A new A-League franchise that would represent the St George district, Sutherland Shire and Illawarra is one step closer to reality following the announcement of a consortium to head an official bid.
The franchise, with the working title of Southern Expansion, is being led by St George football icon and football commentator Les Murray and former Socceroo Craig Foster and financially backed by Chinese property giant JiaYuan Group.
The bid has the support of its three member associations, St George FA, Sutherland Shire and Football South Coast, three of the most historic and largest associations in Australia.
The Southern Expansion is hoping for inclusion in the 2018-19 A-League season and would feature men’s A-League, women’s W-League and National Youth League teams as well as an elite football academy to provide a pathway for local junior players to professional football.
Murray said it would not be a matter of if, but when, the franchise entered the competition.
The bid has also pledged investment in local football facilities including a potential purpose-built stadium as well as Australia’s largest football training facility.
Foster, who was named as the organisation’s head of football, said the bid was committed to attracting premium male and female marquee players to feature alongside the best local footballers.
The identity of the new team, including potential colours and logo, was still under development and would be built after in-depth consultation with the community. The name is unlikely to feature “Sydney”, and more likely to have the word “Southern” to represent the three areas.
The bid has already secured a guaranteed $12 million from JiaYuan to convince the FFA of their financial stability and would initially play games out of Jubilee Oval at Kogarah, Southern Cross Group Stadium at Woolooware and WIN Stadium in Wollongong.
Murray, the bid’s chairman and ambassador, said it was an exciting day for Australian football – and that the new entity could become a “super club”.
“What we have in mind is to bring best quality professional football to a vast, diverse region full of football tradition and history. I have no doubt that the communities of Sydney’s southern reaches will be heavily enriched by having their own professional football club,” he said.
“We note and understand the FFA’s preferred timing on expansion. We are not impatient and are content to wait until expansion is given the go-ahead. But when it does, we will be ready. We are also confident that a club from our vast market of fans and players will heavily benefit the existing A-League and W-League clubs in the transition process.”
The FFA announced last week it could not afford to add new teams until a new ownership and operating model had been developed in consultation with clubs, with expansion unlikely until the 2018-19 season at the earliest.
Foster said there would be a strong focus on youth development in terms of the club’s playing identity.
“[They are] three of the greatest nurseries in the country so they need a pathway, they currently don’t have it. They need programs to bring them through. That’s both players and coaches, male and female in those areas [and] through the professional club and the resources that this club would have to support them. We’ve got some really exciting plans… in terms of the scouting programs and the technology we want to use throughout those three regions.”
Former chief executive of the NSW PCYC and the Southern Expansion steering group’s chief executive Chris Gardiner said there was a huge potential audience in the area.
“A Southern team will provide six more A-League derbies and four more W-League derbies each season, the most highly anticipated and patronised events in our professional calendar, creating new regional rivalries and another army of supporters to lift the overall profile of the game,” he said.