THE South Coast contender for A-League expansion has denied it plans to merge with Lucas Neill’s proposed second Sydney team, instead boldly declaring its intention to claim the city’s west as its own.
The Sun-Herald can reveal the Tim Cahill-backed South Coast FC bid now plans a regional super team representing western Sydney, Campbelltown, and the NSW South Coast.
"There is definitely no merger with the West Sydney bid," South Coast bid chairman Eddy de Gabriele said. "We have not been approached by the West Sydney group and we have not approached the West Sydney group.
"[Football Federation Australia CEO] Ben Buckley has not called us in and said ‘This is my idea, can you and Western Sydney get together and have a chat about that’. I promise you that.
"But what we are doing is exploring the possibility of having a larger geographical footprint. If we make it a bigger market, there is a stronger possibility that our corporate supporters and backers will say, ‘Hey we like it, this is a really big corridor now from west Sydney to Campbelltown and the South Coast’."
De Gabriele denied that South Coast’s tactical shift came after the failure of WIN Stadium to meet A-League standards ended realistic hopes for a team to be based in Wollongong on its own merit.
"I have heard that but we have not been told that [by FFA]," de Gabriele said. "Our assessment comes from FFA and they have said to us up to date that the biggest issue is [only] the western grandstand at WIN Stadium. They have not said the demographic is no good. For the last World Cup game, our region had four Socceroos in the squad. That is not a bad nursery."
De Gabriele believes growing links between the NSW South Coast and Western Sydney made plans for a regional super team a forward-thinking vision of the future rather than a South Coast sell-out. "We are not selling out the South Coast," he said.
"It makes good sense that we would have a stronger link with western Sydney, economically and politically. We need to make sure that we have a bigger market for the South Coast bid, anyway."
De Gabriele said no plans were in place for how fixtures would be shared between Wollongong and Sydney’s west. "We haven’t mapped that out but given the number of home games available, I would say that we could be playing home games in the two regions," he said.
"What the configuration of those games would be will be decided by the two communities and various stadia. But that corridor is perfect, from Western Sydney to Campbelltown and Wollongong."
FFA boss Ben Buckley is supportive of the proposal but cautious of diluting regional identity.
"Ultimately, a club has to reside in the proximity that it plays, but that doesn’t mean it can’t have a relationship with a region or a team that sits outside that region," Buckley said.
"For a club to be successful, it has to be based principally in its defined territory. How does western Sydney feel? We have to consider all that."