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Aug 11, 2008

Lowy eyes 14 as A-League season launched

Three years ago, Frank Lowy was prepared to get down on his knees and beg for people to come to the inaugural A-League.

Fortunately, it never came to that for Australia's second richest man.

And after three years of the A-League surpassing Lowy's initial goal of 10,000-plus average crowds - not to mention grow its sponsorship base - the Football Federation Australia chairman continues to feel bullish about the competition's future in Australia's crowded sporting landscape.

"Everything is heading in the right direction," Lowy said on Monday at the A-League season launch ahead of the start of season four this weekend.

"Three years ago I was standing before you and announcing the formation of the A-League ... I remember I was very nervous, very excited and didn't know what the future held for us.

"One of the things I did was I said if I needed to I would get down on my knees, and beg for people to come, but as it happened I didn't need to get down on my knees and they did come.

"We are pleased at how successful the A-League is.

"The crowds are growing, the television audience is growing ... membership is growing, the media coverage as well, and the game is reasonably (financially) sound."

The chairman, though, insists the FFA cannot afford to just hang its hat on a good three years for what chief executive Ben Buckley calls "the most important piece of the puzzle in the reformation" of Australian soccer.

While the FFA may be financially sound, A-League clubs are still in the red.

Already fighting against the AFL, NRL and Wallabies in terms of public interest, the A-League will now have to contend with the Olympic Games for the first two weekends of the season.

Then there is also the challenge of expansion, with the league poised to grow to 10 clubs from next season.

A final decision on whether to include the Gold Coast franchise led by billionaire businessman Clive Palmer and Townsville-based North Queensland FC, headed by local golf club owner Don Matheson, will be made late this month.

Lowy expects there will be 10 teams next year.

He is also confident there will be 12 in the very near future, with 14 remaining the chairman's ultimate goal.

"If I put on my optimistic view, which I have to do in this job, maybe we will end up with 14 teams," Lowy said.

"Of course that would be wonderful if we could do that. And it would be wonderful if the teams are also strong at the time.

"I am expecting next season, we'll have 10 teams, and I hope not so long after that we might have 12 teams.

"There is a lot more to do in the A-League ... and we have some important and ambitious long term goals for the A-League."

The fourth season of the A-League kicks off on Friday with reigning champions the Newcastle Jets at home to the Central Coast Mariners in a re-match of last season's grand final.

Sydney FC host the Melbourne Victory on Saturday, while on Sunday, Wellington Phoenix play Queensland Roar and Perth Glory take on Adelaide United.

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