By investing in Tasmanian football, Melbourne Victory are aiming to bring the Apple Isle's most talented youngsters through their ranks.
Tasmania may not have their own Hyundai A-League team yet, but in the meantime Melbourne Victory want to be their summer love affair.
Football in Tasmania is growing; it-s still an AFL stronghold and Hawthorn have their talons embedded deep thanks to a rich history that has seen AFL legends Peter Hudson and Rodney Eade represent them, but the Victory believe they have what it takes to capture the imagination of the Apple Isle-s youth and are doing their best to develop it and provide a pathway to the upper echelons of the game.
With the club investing in the grassroots game in the south, Victory chairman Richard Wilson believes there can be plenty of future talent picked from Tasmania, especially with the club sponsoring the “Victory League” and getting involved with junior football.
Wilson admits they are following Hawthorn-s lead in moving into Tasmania, but believes they are in a position to do even more than the AFL heavyweights.
“Hawthorn have shown what can be done and I think for us it is a template, we have spoken with them about it.
“For us in a state-wide sense we can embed ourselves a bit deeper over the journey with the community across north and south and bring it all together to have a greater impact than what Hawthorn have had, both in terms of memberships and game day support and a sense they can support one club.”
A big part of that is that Victory have sponsored the state league in Tasmania and are offering junior pathways as they look to the future and hopefully towards a couple of Tasmanians pulling on the navy blue kit.
“We have a three-year arrangement with Football Federation Tasmania as to the naming rights to the expanded state-wide league,” Wilson said.
“For the Victory it-s an opportunity to go into a new territory and help build the code, our brand and be involved at the coaching level of the elite youth; and then provide a pathway for young kids to come through and have engagement with Victory and our programs. It-s another area for us to help develop talent.
“It-s also to help young people to continue to participate in football, and have an opportunity at the end of the rainbow to come and play for Victory.”
With that being a goal and Jeremy Walker already playing for cross-town rivals Melbourne Heart, there is a view that football in Tasmania is growing and the Victory hope to have a Tasmanian player join their ranks soon and are adamant football is growing in a positive way.
“They have their elite youth programs in play, Jeremy Walker is at Melbourne Heart, our youth coach Darren Davies has been down there, we-re working closely with their state coach. We-d like to think that in our youth squad next year we would have one Tasmanian player.”
As for Tasmania-s football appetite growing, Wilson sees it happening with parents becoming more concerned about the knocks kids bodies can take in other codes.
“I think (more kids playing) it-s happening anyway,” Wilson said.
“I think from younger kids, their parents want them to play a sport like football that may be a little less impact on the physical side of it. We went down there on our week camp and 4,000 turned up, we ran clinics and there are at least 200 plus at every clinic and club we went to, so I think it-s already a strong participation.
“There are 13,000 participants registered through the system, our view is that the kids are more and more starting to play the game. The whole ethos of the A-League that any child or adolescent or adult can play at any club is working.
“By us being there and hyping up the media presence and the profile it helps. Most Tasmanians they will all support the Victorian team because of that old relationship and that will be their natural support in the summer with no AFL, so our hope is they-ll support Victory.”
While the hope is they will support Victory, the immediate hope is that a large number of football fans will turn out at Aurora Stadium when Victory host Central Coast Mariners in a top of the table clash, especially with a percentage of the gate going to the Tasmanian Bushfire Appeal.
“I think they-re starved for content, hopefully they will turn up on Saturday night, they know in the short term they can-t have their own A-League team, so this is an opportunity to increase their interest in football,” he said.
“The Mariners are flying and the fans are getting a high quality game that means something, it-s good for the state and we have done a promotion for the bushfires as well, so hopefully that will help get a few more through the gate.
“You don-t want to leverage off disaster but I think it helps cement our commitment to Tasmania and the community, football clubs are all about community and it-s the right thing to help support Australians.”
Hopefully the Victory can now get something back for the support they are offering Tasmania and Tasmania can place itself firmly on the football map in Australia by having a pathway for it-s best young talent.