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Feb 29, 2012

United out but Lowy wants 10-team A-League

Football Federation Australia chief Frank Lowy is confident the A-League can remain a 10-team competition next season despite stripping the licence of Gold Coast United and their billionaire owner Clive Palmer.

On one of the most dramatic days in the league's seven-year history, Lowy on Wednesday announced he had no alternative but to revoke the licence to protect the integrity of the competition following Palmer's "flagrant disregard" for A-League rules.

The decision was met by furore from mining magnate Palmer, who vowed to challenge it in court, branded Lowy a "dictator" and called for the federal government to investigate FFA's administration of the game.

The decision came after Palmer continued to defy the FFA which had issued the Gold Coast with a breach notice for contravening a direction not to use "Freedom of Speech" logos on Skilled Park signage and their players' jerseys last weekend.

Palmer had also been outspoken over the past fortnight in his criticism of the code and FFA's running of the game.

The decision cast the rest of the season under a cloud but Lowy said he was determined last-placed United would play out the final four rounds, with the FFA offering to pay the players' wages over the period.

The make-up of next season's competition is even murkier, but a defiant Lowy believed FFA could still secure a 10th team for the 2011-12 season.

"We will do our darnedest to make sure we have a 10-team competition and I am reasonably confident that we will be able to do that," Lowy said.

Lowy, though, did not elaborate on whether that meant FFA would attempt to fast-track a new Western Sydney franchise, seek new owners for Gold Coast, or try to get another new franchise up.

"I think we need to regroup and see where we go from here. But I don't want to stay with nine clubs if I can possibly help it," he said.

Lowy admitted it was with sadness and disappointment to have axed Gold Coast, who become the second expansion club to falter after cash-strapped North Queensland Fury.

"It's not a badge of honour but we had to do it, no question about that," Lowy said.

"It's not our making."

Palmer broke the news his licence had been revoked on Twitter 10 minutes before the FFA announced it at a 2pm (AEDT) media conference in Sydney.

It came two hours after Palmer issued a statement praising Lowy but also indicating he'd continue to defy FFA orders regarding the Freedom of Speech logo.

Lowy said he had made repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact Palmer as late as Wednesday morning, but was left with no choice but to revoke his licence due to three "clear breaches" of the league's club participation agreements.

"We can't let anybody thumb their noses at us saying, 'We're going to do what we want to do but I want to stay'," he said.

FFA chief executive Ben Buckley warned Palmer not to get in the way of the FFA as it tried to ensure a fair outcome for United's players and the rest of the league, with upcoming fixtures against Wellington (away), Newcastle (away), Perth (home) and Brisbane (home).

Former coach Miron Bleiberg, sacked by Palmer last week, said he would be willing to return to coach the players if he was needed.

Palmer responded to FFA's decision with a fiery statement, confirming he would fight the decision in court and labelling FFA officials overpaid and incompetent.

"Frank Lowy is an institution in Australian sport but, judging by this decision, he might be visiting a different kind of institution," Palmer said.

"He has brought the game into disrepute. The sport should not be run by dictators like him."

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