War of words erupts as Sydney FC chairman Scott Barlow slams Southern Expansion's A-League bid

United: Southern Expansion CEO Chris Gardiner (right) with Sutherland Shire FA general manager Jeff Stewart, St George FA general manager Craig Kiely and Football South Coast CEO Ann-Marie Balliana at the first meeting of the advisory committee in March last year. Picture: John Veage
United: Southern Expansion CEO Chris Gardiner (right) with Sutherland Shire FA general manager Jeff Stewart, St George FA general manager Craig Kiely and Football South Coast CEO Ann-Marie Balliana at the first meeting of the advisory committee in March last year. Picture: John Veage

Southern Expansion chairman Chris Gardiner says if Sydney FC spent half the energy on community engagement that they are spending on attempting to destroy Southern, the Sky Blues would “be the size of Western Sydney Wanderers already.” 

The tension between Sydney FC and Southern Expansion has been bubbling under the surface for months and has finally exploded.

A war of words erupted between Sydney FC chairman Scott Barlow and Southern Expansion chairman Morris Iemma on Thursday after the Sky Blues released a damning statement taking aim at Southern.

Southern Expansion, representing St George, Sutherland and Illawarra, are hopeful of inclusion in the A-League for the 2019-20 season after Football Federation Australia announced plans to expand to 12 teams with an announcement expected in October.

Financially backed by Chinese property giant JiaYuan Group, Southern were originally led by St George football icon and football commentator Les Murray and former Socceroo Craig Foster. Iemma took over as Southern’s chairman after Murray’s death in July last year.

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.

Barlow announced he “fully supported” a new team located in Sydney’s south west representing the Macarthur region and took direct aim at Southern, saying he was “strongly opposed” to the “deeply flawed” bid.

Barlow said Southern would “cannibalise” Sydney FC’s fan base in the south, which the Sky Blues claim holds about 30 per cent of its membership. Sydney FC have already committed to playing games at Jubilee Oval, Kogarah from next season while their home ground Allianz Stadium at Moore Park undergoes refurbishment works.

Sydney FC chairman Scott Barlow at the club's home, Allianz Stadium. Picture: Michele Mossop

Sydney FC chairman Scott Barlow at the club's home, Allianz Stadium. Picture: Michele Mossop

Iemma responded on Thursday, telling Fairfax Media Sydney FC’s statement was "a pathetic, panicked response from an arrogant, complacent and lazy club that have sat back for 14 years, failed to engage and failed to grow the game, and has only ever whinged about anybody entering the competition".

Southern continued their defence on Friday, releasing a statement entitled “five home truths for Sydney FC”, outlining how and why their bid met the A-League’s expansion criteria – and why the Macarthur and Wollongong bids did not.

“The FFA’s Whole of Football Plan states that a market size appropriate for a professional football club is 500,000. It’s the one definite criterion the FFA has identified for expansion,” Gardiner said.

Southern Expansion chairman Morris Iemma (right) with Georges River Council mayor Kevin Greene. Picture: Chris Lane

Southern Expansion chairman Morris Iemma (right) with Georges River Council mayor Kevin Greene. Picture: Chris Lane

“The estimated resident population for Macarthur United (Campbelltown 165,000, Wollondilly 51,000, and Camden 87,250) is approximately 303,250. The estimated resident population of Wollongong is approximately 214,000.

“Macarthur and Wollongong stand-alone [bids] simply don’t have the population to pass the first FFA hurdle for expansion. And the comparative participation base is stark. Southern region [has] 40,000 [players]. Each of Macarthur and Wollongong only 10,000.

“The approximate population for the southern region is 900,000. Macarthur United may be best for Sydney FC but it’s not for the A-League. And Wollongong won’t save them either.

“Sydney FC representatives are telling everyone that they will stop Southern Expansion. They can launch all the initiatives in the southern region, after 12 years of absence and neglect, they like. Too late. After years of refusing to play games in the area, they now say they’ll bring games to part of the region, having their preferred home being demolished makes that a necessity of course. Too late.

“They can keep providing assistance to the Macarthur bid to create an alternative and they can try and influence and pressure the FFA. The metrics are against them in any objective analysis and in any proper discharge of the expansion process.

“Western Sydney Wanderers are the example for Sydney FC in taking a whole-of-game growth approach. They have welcomed expansion in the Sydney market and have not tried to scuttle bids from the south west [of Sydney] that might provide short term impact for them.

“Sydney FC should support, not resist, Southern Expansion. And if they need help with community engagement and membership drives in the population of over 2 million and registered player base of nearly 60,000 still available to them after Southern Expansion is established, we are willing to help.”

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