‘FFA never gave us a chance’ - how NBL gain piles on Tasmania’s football pain

From Left - NBL Owner Larry Kestelman, Tasmania deputy premier Jeremy Rockliff and NBL great Andrew Gaze Source: NBL

As Tasmania basks in the afterglow of being granted a National Basketball League licence for 2021-22, the man behind the failed bid to bring an A-League team to the Apple Isle claims: “we never had a chance.”

Tassie-raised former Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder David Clarkson now fears the prospect of a club from his home state ever featuring in the national competition is a long shot.

Despite solid financial backing and government support for a purpose-built 15,000 capacity rectangular stadium for Hobart, ‘FC Tasmania’ was among the first to be cut when then FFA CEO David Gallop whittled 15 expressions of interest down to 10 almost exactly two years ago.

That announcement still rankles with Clarkson and a football community in Tasmania which boasts 15,000 registered players.

While “delighted” for Tasmania to be lining up in the NBL for the first time since the Hobart Devils 25 years ago, Clarkson, 52, views being bypassed by FFA as a “missed opportunity” across the board.

“Looking back, the disappointing thing is that we were led on a bit and never really had a chance,” Clarkson told The World Game.

“It became apparent to us quite quickly that after spending so much time and energy on the project the 11th and 12th A-League licenses were always going be go to teams from Sydney and Melbourne.

“We had all our ducks in a row. It was an opportunity lost and will that opportunity come again?

“I’d hate to say never ... but the only way forward now might to be part of a second division and get into the A-League that way.”

It was claimed that broadcaster rights holder Fox Sports had decreed that FFA should put its emphasis on major metropolitan hubs, but Clarkson insists the bid received behind the scenes support from Fox executives.

“The brutal reality was we were cut in the first round, and were absolutely miles off,” he said.

“We weren’t given reasons for that and I think the whole expansion process was flawed in regards to communication and criteria.

“We were never told what the license fee would be. It was never mentioned.

“People say Fox Sports wanted third teams in Sydney and Melbourne but I spoke to influential people there and they were supportive of our bid.

“We felt we couldn’t have done much more than we did. It’s disappointing because you feel you’ve let people down.”

Whilst the new NBL entity - to play out of a revamped Derwent Entertainment Centre - has Clarkson’s backing, it brings into sharp focus how football missed out.

“The government at the time was behind it and there was also a push on from independent Andrew Wilkie to recruit federal government funding,” added Clarkson.

“On face value, we had support where we needed it but not from FFA and that’s where it all fell down.

“We were told that FFA wanted tribalism and the team to mean something - well there are few places more tribal than Tasmania.

“People there are thirsty for top-level sport. The Hobart Hurricanes have filled out Bellerive Oval in the Big Bash, but the AFL have wiped their feet on Tassie, although it’s an AFL state which has produced some incredible players.

“It’s an incredible coup getting an NBL team and I congratulate them.

“They’ve trumped everybody and I’m sure they’ll be successful. There’s a sport that’s growing.”

Cashed-up Melbourne businessmen Harry Stamoulis and Robert Belteky had the financial muscle with FC Tasmania games initially slated for Bellerive Oval and Launceston’s UTas Stadium.

“It’s all about what could have been - and should have been,” continued Clarkson.

“I wouldn’t have pushed it if I didn’t believe it could work.

I grew up in Tassie (before going on to play in England and the likes of South Melbourne in the NSL) and understand the landscape. We had the investment. We had everything we needed.

“Unfortunately, just like I did the promising young players coming through now must leave the state to continue their football journeys at a higher level.”

A member of legendary South Melbourne side which went to the Club World Cup with Ange Postrvoglou at the helm, Clarkson still has ambitions to become involved in the game in a meaningful way.

“I think with my experience as a player I’ve still got a lot to give the game in whatever capacity that might be,” he said.