Monday, May 18, 2009

Exclusive: Canberra's A-League Bid

Expansion is the buzz word for all the sporting codes in Australia at the moment. Football Federation Australia (FFA) is ignoring all the doom and gloom of the global financial crisis and is pursuing it, spreading football’s wings to the Gold Coast and Townsville for the upcoming season.

FFA is also hoping to add another two teams for the 2010-11 A-league season. A Melbourne consortium/franchise/club - whatever football teams are called these days - already has been chosen for the 11th spot.One spot remains and the competition is tight as the areas of Canberra, Tasmania, Western Sydney and Wollongong battle it out to become the A-league’s 12th team.

So what about Canberra’s bid?

The people of Canberra want a team in the A-league so badly that the bid’s supporters group - Capital Punishment - got together and traveled to Sydney.Once there they took over a section of the away support during an A-league game between Sydney FC and Perth Glory and flew the colours of Canberra.

The nation’s capital did have representation in a national competition previously when Canberra Cosmos played in the old National Soccer League.

One of the selling points of the Canberra bid is the region's proud history of producing elite players like former Socceroo Ned Zelic and current international Carl Valeri.

However with Canberra Deakin and Belconnen United not participating in the NSW Premier League, the pathway to the elite level for a Canberra player could be tough. caught up Eamonn Flannagan, a football journalist, radio host and a key member of the Canberra for A-League bid team, to speak about the how bid is progressing and to find out more about football in the nation’s capital.

Goal: You are very passionate about football in Canberra; how has the advent of the A-League and the Socceroos qualifying for their first world cup in 32 years affected the game in the nation’s capital?

EF: The Socceroos awoke the whole city to the world game at the professional level. Canberra and the surrounding region has a huge football junior base (25,000 registered players) in fact there are more people playing football than Aussie Rules, [Rugby] Union and Rugby League put together.Ivan Slavich, a prominent local businessman is working hard to get the 12th spot in the A-League for Canberra. The recent Socceroos Asian Cup Qualifier saw a record crowd of over 20,000 attend the game.

Goal: With Melbourne handed the 11th spot to enter the A-league in 2010/11 the other bids that you are competing for the potential 12th spot is a couple of Western Sydney bids, a Tasmanian bid and a Wollongong bid.Where do you see yourselves amongst that group?

EF: Well we presented our bid in March, the day after the Socceroos game in Canberra.We’ve got 1,700 paid up Foundation Members, over 13,000 pledges of support, the best football infrastructure in Australia in the Australian Institute of Sport and Canberra Stadium.

We have $12 million Sports hub about to get the go ahead with the football team as its major tenant. Meeting rooms, administration rooms, meal, physios, sports management centre etc, world class stadium and training facilities and few clubs in any code in Australia can match that.Of course we need the start-up capital and with ACT Government putting in $3 million we’re working hard to get as much more as possible to ensure the club starts from the strongest base, and of course to further influence FFA decision-making.Our bid is very strong, very advanced.We aim to provide a major pathway for all the players in Canberra and Southern New South Wales.

The game is growing and the city, one of the last capital cities in the world without a team, will one day get a team.The Socceroos crowd in Canberra turned a few heads. It showed once and for all that we can get a decent crowd for football. If the product is right, the marketing is targeted and long-term the whole of Southern New South Wales, 700,000 people, will support their local football club.

Goal: What is the talent like in Canberra and tell us a little bit about football at the local level in Canberra, should we watch out for any team or player coming through?

EF: Well Ned Zelic, Joe Simunic, Carl Valeri, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Mathew Kemp, Shaun Ontong, Kaz Patafta, Kofi Danning are a few Canberrans who need no introduction to football fans.And interestingly the booming junior numbers locally are starting to make waves.Stephen Lustica and Andrew Baresic have just signed for the Gold Coast, Cody Larkin is with Adelaide United and Sam Munro with Sydney FC.

Four players from Canberra also made the current AIS squad.We in Canberra believe we could triple our number in the professional ranks long-term, if we had real opportunities for our players beyond the local league.

New South Wales Football Federation Premier League showed unbelievable narrowness and short-sightedness by kicking the Canberra clubs out of their league a few years ago; one can only assume because the teams Canberra Deakin and Belconnen United kept winning the title!And Canberra FC was the last winners of the National Soccer League Youth League.

So now the highest level of football, unless you get into the AIS squad, is the local Premier League.Football Federation Australia is missing out on a huge number of athletes who basically lose momentum when they hit 17 or 18. Their only option is the local league and instantly they fall behind their peers at the AIS, and NSW and Victorian Premier Leagues.Why Football NSW does not want to strengthen their Premier League, with further football and infrastructure quality is beyond me.

We’ve got the talent pool, but if the NSW Federation won’t assist, the FFA must step in.
Our boys deserve a pathway. Australia doesn’t have a sufficient hold in other markets to ignore the development of a region of 700,000.I’m hoping the new Technical Director (Hann Berger) will open a few doors for Canberra players.

Goal: Has having a team from Canberra in the recent W-League competition helped your bid’s cause?

EF: It’s been fantastic seeing Canberra United in the W-League. Interestingly they’ve been given huge coverage in the local media and crowds have been excellent.The increase in female players in Canberra this year has been horrific for local club organisers. But I think the numbers could double in the next two years if the (Canberra) United team continue to do well and promote the game and their team.

It is an amazing growth side of the game and girls/women’s football needs further funds and quick.Let’s be realistic a men’s A-League team takes $7 million a year and initially it’s all about the dollars. Canberra United could double their crowds but I don’t think it has much impact on the decision-makers of the FFA.For the bid, or course it helps, it brings the football community together in a professional way and that has to be good for Canberra football and of course for Canberra United.

Goal: Thank You for your time Eamonn greatly appreciated and good luck with the bid.

Eamonn: Thank you,it was my pleasure.

Con Stamocostas,

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