It was a year of heartbreak for Football South Coast. The region’s governing body had the home of football vision Dapto within reach, but in the end it was simply the victim of politics on both sides of government. However, a light in the dark glows, with the belief an A-League team could be established within three years, as revealed in Friday’s Mercury. Will 2014 provide the platform for Wollongong to return to the national football landscape? Mercury football writer MITCH COHEN takes a look at five key areas for the new year.
1. HOME OF FOOTBALL
The chips may be down, but now isn't the time for Football South Coast to fold. The government's dual decision to deny $15 million in funding for the West Dapto dream project was a grenade among the FSC ranks. Where to from here? It's hard to say. But the region still lacks a premier playing facility for 16,000 plus players and a gaping space for playing fields remains in the heart of the West Dapto development. Football fans should have faith the FSC won't stop until Illawarra football gets the support they think it deserves.
2. REBUILD WOLVES SUPPORT
As St George Illawarra fast become the 'Sydney Dragons', an opportunity has arisen for a team to take ownership of the winter sporting market. A potential move to WIN Stadium and a change to a more community-based organisation can help put the South Coast Wolves in pole position. They may still ply their trade in a state-based competition but momentum for a Wollongong A-League club has to start somewhere. Most importantly for the Wolves they must first offer a product worth following. This year saw them come within an inch of a disastrous relegation, but an early start to pre-season and a strengthened first-grade squad has the club hellbent on avoiding a repeat.
3 HOST AN A-LEAGUE FIXTURE
While an A-League franchise is still a few years away, hosting a regular season fixture must be high on Football South Coast's to-do list. More than 6500 people came out to see Sydney FC play Newcastle Jets in a pre-season clash at WIN Stadium earlier this year, with the venue already successfully hosting W-League, Young Socceroos and Youth League matches. A regular season fixture must be the next step. It is almost criminal that places like Port Macquarie, Morwell, Bathurst and Launceston have hosted games in the competition's past, but Wollongong, a city rich in the history of Australian football, has fallen through the cracks. In 2014 it surely has to change.
4. W-LEAGUE AMBITION
Sydney FC's three-game W-League commitment to WIN Stadium was further indication that women's football has a home in the Illawarra. Like an A-League club, a Wollongong-based W-League franchise must be pursued. Financially more viable than an A-League club, the region has the perfect base for a team. The Illawarra Stingrays are one of the major forces in the NSW Premier League, finishing runners-up to Marconi Stallions in the top division and claiming the Club Championship. Their performance was rewarded with W-League contracts to Jordan Baker, Caitlin Cooper and Michelle Carney at the Western Sydney Wanderers. Add the likes of Caitlin Foord to the mix and Illawarra women's football has rarely been stronger.
5. MAINTAIN A STRONG ILLAWARRA PREMIER LEAGUE
How do you match it with a 2013 season that had it all? Giants fell, records were broken and the competition made a triumphant return to WIN Stadium. But if there was one blight on a fantastic year in the Premier League it was Coniston's performance throughout the season. Getting beaten 12-0 once in any competition is horrific. Twice? A disaster. The Lions conceded 93 goals last campaign and are thankfully headed back to the District League for some much needed rebuilding. But as one club falls, another rises. Bellambi arrive in the Premier League after a long hiatus and might want to put in a quick call to Woonona to see what making a successful transition is all about.