wollongong are other locations that have expressed interest in the proposed 11th and 12th A-League franchises. There is also talk of a franchise baed in Tasmania with Former Melbourne Victory directors Harry Stamoulis and Robert Belteky, who are keen to fund a new team in Tasmania reportedly meeting the FFA last week.

What seems strange is that the FFA would be looking for expressions of interest based on teams that will increase television audiences and who has a good business plan rather than promoting the NPL Champions. After all they are the ones who sold the NPL structure to the Asian Football Confederation claiming it was a second tier competition to the A-League. Based on that would the NPL Champion have a legal case to mount if overlooked?

Sydney United, a former NSL club won the NPL, have their own stadium, a history of loyal support and have also created a number of Socceroos. So why would the FFA look elsewhere?

None of the media outlets mentioned the news that was released in Western Australia last week that Fremantle City are launching a bid to gain a second A-League licence in Western Australia.

With the game in somewhat disarray in Western Australia it was interesting to hear that the club had decided to make such a move. Then again maybe it wasn’t. After all in August the game’s governing body Football West announced that was aiming to secure a second A-League licence in Western Australia.

At the time Chairman of Football West, Liam Twigger said “We have a responsibility to explore all opportunities to grow the game and we’re very confident that a new Western Australian A-League club would be hugely beneficial to the sport.”

The last line in the statement from the game’s governing body in the West read as follows: “Football West will conduct market research to ensure the community contributes to shaping the new franchise. Football Federation Australia is aware of Football West plans to explore A-League expansion in WA.”

It will be interesting to see when more details are revealed by Fremantle City whether the market research conducted by Football West revealed that Fremantle was the ideal place for the second licence in Western Australia. It will also be interesting to hear whether their bid has the backing of Football West or is totally independent and whether Football West has openly shared the information their market research has uncovered.

Fremantle City FC is a new entity, it came about in 2015. It was a club created through as their website states ‘a joint venture between Fremantle United Soccer Club and East Fremantle Tricolore Soccer Club.’ Some may say that at that time the two clubs had a bigger vision in their sights. The timing of the joint venture, and then the announcement of their plan to bid for a second licence would appear to many to be no coincidence.

East Fremantle Tricolore applied to be a part of the newly formed National Premier Leagues of WA in 2013. Some felt that their bid was harmed as one of the assessment panel of three was Football West Board Member Sharif Andrawes and as a former President and Life Member of East Fremantle Soccer Club he had to step aside when the club made its presentation, and was precluded from voting. As result the club, like Armadale who had Board Member Henry Atturo step aside, had to accept a voting assessment by only two of the remaining members of the Assessment Panel. Then their votes were multiplied by 1.5 to according to Football West “maintain comparability with the total votes for other clubs.”

Armadale were admitted to the NPL so that may well prove that the system was fair, but one has to ask even after all this time why two of the Board who had links to clubs, and who had been giving advice to clubs on their applications were on the assessment panel?

So was it any wonder that the two Fremantle clubs worked together and a new club was born a year later, and it appears that the joint venture has paid dividends with the club romping home to the State League Division Two title in 2016 after a third place finish in 2015. This year they were eight points clear of second place and only lost one game all season. Their reserves came second and their under 18 side came fifth.

If they can carry this form into the coming State League season they could easily be challenging for a spot in the NPL in a year’s time. Which would solve a problem should their bid for an A-Licence be accepted. As the FFA want to see all teams that play in the A-League, having sides playing in the top flight National Premiers League in their state. That would mean a second club would not have to be relegated from the NPL or the league expanded to accommodate them.

It would also most likely see two A-League sides looking to snatch the best youngsters in the state for their youth teams, not just one. Although to be fair to Fremantle City, they already have a junior set up and so may not need to poach as many players. However with a chance of possibly breaking through into the A-League, suddenly the numbers trialling would increase, and other teams are most likely to be weakened.

However these are issues that will only become relevant should the club be successful in its bid to gain a second A-League licence in Perth.

Fremantle City have indicated that the business model for their A-League club will be based around the fans. President Maurice Oteri wrote, “I wanted to share the part where the WA football clubs and their members (including our own) play their part as stakeholders.” It is a noble idea and not a new one.

One current A-League club owner wanted to sell 49% of the club to the fans, the idea being that the public would have more of an investment in the club’s success than just paying their membership or entry fee each season or game. This model would bring in much needed cash and support. At that time the A-League rules did not allow for fans to have any stake in an A-League club. Not the Footy Show has contacted the FFA for clarification as to whether this rule has changed, which would suit Fremantle City, but as yet has not received a response.

Down the track one issue that may have to be faced is how the other state league clubs feel about the President of Fremantle City being the President of their Standing Committee; if he still was once the bid was accepted. While the individual’s integrity is not being questioned, one has to ask at what point could there be a perceived conflict of interest which could make the decision process awkward?

Finally, it is interesting to note that back in 2000, Soccer West Coast, then the game’s governing body, and Fremantle City – which was a totally different club at that time and not linked to the current club today, – were both going for a second NSL licence. History shows that both attempts failed. Soccer West Coast registered “Western Lightning” as the proposed name of it’s new club. Soccer West Coast also announced that they would rely heavily on local talent with members of the State Under-23 team forming the basis of the squad. Also interesting is that the current President of Football West was on the board of Soccer West Coast at that time, as their Treasurer.

Will history repeat in WA seventeen years on?

A League Expansion Sees History Repeat in WA

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