GAME ON: Wollongong's WIN Stadium attracting A-list events

Ann-Marie Balliana and Marc Swan at WIN Stadium. Picture: ADAM McLEAN
Ann-Marie Balliana and Marc Swan at WIN Stadium. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

If the explosion in football interest in the US signals moral decay - as American columnist Ann Coulter so absurdly put it last week - then in the Illawarra it's the end of a bitter decade-long winter.

Those who continue to believe that Wollongong's prospects of returning to the top table in Australia are pure fantasy should know this week's developments are not a coincidence.

In a triple treat for the region, WIN Stadium will be headquarters for the All Stars camp before taking on Italian giants Juventus, as well as hosting an A-League game in January, and will also almost certainly provide a base for an Asian Cup team next year.

This is the test - to gauge the interest and capability of where and how Wollongong fits in the A-League puzzle when Football Federation Australia inevitably expands the competition.

For those scratching their heads at the Coulter reference, search the interwebs to read how the Americans' World Cup campaign is breaking down the very fabric US society is built on - it's as entertaining as it is illogical.

Apparently it's not a real sport, where individuals take no accountability for success or failure, so she obviously hasn't spent too much time observing the feats of Tim Howard or Lionel Messi.

More enjoyable, however, is the prospect of having the best Australian players on our turf for training sessions, fan days and a friendly against the Young Socceroos next month.

In April, we revealed how South Coast's decision to take NSW National Premier League games to WIN Stadium was an escalation of a turf war with St George Illawarra and the NRL.

The stakes have been raised significantly.

Responding to the decision to bring the Australia-Samoa Four Nations Test to Wollongong in November, football hit back with this week's announcement.

Suddenly a region with high unemployment that's not a marginal political hotbed and considered too close to Sydney to be worthy of its own elite sporting identity, is the most sought after location in the country.

It's credit to those who work behind the scenes in Wollongong - a decade after the demise of the Wolves in the National Soccer League - to ensure the region is recognised for its worth, even after the collapse of the Home of Political Football development at West Dapto.

Of course, football isn't the only code with a significant upswing this week.

The Sydney Swans reserves are in town on Sunday, playing a North East AFL game as part of a showcase of the Sherrin at North Dalton Park.

Sure, it's not the top flight but given the Illawarra's flagship team, the Lions, were relegated to the first division in Sydney AFL this year to consolidate after a troubled time in the premier competition, it's a coup.

Like football, NSW AFL officials recognise the rising value of Wollongong, given the boost in junior registrations down the coast and "officially"' being part of Swans territory.

Rugby league, like Labor politically, is the default setting for the Illawarra, and it isn't about to change any time soon. The demographic is different between league and football supporters.

Right now AFL is making a noise but only has the standing of Clive Palmer's image and populism.

But there are hearts and minds of those who aren't rusted on to one sport or other. The battle continues and is for the benefit of the Illawarra's grass roots and onto its elite sporting future.


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