Neil Sherwin1 Comment


Neil Sherwin1 Comment

Another A-League team on the very brink - a big story you may not be aware of

It’s been a week to forget for the Hyundai A-League with off the field controversies surrounding Gold Coast United and their owner Clive Palmer making more headlines than the football on it.

The A-League is at a crucial stage of its seventh campaign – there is less than a month to go in the regular season with a number of sides battling it out to secure a top six spot and finals football.

Yet the good work done by those involved in the game over the past six months is all set to be undone by the news that the aforementioned Palmer has had his franchise licence revoked by the game’s governing body, the Football Federation of Australia (FFA).

Admittedly mining tycoon Palmer hasn’t helped himself in recent weeks with negative comments about football in general and Gold Coast United as a club, while he deliberately breached the FFA’s rules on approved content by adding a slogan which read “Freedom of speech” to the team’s shirts for last weekend’s clash with Melbourne Victory.

"The material breach on Saturday night was followed by a statement from the club that it intended to continue using the slogan," said FFA Chairman Frank Lowy in a statement.

“This behavior came on top of public comments that displayed a total lack of respect for football and the millions of Australians who love the game.

"Such disrespectful behavior, a flagrant disregard for the rules and a stated intent to continue breaking the rules made for an intolerable situation.

“As custodians of the game, we had to act to protect the integrity of the Hyundai A-League on behalf of the other nine clubs, players, coaches and most importantly, the fans.”

Lowy is right, it is up to the FFA to protect the integrity of the league but that should extend to making sure that the season is played out in a proper manor. As it stands, Gold Coast United will be removed from the league immediately without fulfilling their remaining fixtures for the year, presenting a horrible dilemma over points won and lost against them so far.

There is also the fact that this would be the second A-League club in Queensland to get the bullet in the last 12 months following the winding up of North Queensland Fury in 2011. The Fury were disbanded despite having healthy attendances to their games in Townsville while Gold Coast have consistently failed to attract crowds of more than 2500. Most people feel that the FFA got rid of the wrong franchise but saved Gold Coast due to a desire to keep Palmer and his millions in the league.

If Gold Coast do fall by the wayside the league will be down to just nine clubs, making a mockery of previous discussions to expand to 12 sides with the intention to add another franchise to Western Sydney. Of course one of the biggest problems in all this is that it provides easy ammunition to the ‘haters’ who are dying to see ‘soccer’ in this country fall on its sword.

The FFA have already had to shift the beginning of the A-League season so that it doesn’t clash with the AFL and NRL finals, an open admittance that football simply cannot compete with other codes at this stage. There isn’t anything wrong or outlandish in saying that, but football detractors are always looking for a stick with which to beat the sport and losing two clubs in two years will have them circling like flies to the proverbial turd. Gold Coast’s demise has been on the cards for a while unfortunately, and the decision to fire charismatic coach Miron Bleiberg earlier this month was another nail in the coffin.

Bleiberg was initially suspended for Palmer’s decision (yes, that’s the owner) to make 17 year old Mitch Cooper captain of the team for a game against Melbourne Heart. It was to be Cooper’s senior debut and, while he is a very promising youngster like many of his team mates, it couldn’t be seen as anything more than a symbolic gesture.

Bleiberg merely stated this fact and was dealt with accordingly by Palmer in the form of a one game suspension which turned into a permanent departure for the Israeli. Palmer has a history of decisions that have left fans angry, including twice closing parts of the stadium and putting a cap on the possible attendance at Skilled Park (5000 in 2009 and 6290 in 2012).

On a personal level, I feel sorry for the players and fans of Gold Coast United who, despite being small in number, have shown great dedication through all of this. I’ve taken in two games at Skilled Park this season and you won’t meet a more welcoming bunch of supporters who have made the best of what they have, though sadly it looks like they may not have a team to call their own in the not too distant future.

The FFA have said that they hope to keep the league at ten teams for the 2012/13 season, however this has set off alarm bells with many because if Gold Coast aren’t around it means a new club will be shoe horned into another area and will be doomed to fail from the get go due to a lack of planning and foresight.

The decent thing would be for the FFA to continue paying the players, especially with all bar Ben Halloran out of contract come the end of the season anyway. They should also do their best to save the franchise by sourcing a new owner and maintaining the club until one is found. Sadly they probably won’t do that and another gravestone will be needed for a league not even a decade old.

Having said that, Palmer won’t take the FFA’s decision lying down so we can look forward to court action and the subsequent public airing of dirty laundry.