Southern Sydney A-League bid 'impossible to resist'

Wollongong's WIN Stadium hosted Sydney FC during last year's FFA Cup Source: Getty Images

The high-profile consortium behind the multi-million dollar Chinese-backed bid for a southern Sydney A-League "super club" believe Football Federation Australia will find their case impossible to refuse.

The "Southern Expansion" bid is being financially backed by property giant the Jia Yuan Group from China, which has subsidiaries in Australia, with $12 million guaranteed as capital.

The bid, which aims to enter an A-League, W-League and NYL team and be grassroots-focused, is being boosted by three football associations - St George, Sutherland and South Coast - joining forces.

It has the backing of a “high-profile consortium of business, football and community leaders” with former NSW PCYC CEO Chris Gardiner as the bid CEO, Australian football icon Les Murray as chairman, and former Socceroo and respected football analyst Craig Foster as head of football.

"I don't think there will be a better applicant than us," Murray said in announcing the bid in Sydney on Monday.

"I don't want to compare us to other suitors, but it's pretty much a no-brainer to have this club, which I would actually call a super-club.

"The question is not if we will come in, the question is when we will come in.

"When there is expansion, I think resisting this project would be very difficult for the FFA."

The bid includes long term plans to build Australia's first purpose-built football stadium in the region but in the meantime will look to use Southern Cross Stadium at Cronulla, WIN Stadium at Wollongong and Jubilee Oval at Kogarah as home grounds.

A team from South Sydney has long been mooted and Murray said he had met with FFA chief executive David Gallop last week to advise him of the group's interest.

Murray said Gallop was a "cautious man" but "not discouraging", noting the governing body's interest last season in harnessing the southern Sydney area as a replacement for under-fire Wellington Phoenix.

"Two or three years ago FFA was looking at doing this themselves," Murray said. "Phoenix would go.

"For reasons best known to themselves, they (FFA) pulled back.

"We know FFA is genuinely interested in exploiting this region, so we're quite comfortable that we're going to have that type of support."

The FFA have delayed the release of expansion criteria until a new ownership and operating structure is established for the league but say the addition of two clubs is still realistic for the 2018/19 season.

Gallop said emergence of the Southern Expansion group was a positive development, but that it didn't change the fact FFA had a lot of issues to work through in relation to the A-League's future.

"As we said last week, FFA is working on a new operating and ownership model for the A-League and W-League that is designed to help not hinder expansion and under which new entrants and existing clubs can all benefit in terms of the value of an A League licence," Gallop said.

"The interest from the Jia Yuan Group – of which we were aware - and the other groups that have expressed an interest in being part of an expanded league is welcome and shows the potential of the game.

"However, as we have consistently said, individual bids – even well-funded ones – do not address the operating and contractual costs faced by FFA and therefore they do not make expansion instantly viable on their own.

"There is no point in having a well-funded club working in one geographical area if other clubs are not seeing any benefit or indeed are expected to see the funding model diluted."

 

Murray said they will be ready to go whenever expansion comes into place and he believes the emergence of a bid like this will give FFA confidence that expansion sooner rather than later is the way to go.

"I believe that when the governance transition (with the A-League clubs) is complete they will go ahead as soon as they possibly can," he said.

There are as many as 10 proposed bids for new licences, including Tasmania, Geelong, Brisbane, South Melbourne, Dandenong-Casey, Sunshine Coast and Wollongong.

Gardiner was asked about the obvious clash in bids between Southern Expansion and the push by the Wollongong Wolves to get back in the A-League.

The former NSL club is currently competing in the NSW NPL 1, but is bidding to step back up to the top level again.

Gardiner was supremely confident Southern Expansion would be more appealing to the FFA than the Wolves bid, saying it would a "far stronger bid than the Wolves can ever put on".

"Our club will still be there in several years, playing games in that region," he said.

"We'll be putting together a bid Illawarra will be proud of, led by highly respected individuals.

"I've got no problems with us going into a bid process up against the Wolves.

"We'll give them a club that will be there in 10 years' time."

Billionaire WIN television boss Bruce Gordon said recently he would "support" the introduction of an A-League club representing his area.

Gardiner said he was confident Southern Expansion would be able to convince Gordon their bid would be best for the Illawarra.

Foster said he was delighted to get the opportunity to be involved in the building of a club from the ground up.

"It's time for expansion of everything," Foster said. "Expansion of investment, of thinking, of vision and particularly of ambition.

"All of the game needs to consider how are we going to get this game to where we believe it can be."