Furious Gold Coast chairman Tony Cochrane has launched a spirited defence of the club and the city’s sporting reputation after “cheap shot” criticism from Leigh Matthews over their place in the AFL.
But Cochrane also conceded the Suns don’t get enough grandstand support from locals – and cold, hard numbers back that claim up.
Matthews, a three-time Brisbane Lions premiership coach and the club’s current football director, lit the fuse on Monday night by telling the Seven Network he believes there is not enough demand in southeast Queensland to sustain two teams.
The Suns and the Lions are both struggling this year, with only one win between them since round three – and that was the Q-Clash.
And off the field, they’re fighting for relevancy, both having seen average home attendances drop almost every year since Gold Coast entered the competition in 2011.
Cochrane said it was a “stupid proposition” that there is no room in the AFL for the Suns and rejected Matthews’ comments, which implied Gold Coast had cannibalised Brisbane’s support.
“Opinions are like arseholes. Everyone’s got one,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“We’re shooting our own here. This is rugby league heartland. We have to, brick by brick, build up a foundation.
“Do you abdicate and just give that market to another sport? Or do you get in there and have a real, fair dinkum, long-term crack – and that’s 20 to 30 years.”
Cochrane said there had already been a huge boost in Queensland AFL participation while broadcast earnings have also skyrocketed since the introduction of the Suns and fellow expansion side Greater Western Sydney.
He then turned his attention to the “ridiculous” assertion the Gold Coast, Australia’s sixth biggest city by population, isn’t a big enough market to sustain a professional team – despite its reputation as a sporting graveyard.
Cochrane conceded the club was being let down by fans not turning up to games but said there were mitigating circumstances.
“It’s a young city. It’s grown so quickly, in 20 years it’s gone from 120,000 people to 600,000,” he said.
“Because it’s grown so quickly it hasn’t developed its own sense of identity, in my opinion.
“We don’t have that history or buy-in yet but you don’t give up, you dig in.
“Everybody from the mayor down, every resident, should literally try and get behind one of these teams and give them some backing.”
The Lions have distanced themselves from Matthews’ comments, saying they came in his role as a paid commentator and not as a Brisbane club official.
But there is at least some support from the Lions for the presence of AFL on the Gold Coast – midfielder Dayne Beams, who grew up on the glitter strip and played his junior football for Southport.
“I would have loved for a Gold Coast side to be there when I was playing footy. It’s good for footy in Queensland,” Beams said.