Illawarra A-League bid gains traction

FOOTBALL

Daniel Collison of the Wolves makes a save during the FFA Cup match between the South Coast Wolves and the Central Coast Mariners at WIN Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Daniel Collison of the Wolves makes a save during the FFA Cup match between the South Coast Wolves and the Central Coast Mariners at WIN Stadium on Wednesday. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Football South Coast chief executive Ann Marie Balliana believes the FFA will keep an even closer eye on the Illawarra as an option for A-League expansion after back-to-back overwhelming displays of active support. 

An FFA Cup crowd of 5238 fans – easily the biggest of the round of 32 – came through the gates to watch South Coast Wolves and Central Coast Mariners on Wednesday night, after an estimated 7000 attended the A-League All Stars friendly with the Young Socceroos two weeks earlier.

Wednesday’s attendance earned high praise from Mariners coach Phil Moss, who declared the region’s support as ‘‘hungry’’ for an A-League club.

But with expansion not expected until the next TV broadcast deal in 2017, the Illawarra could be forced to bide its time for another three seasons.

Balliana is certain the FFA will keep a keen interest in the region during that period. 

‘‘They will be looking at all the games we have here from now on. They have in the past and they will continue to look at any opportunities with the big questions in mind of sustainability and continued support for the team,’’ she said.

The key to sustainability will no doubt come with financial backing.

South Coast has been mentioned as a potential shared franchise between Sydney southern suburbs to ease the burden but the FFA aren’t likely to rush to a decision, according to Balliana. 

‘‘It all comes down to sustainability,’’ she said.

‘‘I think the FFA is going to look at teams when they haven’t succeeded and I think when they look at their strategy for expansion, they don’t want to make the same mistakes.’’

While the financial backing presents a problem in the region, any risk of lacking support looks out of the equation.

Both the All Stars friendly attendance and Wednesday’s crowd were well above what was expected. 

‘‘We were all talking about it and 3000-4000 sort of popped into a lot of people’s minds. To well and truly surpass that was really exciting,’’ Balliana said of the FFA Cup clash. 

‘‘I think the flow-on from the All Stars, when we saw a great crowd of 7000, it showed some consistency in terms of support. Especially in the middle of winter on a week night, it definitely shows that there is support.’’

On top of the high level of elite football support, Football South Coast aim to continue strengthening what they already have in their grasp. 

‘‘We know that as a participation sport we have very good numbers at a grassroots level,’’ Balliana said.

‘‘Football South Coast as an association, that is what we are focused on. Getting people to love the game in the region. We show that with the continual growth that we have.

‘‘When you look at that, with the amount of support we are getting through games at WIN Stadium, I would definitely say that the FFA is looking at the South Coast and we are definitely on their radar as far as future expansion on the A-League.’’

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