The land that football forgot...

Football coach and former English Premier League midfielder Adem Poric has warned about the dangers of the growth of Aussie Rules into the Gold Coast market.

Poric, who played with Sheffield Wednesday in the UK and with St George and Northern Spirit in the NSL, has been coaching in south-east Queensland for the past 14 years and runs Total Football Academy.

But the 40-year old believes football is losing ground to the AFL juggernaut on the Gold Coast in the battle for fans and juniors.

“Take a drive around the Gold Coast and see how many AFL posts are up,” Poric said. “AFL went into all the schools and said we’ll put them up for free as long as you take our program in.

"On top of that they’ve turned around and said we don’t want soccer in. So we’re battling now against not only our own federation, we’re battling against the AFL, which are coming into the schools. They pump loads of money in.”

Gold Coast United were axed from the A-League in 2012 after three seasons, and Aussie Rules club Gold Coast Suns entered the AFL in 2011. The Suns have been heavily supported and financially backed by the AFL hierarchy.

“The AFL hadn’t even kicked off and they had all those little [AFL] balls out and the kids were bringing them to our training sessions for football,” Poric said. "They already had the Suns balls and we, the A-League had already been here for a year. I asked the kids if they had anything from Gold Coast United, and they said no.

“These were kids that were playing soccer, staunch soccer players who had no idea what Gold Coast United was but were walking around with Gold Coast Suns balls, because they went to the schools and gave everyone a free ball.”

Poric believes the lack of community engagement and development on the Gold Coast, from both Gold Coast United and the federations, has been the biggest error.

“For Clive Palmer, Gold Coast United was like a toy for him,” he said. “We actually approached them and said we’ll do all your community work and they tried to charge us. We’re happy to go out and do it, we’ll do it for free, and we’ll plug the brand and everything like that, and they wanted us to pay them. All we asked was to give the kids a ticket to a Gold Coast United game at the end of it.

“It was awful. We ended up getting what Palmer wanted to get out of it. For me, Palmer wasn’t even on the map before he had the football club. As far as I’m concerned it was an experiment to get his name out there, which worked.”

Total Football Academy is aligned with Gold Coast’s Magic United FC and Poric serves as the club’s director of football. The former Young Socceroo believes part of the problem in the Gold Coast area is that there are too many soccer clubs and not enough players.

“We’ve got 30 clubs on the Gold Coast in a population of 590,000 and we’ve got 7000 registered players,” Poric said.

“And there’s some clubs that will have 700 players. We [Magic United] had 250 last year, we’ll have 350 players this year. There’s only two clubs that are actually growing, the rest are staying the same or getting smaller.”

The Total Football Academy operates across Australia and is linked with 100 schools on the Gold Coast. Despite the lack of an A-League presence in the region and the threat of the AFL, Poric says football at the junior level remains strong, for now. However, he doesn’t see any return of an A-League franchise on the Gold Coast for at least a decade.

“We’re probably the biggest sport on the Coast, netball would only be the other one that would compete,” he said.

“Rugby league is losing numbers. But it’s a fickle market on the Coast. To have an A-League club paying ridiculous amounts to play at Skilled Stadium, Palmer was probably better off building his own little stadium of 5-10,000, boutique. He’s apparently got the money to do it.

“An A-League club coming back? Not for 10 years. You need to be realistic, you need to have at least 5000 juniors who are associated to your club. If you don’t have 5000 juniors you can’t do it.”

With debate over registration fees and concern over development growing across the country, not to mention the rising competition for the interest of today’s kids, Poric feels more attention and support needs to be given to the grassroots of Australian football.

“We’re marketing this big product [the A-League] that we’re in control of - but we’re killing the bottom of it,” he said.

“We’ve not really got any interest in it [the grassroots] at all. Look at the fees we pay. For a six-year old playing, its $97 to the federation. For what? They don’t provide you with a goal, they don’t provide you with a referee, there’s no scores, you don’t even have to have goals. You can just put some cones down.

“So what are we paying $97 for? Rugby league is now down to $60. We’re charging $1700 for our elite players. They’re not charging a cent in Europe. Playing them all for free.

And they’re wondering why we can’t produce talent, because the talent’s going to different sports.”