Thursday, November 16, 2006

New A-League franchises appeal to regions

Football Federation Australia may expand its national, professional A-League from eight teams to 10 for the start of the competition's fourth season. Officially, the FFA won't make any announcement on where it goes from here until after a post-season review, likely to be held around March next year. But at least three regions have declared they want the A-League to come to them - north Queensland, the NSW South Coast and Canberra. Others like the Gold Coast are expected to follow suit when the FFA declares the race to join an expanded league officially open, The Age reported.

Best advanced is the north Queensland bid, which would base a team in Townsville. The city is a proven success in national sporting competitions, with successful franchises in the National Rugby League and men's and women's national basketball leagues. Already a company has been formed to run the bid, Tropical Football Australia, whose spokesman, James Gage, said had several expressions of interest from would-be financial investors, including an English Premier League club, Asian-based businesses and an airline.

"We're in a good position in north Queensland with the mineral resources boom and with Asia so close," Gage said. "We're looking at having corporate international dollars as part of the bid. We've got meeting with Chinese investors in the next three to four weeks, and our facilities are second-to-none." The North Queensland side has both ready-made training facilities and stadium in place, with Dairy Farmers Stadium - the home of the North Queensland Cowboys - its preferred venue for home matches.

The struggling New Zealand Knights - the A-League's weakest link - could have their licence revoked should the FFA deem it unfit of keeping a spot for 2007-08. Both Townsville and Wollongong say they can be ready if the underachieving Knights are cut - and the odds of that happening at season's end are shortening by the day. "We don't want to see New Zealand fall over - we want to be the ninth or 10th club in the league's expansion," Gage said. "(But) if push comes to shove and an opportunity did present itself, we'd like to think we'd be in a better position than most to be able to take advantage of it."

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