Second division the ideal second chance for expansion bids

Amidst all the talk of doom in Australian football, the sheer number of investors willing to throw their lot in with the A-League proves the game’s long-term potential remains as healthy as ever.


FFA head of leagues Greg O'Rourke Source: AAP

Thursday was deadline day for submissions regarding the two expansion licenses the A-League has put up for grabs from 2019-2020.

At first, skepticism greeted the announcement by Football Federation Australia as a diversionary tactic but it’s since been coloured by a raw, pure excitement about what some new markets might bring.

Although the proposals for expansion were slow at first, they soon turned into an avalanche. By closing time, it seemed as though almost every state had thrown their hat into the ring.

Some bids were more credible than others. Some were fantastic, others simply opportunistic. But all provoked serious discussion about how the sport should look in the country in the coming decades.

In itself, that is a huge marker about where football is heading and the urgent need to plan. We need to create a football ecosystem that best serves the nation from this moment going forward, rather than trying to retro-fit teams to the Super Rugby-inspired model foisted on Australian football in 2004.

That style of model, fit for a different time and place, served the game appropriately in its post-NSL transition period.

But first some housekeeping. We are now safely past the point of discussing whether or not Australian football needs to implement promotion-relegation and a second division. The closed league model, as a long-term proposition, appears to be on borrowed time.

And with so many bidders coming to the table for the A-League, it is surely only fair – for both the applicants and the governing body – to consider those teams who miss out as ideal candidates for a new second division.

In fact, with the A-League being battered and stymied at every turn, but with an upside that remains unmatched in Australian sport, never has there been a better time to connect the sport to the regions that are dying to get involved.

Some new clubs may not be perfectly suited to the A-League at first, just as Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury were not. Of all the expansion motions undertaken by the sport, only the Western Sydney Wanderers have a clear pass mark. The rest would have been much more suited to getting their foundations right first.

We need to make space for our clubs to exist and grow organically at the right level. The future success of the sport hinges on the ability to make that transition. Indeed, when we talk about the supposed failure to tap into grassroots participation of the sport, it is almost certain that the answer is staring us in the face.

We don’t have to create 12 blockbuster teams in the A-League. We’re not the NFL; nor will we ever be. We’re allowed to have smaller and bigger teams. Each should be allowed to find their level – and be allowed to dream of putting their region on the map.

I would love to see the Wollongong Wolves in the A-League but can also see them as a fantastic community club that represents the region with distinction in either of the top two tiers.

Likewise, South Melbourne are a team that could bounce between divisions – and then, perhaps, become a long-term tenant of the A-League. With the benefit of derbies, engagement with communities old and new, an average crowd of 10,000 looks extremely attainable.

Indeed, I was hugely impressed when “Team 11”, a bid representing Melbourne’s South-Eastern corridor, announced they would be prepared to push on with their bid if a second division was created. What better way to show you are truly invested in bringing the game to your own region, irrespective of the final expansion decision.

Seeing so many applicants come forward fills me with hope. But their bids – many of them in strategically essential areas for the game – are too important to be lost if they miss out on the A-League. So let’s talk about giving them somewhere to start.

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Have a story or comment? Contact Us

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Watch nowOn Demand
Follow SBS Sport
4 min read
Published 24 May 2018 at 7:15pm
By Sebastian Hassett