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New teams to test A-League's viability

By Philip Henderson, Jim Morton and Laine Clark 21/02/2008 07:24:00 PM Comments (0)

The long-term viability of the A-League is set to be put to the test in six months with the competition poised to expand to 10 teams.

Football Federation Australia on Thursday granted provisional licenses to the Gold Coast Galaxy and Townsville-based Northern Thunder with both expected to join the current eight teams next season.

It will be the first major shake up for the fledgling competition, which has enjoyed a dream run in its first three years after rising from the ashes of the old NSL.

And if successful, should go a long way to ensuring the domestic soccer competition remains a strong force in the crowded Australian sporting landscape.

"Expansion of the A-League is a critical issue to the continuing evolution and growth of football," said FFA chairman Frank Lowy.

"Ultimately, we believe the A-League has the capacity to be at least a 12-team competition, but our approach needs to be prudent and planned.

"It has to be right for football, right for the existing A-League clubs, right for the new clubs and right for the local community."

The Galaxy and Thunder have both been granted licenses provided they can satisfy a set of criteria, due in two weeks.

If only one franchise satisfies the criteria then the A-League will be a nine-team competition in 2009.

"We have advised the interested consortia that they have two weeks to satisfy certain criteria, which include financial criteria, to enable them to enter the competition next season," Lowy said after Thursday's FFA board meeting.

"If they are able to satisfy the criteria within this timeframe, then there will be 10 teams in the A-League in 2008-09.

"If not, then they will be considered for entry in 2009-10."

Galaxy director of football Miron Bleiberg was confident his club would have no worries meeting the financial benchmarks.

"The financial criteria is not a problem, not an issue, money is not an object," said an elated Bleiberg, former coach of the Queensland Roar.

"It's just a matter of us complying with a few things. The clock is ticking but we have been preparing behind the scenes for a long time.

"I feel like I have finished a marathon. But tomorrow we start a new marathon."

The Thunder were more circumspect about their chances of playing next season.

But with the financial backing of influential Melbourne businesswoman Melissa Fisher, who owns Victorian State League club Altona Magic, the club is believed to be well placed to meet the FFA's criteria.

"It's very good news but still things have to be done," said Thunder head of operations James Gage.

"Obviously with the backing of our investors, and Melissa Fisher being that major person, it's enabled us to get into the position we are.

"It's fantastic for north Queensland, regional Queensland and northern Australia really because we're going to be doing stuff in Darwin as well."

While the Thunder are expected to share Dairy Farmers Stadium with NRL club North Queensland, they also may explore playing home games in Darwin.

The Gold Coast will use the recently completed Skilled Stadium as their home ground, with the Galaxy's admission continuing the mad rush of sporting bodies to tap in to the rapidly growing Gold Coast region.

Rugby league club the Gold Coast Titans made their NRL debut last year while basketball outfit the Blaze have just completed their first NBL season.

And the AFL only days ago announced their intentions to have a club on the Gold Coast by 2011.

Lowy said the seven existing Australian-based A-League clubs were already committed to implementing a National Youth League in season four, which commences in August 2008.

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