As the A-League celebrates its annual climax, soccer fans across Australia, including those in Tasmania, are waiting to discover exactly how future seasons will look.
Football Federation Australia has declared its intention to increase the size of the competition from the existing 10 teams and has invited expressions of interest for a proposed two new franchises to be introduced from the 2019-20 season.
A consortium representing Tasmania is among 10 parties that have expressed an interest.
The proponents believe they have a strong case.
The brainchild of Tasmania’s former professional footballer David Clarkson, the bid is backed by wealthy Melbourne property developer Harry Stamoulis.
It claims to have strong government support and has identified a site for a proposed new 15,000-seat rectangular stadium on Hobart Domain.
It also believes it has a strong geographic argument with Tasmania being the only state not represented in the existing competition - which does include a side from New Zealand.
And while the four New South Wales and two Victorian clubs would be reluctant to welcome additional franchises, they would not see the island state as competition for their markets.
The FFA, which has engaged global professional services firm Deloitte to assist with the expansion process, has been inviting expressions of interest through its website and expects more to arrive before the closing date later this month.
A shortlist of bidders will be confirmed in June after which they will have until August 31 to submit more thorough presentations.
Preferred bidders will be confirmed in September with a final announcement scheduled for October 31.
Clarkson’s initial impetus for a Tasmanian team in the national competition was to provide a pathway for the state’s soccer talent to avoid having to move away as he had.
Leaving the state in his teens, Clarkson cut his teeth in Queensland, South Australia and Victoria before joining Brighton and Hove Albion in the English Football League and playing for South Melbourne in the club world championships against the likes of Manchester United.
Clarkson had begun playing under Ken Morton at South Hobart and introduced Stamoulis to Morton’s wife Victoria, who is also South Hobart president.
She has since become the spokesperson for the Tasmanian bid and sings from a similar hymn sheet.
“We just want to have pathways for kids so they don’t have to go to the mainland,” she said.
“At the moment there is no connection between the A-League and the NPL except through the FFA Cup.
“If you are a talented young player like Nathaniel Atkinson or my son-in-law Nick Morton, you have to leave the state. Our priority would be to have a pathway here - that’s what we are seeking.”
Morton confirmed that Stamoulis had met with FFA chief executive David Gallop who suggested he put a submission in.
“That has since happened and we are on track to be involved in the next stage,” she said.
“The FFA has said there are 10 expressions of interest, but we don’t know how strong the others are.
“We are one of those groups and believe we have put a very strong bid in and in a good position to get to the next level of short-listing.
“We think Tasmania is the perfect place to make it a national competition and don’t see why we should be left out. We think we tick every box.
“We are very lucky to have people who love football and are wealthy enough to fund a team in the A-League. Our group is able to bring money to the table
“What happens next is they should contact proponents and tell them to produce more detailed submissions.”
“The FFA has said there are 10 expressions of interest but we don’t know how strong the others areTasmanian A-League bid spokesperson Victoria Morton
Morton said Tasmania’s political parties have indicated strong support for the bid, as has Hobart City Council.
She was reluctant to discuss stadium specifics but The Examiner understands that an area within the Domain is considered to be the most suitable location.
Discussions between the consortium and local government about that stadium are also likely to determine whether the bid proceeds.
The A-League was established in 2004 as part of a major reform process for soccer in Australia.
The inaugural competition featured eight teams in what the FFA termed “a truly national competition founded on the ‘one team, one city’ principle”.
After several subsequent changes of make-up, both Sydney and Melbourne have introduced second teams while the New Zealand franchise has relocated from Auckland to Wellington.
Talk of expanding the league still further to 14 teams would introduce a 26-round season in which all teams play each other home-and-away, mirroring the traditional European league system, rather than three times as is currently the case.