Southern Expansion will ramp up efforts to capture the hearts and minds of the region in the wake of the FFA’s decision to eliminate Wollongong Wolves from the A-League expansion race on Wednesday.
Southern chief executive Chris Gardiner is set to make the trip to Wollongong on Thursday to meet with key stakeholders, including Wollongong City Council and Football South Coast, as they look to make up for lost time in the region.
It comes after the Wolves’ dream of a return to the national stage was dealt a knockout blow by the FFA.
The Wolves had been one of eight hopefuls still in the running for spots in an expanded competition, but were officially cut after an FFA board meeting on Tuesday evening.
Southern Expansion, which hopes to engage the Illawarra, St George and Sutherland regions, were named in the last six.
Macarthur South West Sydney (NSW), Western Melbourne (VIC), Team 11 (VIC), South Melbourne (VIC) and Canberra (ACT) are also on the list.
Illawarra football fans have been vocal in their opposition to the Southern expansion bid, but Gardiner is adamant the community would get behind the Chinese-backed team if it is successful.
He was confident Southern had put forward a strong case to the FFA, which is expected to make a final decision on expansion in November.
As the last remaining bid which includes the Illlawarra, he hoped Southern would maximise support throughout the region.
"We have been very respectful of their desire to have their own side [the Wolves] but now that is not an option, we will be talking to community leaders about endorsing and supporting our bid to ensure that A-League and W-League content is being played in WIN Stadium," Gardiner said.
“If they are interested in their young footballers, I think they will be receptive.
“Do they want their young footballers to have development pathways to the highest level of the games? Do they put resources into that and the kind of business that is generated from events at WIN Stadium?
“All of those things are [positives] and would be lost if they didn’t now back the only remaining realistic bid.”
Wolves director Chris Sheppard admitted the FFA’s decision wasn’t ‘completely unexpected’ in a statement released late on Wednesday afternoon.
"During the process it became apparent that the next two teams were likely to be capital city based,” the statement said.
“The metrics required to satisfy many of the relevant criteria – both financial and non-financial– made it difficult for our region to compete with heavily populated metro areas.”
And with the region missing out on a stand-alone team, FSC chairman Eddy de Gabrielle felt the community should support the Southern bid.
“It is Plan B but we want A-League in this region,” he said.
“There is no plans at the moment in the foreseeable future that there will be further expansion and we also don’t know what format that will hold for a stand alone.
“What we do know is what is present and that is that Southern Expansion includes the Illawarra to have A-League and W-League games here.”
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