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Nov 5, 2009

Better late than never for GCU

So, Gold Coast United owner Clive Palmer has had a change of heart and is opening the gates to the new stadium - Skilled (theme) Park. Whether or not anyone wants to turn up now, though, is another matter. You can hardly blame the fans for wanting to stay away.

Since Gold Coast United were granted an A-League licence, fans have tried to get behind them. And I emphasise the word 'tried'. There's always been some obstacle in front of them - whether it be the most expensive ticket prices in the A-League or a penny-pinching club owner seemingly keen to keep them out of his playground.

Palmer may have come out earlier this year and joyfully expressed how United is a club for the community, but his actions have suggested otherwise and, when you think about it, he couldn't have chosen a more ironic club name than Gold Coast United.

Palmer has transformed Skilled Park into his own amusement park, with Gold Coast United the headline act. His decision to impose a 5,000-fan cap at the 27,500-seater stadium last week was anything but community-inspired yet, funnily enough, it was quite similar to an act performed by South Park character, Eric Cartman.

In this particular episode, Cartman inherits $1 million from his grandmother and builds an amusement park that's fitted out with an assortment of rides. It was a grand establishment, capable of delivering so much joy to anyone who walked the grounds. The thing is, Cartman refused to grant entry to anyone - tourists, family, friends. Nobody. The theme park was his sanctuary, for his enjoyment only. The similarities are uncanny.

After being wrapped around the knuckles by the FFA for being a little too inhospitable, Palmer has now dusted off the ol' welcome mat and placed it outside the main gate. The club even dropped adult ticket prices from $30 to $19, while children under 15 will be granted free entry if accompanied by a paying adult. If not, they'll need to cough up $12. But is this a classic case of too little, too late?

It's pretty clear the only attendance record Palmer had in his sights with the 'fan cap' was that for the lowest attendance at an A-League fixture. Not surprisingly, more seagulls flew around the car park than people walking through the turnstiles last weekend when United entertained Robbie Fowler's North Queensland Fury. Honestly, what did he expect?

Palmer's actions may have caused irreparable damage among the Gold Coast fan base. From the outset, it's been pretty obvious that Gold Coast is his club and, at the rate he's going, soon he'll be the only fan donning a United scarf.

If Palmer intends on sticking around forever, not having any connections with the Gold Coast community and isn't overly concerned about making annual financial losses, then great. All the best to him.

Should, however, this football phase in his life be nothing more than a fad, his actions in the short-term could potentially create long-term repercussions for the club and its future incumbents, particularly with rival codes setting up shop in the same postcode.

Given that he values his personal fortune at $AU5.5 billion, he's obviously quite good at his day job. As for running a football club, let's just say his hands should be left to signing the cheques. Several billionaire club owners around the world have made it their custom to stir up fan bases, create tension with coaches and generally create unnecessary havoc, due in large part to their lack of football knowledge. So far, Palmer's proving to be no different.

In the books of some fans, Palmer's gestures of re-opening three quarters of the stadium and lowering ticket prices could be too late. For the game's sake, however, hopefully it's more a case of 'better late than never'.

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