By Nick Creely
The A-League will officially expand to 12 teams by 2020/21, however Team 11 will not be joining the national competition after Football Federation Australia (FFA) announced last Thursday that the south-east bid would not be part of the initial expansion process.
In what is a major shock, the Western Melbourne Group – which will based in Tarneit in the Melbourne’s west – has been chosen as the third Melbourne-based club to join the competition in 2019/20, as well as Macarthur-South West Sydney in what appears to be an 11th hour decision by the FFA board at their meeting last Wednesday night in Sydney.
Up until at least last Wednesday, Team 11 – the bid comprising of a joint initiative of the Greater Dandenong, City of Casey and Cardinia Shire councils – was tipped to be the Melbourne-based bid to join the competition, ahead of Western Melbourne and South Melbourne.
Team 11 had garnered support from over 55 local sporting clubs and 12 different local councils in the south-east of Victoria, with affiliated clubs from Knox to Traralgon, Aspendale to Mornington and elsewhere all putting their support behind the bid.
Supporters of the Team 11 bid were shattered.
Greater Dandenong councillor Jim Memeti, as one of the driving forces, said it was a “missed opportunity”.
“It’s really disappointing. There’s a lot of hard work put into this.
“We’ve been talking about this for the last two-three years, how good it would be to have a community club in the A-League.
“There’s no professional football code in this area – whether it’s AFL, rugby or soccer.
“This area is screaming out for something like this.”
Cr Memeti wasn’t sure if the region would mount a repeat “grass-roots” campaign if more licences open up.
“Will the investors be still around? Will the other councils be on board? There will be a lot of questions.
“I think we’ve lost the opportunity now.”
The “deal breaker” was the State Government not committing funds for the team’s boutique stadium, he said.
He was surprised that Casey Fields boosted with temporary seating was also rejected as an interim venue.
“When they came to Casey Fields they were very, very impressed.”
He said he’d be interested to know much West Melbourne bid for its licence. Team 11 had offered about $13.5 million.
Mal Suleman is a board member of NPL side Dandenong Thunder who “lives and breathes football.
He was set to buy shares and apply for a board position with the proposed club.
The many people, who worked so hard on the bid were “really down at the moment”, he said.
“We thought it was one of the best bids going around.
“It’s very crushing.
“The team would have done wonders for the community – it would have lit up the area.”
The ‘world game’ would have brought the community together, Mr Suleman said.
“There was a huge buzz around with Team 11.”
A “very disappointed” Dandenong MP Gabrielle Williams said the bid organisers remained committed to our community “which has always been at the heart of the Team 11 bid”.
“It was our defining characteristic and we remain very proud of that.
“Personally, I will continue to pursue opportunities for economic uplift in Dandenong, opportunities for community building, and pathways for local kids to have their talents recognised so they can carve out exciting futures.”
In a statement issued only hours after the FFA decision, Team 11 expressed their disappointment, but said they wouldn’t giving up until a professional football club is brought into the south-east region.
“It’s not the end of the story, just another chapter in the book,” the statement read.
“Team 11 is bitterly disappointed not to have been awarded a licence into an expanded A-League competition, but is adamant that one day the south-east of Victoria will house a professional football club.
“The bid team is also immensely proud of the work that has been done in the past two years to build what we believe was a compelling case for A-League entry.
“The Team 11 Pty Ltd board expresses its sincere gratitude to the City of Greater Dandenong, City of Casey and Cardinia Shire councils for their foresight and determination to drive this bid from day one.
“To also have the support of surrounding councils in Latrobe, Frankston, Mornington, Knox, Monash, Baw Baw, Wellington, Bass Coast and South Gippsland demonstrates that this was a bid that truly represented an entire region.
“The support of local politicians, both State and Federal, has been a key factor in the preparation of the bid, led with passion by local member for Dandenong Gabrielle Williams MP.
“Our ambassadors have been crucial to building knowledge of the bid and garnering support, so heartfelt thanks must go to Vince Grella, Theresa Deas, Debbie Nichols, Clint Bolton and Paul Wade, as well as prominent bid supporters Jackson Irvine, Bailey Wright and Scott McDonald.”
FFA chairman Chris Nikou explained at a press conference that it was a long-winded process, but believes that the decision accepted by the FFA board is the right one for football in the country.
“We’ve been involved in a comprehensive process to identify teams for the expansion of the A-League – I’m pleased to be able to confirm that we have made a decision on expansion, and there will be two new teams joining going forward,” he said.
“We think the opportunity and market is right now to expand the A-League – I can confirm that that two successful bidders are Western Melbourne and Macarthur-South West Sydney, and they give us a wonderful footprint into growth corridors in the Australian market place.
“All the bids had redeeming features, but we’ve settled on these two.”
FFA CEO David Gallop said that the decision was difficult, but ultimately came down to potential growth, and that the potential facilities from day dot of the successful two bids outweighed that of the unsuccessful four bids.
“This has been a game of snakes and ladders – every bid had some plusses and minuses, and we arrived at our recommendation, and the board accepted it.,” he said.
“We had to look at the impact of existing clubs, and the footprint – we picked high population, growth areas, and we took all of this into account.
“It was important that we got into facilities that have good playing surfaces on day one – there were bids that missed out that had to be in interim facilities which would not have presented how we wanted it to look on day one.”
Gallop confirmed that the uncertainty surrounding building Team 11’s boutique, 15,000-capacity stadium in Dandenong played a major part in the decision, with the expected cost of around $150 million needing the support of the Victorian government , while the Western Melbourne Group have pledged to fund their very own boutique stadium without any government assistance. He also said that the interim facilities at Casey Fields weren’t “ideal” in the short-term.
“They (the Victorian government) were open to the conversation, but it wouldn’t have solved the problem in the interim, we would have found ourselves in a less than ideal facility in the short term,” he said.
“I think that the Team 11 people understand that – we’ve spoken to the Victorian government, and we certainly want to keep that conversation going (in the future).”
The second successful bid, Macarthur-South West Sydney, will join the competition the following season, and was always at the top of favouritism, partly due to the fact that they will be playing their home games at the already established Campbelltown Stadium.
There is, however, an opportunity for Team 11 to join the A-League in the future, with the FFA expected to further expand the national competition in the coming years, as confirmed by Gallop.
The other unsuccessful bids were Canberra, Southern Expansion and South Melbourne, which never really had enough momentum to sway the FFA board to bring them into the competition.