SYDNEY (Reuters) - Fans often question whether wealthy club owners have a real passion for their teams but the followers of ailing A-league outfit Gold Coast United were left in no doubt at the weekend when Clive Palmer said he did not even like the sport.
A billionaire mining magnate, Palmer launched the club to much hoopla as an expansion team in 2008 and they finished third and fourth in the regular season in their first two years, albeit in front of the smallest crowds in the league.
The crowds have dwindled further this season - just 1723 turning out to watch them play Adelaide United two weeks ago - as the club has struggled on the pitch to fall well adrift at the bottom of the 10-team league.
The club’s highly regarded coach Miron Bleiberg looks set to depart after being suspended for questioning the appointment of a 17-year-old as captain and Palmer’s outburst at the weekend sparked a war of words with Football Federation Australia (FFA).
“I don’t even like the game,” Palmer told Brisbane’s Sunday Mail. “I think it’s a hopeless game. Rugby league’s a much better game.”
Palmer’s comments cut deep for a sport still striving to gain a foothold in a crowded Australian market where rival codes rugby league and Australian Rules rule the roost and FFA chief executive Buckley condemned them.
“The comments are offensive to the players, coaches, administrators and volunteers who are the life and soul of Australian football,” he said in a statement.
”We welcomed Clive into the game and lauded his investment, but no matter how frustrated Clive may feel about his involvement, these comments are out of order.
“I remind Clive that as a chairman and owner of a club, he has obligations to the competition, his fellow club chairman and investors in the other nine clubs, and to the game itself.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ian Ransom