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The gap between the EPL and our leagues is smaller than you think

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On Saturday night, I watched the opening game of the English Premier League, between Hull City and Leicester City. It was played at the KCOM Stadium, a 25,400-seat facility in the city of Kingston upon Hull, in eastern Yorkshire. The population of the region is about 573,000.

Even though Hull have managed to annoy some of their fanbase, the number that did turn up created a great atmosphere for the game, and Hull defeated the premiers 2-1.

On Sunday, I was at Lambert Park in Leichhardt to watch the NSW National Premier Leagues clash between APIA Leichhardt and Sutherland.

APIA Leichhardt have invested over $3.5 million dollars into Lambert Park, installing a synthetic playing surface, updated dressing rooms, new public toilets and perimeter fencing. However, the stands are showing their age, with very little work since the club won the National Soccer League title in 1987. Currently, there are approximately 2000 seats.

The club has plans to demolish the old stand and construct a cantilevered (over the footpath), 3000-seat stand. They are looking for $5 million funding to complete the project.

The plans for Sutherland were also in the news this past week. Cronulla Sharks CEO Lyall Gorman, who has had A-League experience with both Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers, was reported as saying the NRL club would consider owning the licence for a Southern Sydney A-League side if Football Federation Australia decide to base an expansion team in the region.

Gorman believes there is room for integrated models, where you can have more than one code playing under a national brand, and that the Southern Sydney A-League club should encompass the St George, Sutherland Shire and Illawarra associations. He reckons the side could play out of Southern Cross Group Stadium, an 11,000-seat venue (total capacity 22,000) which is owned by Cronulla Sharks.

On the football field, APIA Leichhardt were convincing winners over Sutherland in both under-20s (2-0) and first grade (4-1). I thoroughly enjoyed both games.

The gap between what I saw on Sunday in our National Premier Leagues and what I watched on TV the night before between Hull City and Leicester was not as big as some people might think. In fact, our top A-League clubs could compete over there.

That is probably more a reflection of the standard of that first game of the EPL season, which did not rise to the level I expect. The two goals from Hull City were good and compensated for what the game lacked.

What the EPL did offer was a great atmosphere. Unfortunately, a few hundred spectators at Lambert Park could not match the crowd at Hull City. That is an area where Australian football can improve.

On Sunday night I tuned in to the game between Manchester United and Bournemouth. Yes, there were a couple of technical glitches, but when the picture was on the screen, I was actually impressed with the Optus broadcast. For a service streamed over the internet, it was quite good. The football standard was good as well, particularly the goals from Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, seeing United deserved 3-1 winners.

Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth was a surprise. Seating 11,464 is unusual in the EPL, with most stadiums being above 20,000, however, it seems to suit Bournemouth. The population of the Bournemouth area is similar to the Central Coast, Wollongong or Geelong. Yet they have a team in the EPL. That should be an encouragement to some of our regional cities that want to be in the A-League.

But those areas will have to work hard to convince FFA that they have what it takes to be in the A-League, as there is pressure from the bigger cities to grab those expansion licences when they become available.

Football West chairman Liam Twigger last week advocated for a second A-League team in Perth, saying the league was too small with ten clubs, and that an expansion to 14 or even 16 teams would give it greater bargaining power when the new broadcast deal was negotiated.

He thought the new club would attract 12,000-plus fans without affecting the Perth Glory fanbase, and said it would be set up differently to the other franchises, as a community-based club, with Football West holding the licence.

It was a good weekend for football with a lot to think about.

© 2016 The Roar | This article was written by Jeff Williamson and first appeared on the Roar website on 17 August 2016

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