Local product and Socceroos great Luke Wilkshire admits former NSL giants Wollongong Wolves would love to throw their hat in the ring again to join the A-League.
Wilkshire, who was an Albion Park junior and went on to play nearly 500 games of professional football, is currently head coach of the Wolves in the NSW NPL.
“For us we want to get into the A-League and have a professional team here again, the region needs one and it’s something we are working hard towards,” insists Wilkshire, who was a Wolves junior and went on to be capped 80 times for Australia. “It’s where we belong.”
Expansion has been the flavour of the month in recent weeks with Canberra, Gold Coast and South Melbourne making overtures about joining the nation's elite as early as 2022.
The Wolves, who narrowly missed out in the last expansion process in December 2018, have been the sentimental favourites of many Australian football purists who believe the 1999/2000 and 2000/2001 NSL champions belong on the national stage.
Wollongong has a rich pedigree in Australian football, with the likes of Wilkshire, Mile Sterjovski and Scott Chipperfield all going through the Wolves program before enjoying decorated careers overseas.
Wilkshire enjoyed a stellar playing career that took him to England, Holland and Russia. However, it was his three years at Wollongong in the mid-90s as a youth player that got the ball rolling.
While he never played for the Wolves at the NSL level, he wants other kids from the region to be given that opportunity.
“That’s one thing coming back here to Wollongong, to see a lot of juniors needing to travel to Sydney, it would be great to see them get the chance locally,” admitted Wilkshire. “We have a massive talent pool of young and ambitious players. The numbers who have come from here in the past, there will be many more in the future and it’s about trying to create that pathway for the locals kids.“
Wilkshire says his club is prepared to go through a national second division if they have to.
“It’s an ambition of ours to get to the top tier no matter what the pathway, whether that comes through expansion or a second division, we will do whatever it takes and whatever comes first.”
The A-League’s regional clubs have always had challenges in the top echelon of Australian football. Central Coast and Newcastle are currently embroiled in financial problems, while Gold Coast and North Queensland have floundered in the past.
Wilkshire is realistic about the financial implications of playing in the top tier, but feels his club and region (which has 13,000 registered players) can add to Australian football, with the benefit working both ways.
“The financials are important, down here in Wollongong we suffer from a lack of infrastructure. Getting into the A-League will help that. We obviously need to be able to add to the A-league as well, but with our great history, talent, participation numbers and stadium we have everything ready to go.
“We need the corporate backing but it’s a work in progress.“
Wilkshire is also pleased to see FFA experiment with a winter season, insisting the quality of football will be enhanced.
“I think it should be winter, everywhere else in the world it is played in winter. The intensity you get from playing in cooler weather is much better. The quality is higher and thus the entertainment value is better.”
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