After the demise of North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United, and the struggles of Melbourne Heart (now Melbourne City) both on and off the field, increasing the amount of teams in Australia’s top-flight football competition, the A-League, has been debated almost consistently.
Amidst all the chaos surrounding Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop formally welcomed expressions of interest for the 11th and 12th A-League licenses in March. The winning bids would enter the competition at the start of the 2019/20 season. Consortiums from all states and territories began to spring up before an official shortlist was released in early October.
The current clubs in line are Southern Expansion (NSW), Macarthur South West Sydney (NSW), Western Melbourne (VIC), Team 11 (VIC), South Melbourne (VIC) and Canberra (ACT).
Both Sydney and Melbourne are expected to be handed a license to bring a third side into each city. The Western Sydney Wanderers and Sydney FC have enjoyed great on-field success in recent times and have a strong core following, with new stadiums on the way for both teams. Melbourne on the other hand is still one-sided. Victory regularly double crowds of neighbours City.
So why is the FFA widely expected to introduce a third Melbourne side?
TEAM 11 (South East Melbourne)
“It’s a case of right place, right time,” says Team 11 Project Officer and former Herald Sun journalist Matt Windley.
“Considering the population boom out here, I think there’s absolutely room for a third side,”
With a stadium holding 15,000 right next door to Dandenong Stadium, Team 11 are aiming to take advantage of the most multicultural base in the country. Dandenong Council claimed that title from the Western Sydney council of Auburn at the 2016 census, and now Team 11 are trying to replicate the success of their local A-League side, the Wanderers.
“We think we’re a similar population demographic to the Wanderers,” says Windley. “Admittedly the Western Sydney football culture is that little bit stronger but that’s not to disparage our history. It’s a football loving population. We’re absolutely confident there is a fanbase here.”
Should Team 11 get the nod the club will likely play their first two seasons at Casey Fields while Dandenong Stadium is constructed, an oval that has hosted AFL Pre-Season and AFLW matches. Playing at AAMI Park, the home ground of potential rivals City and Victory, is not an attractive option according to Windley.
“From our data, one of the biggest prohibitors of people fully engaging in with Victory and City in terms of attendance and membership is the distance to the city,” he says. “While it’s not ideal to play on what is essentially a footy ground, it’s right in the middle of our catchment area. Our region is a complete melting pot of cultures and really representative of what modern day Australia and Melbourne is all about.”
But the South East isn’t the only rapidly-growing region.
A privately-funded football-only stadium in Tarneit, 25 kilometres west of the CBD, is the centrepiece of the Western Melbourne A-League bid. Originally considered to be a Geelong bid under the name ‘Victoria Patriots’, the decision was made to shift closer to the city to take advantage of the 1.2 million people in the inner west.
Amateur footballer Liam Horrocks has played against clubs in the west and believes the initial Geelong idea should have been retained. “I just don’t think there’s enough interest in a West Melbourne side. I could definitely see a Geelong side doing well, for one Simonds Stadium has hosted A-League games before. It would be a brand new market.”
The West’s bid already has significant support from local clubs and has held fan forums and kit design competitions in an attempt to engage the community from day one. Current mock ups of the stadium display a red and black colour scheme, identical to the Western Sydney Wanderers.
The group have already been linked to players; former Scottish national team captain Scott Brown has been sounded out to join the team as their inaugural marquee player. Brown plays with Australians Tom Rogic and Daniel Arzani at current Scottish champions Celtic.
While Western Melbourne may have their eyes on one player, the final bid already has a full team. And a women’s side. And a successful youth program.
“Once upon a time it was the be all and end all, everyone wanted to play for or against South Melbourne,” says media personality and former South Melbourne president George Donikian.
South Melbourne Football Club was formed in 1959 following a merger of three smaller Greek clubs and went on to become a powerhouse of the game on a national stage. They won the then National Soccer League (NSL) four times, were named Oceania Club of the Century and produced Australian legends like Ange Postecoglou. But with the local game in disarray in 2003, the decision to end the NSL and start afresh as the A-League spelt the end of South’s time at the top.
“It would have been horrific when you create a legacy and a history that they had, and then the National Soccer League comes to an end. People say South were denied an opportunity to enter the A-League but it was never denied, it was in an awful financial state and couldn’t put its hand up.”
But now with a world class facility at Lakeside Stadium, strong financial backing and a solid fanbase, South Melbourne are ready for another crack at the big time. In recent years they made bids to purchase Melbourne Heart and the Central Coast Mariners, and they’ve already agreed a deal with Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos to coach the club should they win the license. Donikian says there’s real potential for the club, but they must look forward.
“South can bring new fans, especially if they’re smart and inclusive and I know they can be. They just need to stop looking into the rear view mirror and make a new history for the club.”