Wollongong ‘a no-brainer’ for the A-League, insists Wilkshire


Luke Wilkshire, the Socceroos great turned Wollongong Wolves coach, believes the club’s bid to land an A-League license should be “a no-brainer”.

Whilst rival start-up bids in Sydney and Melbourne might on the surface be gaining all the traction with FFA, Wilkshire sees Wolves’ rich history as an NSL giant and former champion as setting them apart from a field featuring only one other existing club, South Melbourne.

Since submitting their bid - one of eight in the FFA inbox - the club banished to the NPL shadows in 2004 as the NSL imploded have taken a low key approach to publicly promoting their cause.

But bid spokesman Wilkshire, a veteran of 80 caps with a reputation for blunt honesty, cast aside any notion of false modesty by declaring: “For me, there’s nothing more we can do now that the bid has been submitted, but logically I feel it should be a no-brainer.

“I don’t think anybody in the football world of Australia could really doubt that. But, of course, the decision is out of our hands and those making the final call might see it differently. Who knows?

“What sets us apart is that we’re a club with a history and a tradition - and we’re still building.

“The ambition is there to get back to the top again and the infrastructure is already in place.

“It’s a football region and really we are a club that has a great groundswell of support behind it.”

While not seeking to denigrate rival NSW bids Macarthur South West Sydney and Southern Expansion - which is on Wolves’ doorstep - Wilkshire did say: “A lot of it is theoretical, anyone can draw a beautiful picture. But to create it is another thing.

“And if expansion goes ahead for 2019-2020, it’s a pretty short space of time to create a club that’s ready to roll.”

Wolves, who would play out of WIN Stadium, received a boost by winning the support of Football South Coast in July as a stand-alone bidder, with a decision originally due from FFA on October 31.

Wilkshire, 37, had no explicit intention of joining their A-League bid team when he left Sydney FC at the end of last season, but was seduced by the dream which has gripped his hometown club.

“The public love their football here and we have people coming in to the club to push the plans forward and we’re all about creating pathways and opportunities for players,” he added.

With the FFA board to meet next Monday to decide whether to push ahead with expansion for 2019-2020, or hand the baton to a new board in the post-Steven Lowy epoch, Wilkshire said Wollongong would continue knocking at the door, regardless of what the powers that be decide.

The prevailing wisdom continues to dictate that two teams will come in next year, with the league swelling to 14 teams in 2020-2021.

“If I’m really honest, if we aren’t among the next four clubs admitted to the competition, then I’d say the people making those decisions aren’t football orientated,” he added.

“The vision here is to find the best players in our region - and there are plenty in the NPL - and give them a chance.

“Given the right opportunities, these players can go a long way. When we played Central Coast the other day, we might have lost 3-1 but there were a few of our players who looked like they belonged on the other side.

“We hit the woodwork twice and conceded two sloppy goals and had only been together for a couple of weeks.

“When you look at the kids in this region, myself and Michael Bridges, who's now also involved, can open doors for them to build a future which might take them overseas, if they’re good enough.

“It’s about pushing them, they need to be challenged to reach their potential.

“People talk about the golden generation and a lot of us back then went abroad very young. It’s not a game over there in Europe, it’s your livelihood and you’re fighting for that everyday.

“It’s a different feeling to what you get here in Australia, unfortunately.”

Having played in England, the Netherlands and Russia, Wilkshire’s contacts are many and varied when it comes to bringing players the other way, should Wollongong win a license.

“I’m sure attracting overseas talent wouldn’t be a problem at all for us,” he added.