Relocating from a traditional home will usually mark the start of a new era for a football club. Modern facilities provide dramatic improvements for players, fans and other stakeholders to enjoy, and a new environment can often create an uplift of atmosphere.
For Caroline Springs George Cross FC, the mid-2019 move to the state-of-the-art City Vista Pavilion and Sports Field has done all of the above – but also far, far more.
The club has used the transition to revitalise its football program and open an industry-leading hospitality precinct, increasing opportunities for income diversification and the creation of an intimate sense of community.
“Prior to the move we utilised three different venues. It has been enlightening for the club to amalgamate all of our teams and for the first time in a while, the club has been united from a participation point of view. We are now all at one venue where teams and families interact and watch each other play and train. It also means we can have community and NPL Juniors all at the one club,” said Mark Sultana, Caroline Springs George Cross FC President.
Formerly Sunshine George Cross, the club has a rich 74-year history and a deep connection to Melbourne’s western suburbs.
“We are a very old, but very progressive football club. In 2019 we had a change of name to match our new home. We have created a really special culture and are highly united across all areas,” Sultana added.
From a business standpoint, the hospitality precinct, dubbed Georgies on Vista, has allowed the club to build a sustainable income stream which is not solely reliant on traditional methods like sponsorship.
“It’s a full hospitality precinct including a bar, function room and restaurant. It’s a fully functional business but we also use it to give back to our community. We offer specials for members and players, while kids eat free,” added Liza Djuric, General Manager of Caroline Springs George Cross FC.
“Parents have a comfortable space when they are waiting for their kids and it really unites people during training and on matchdays.”
As well as the hospitality facilities, the City Vista complex features cutting-edge amenities for players and coaches. The $13 million reserve boasts two synthetic pitches and two grass pitches, with space for 4000 fans.
Although project was heavily funded by the Melton City Council, the Georgies also made a significant contribution of approximately $1 million.
While securing funding was an enormous achievement, the relationship the club shares with its council is very much a two-way street. The club has approached its relations with the broader community much the same as it has with its members, promoting inclusion and engagement to great effect.
“It’s a testament to our venue that Western United FC chose us to base themselves out of. They use our facilities six days per week to train, but we also support the local community,” Sultana said.
“The school across the road uses our facilities for their P.E classes and we support other local schools by hiring out our grounds. The public can also use our grounds when we aren’t using them and there’s times over summer where the grounds are booked out for tournaments.”
The club has a 20-year lease on the complex, with an option to extend another 20 years beyond that.
With the deal undoubtedly a huge win for the club, Sultana and Djuric emphasise that it was a result of hard-work and dedication from many past and present administrators.
“A lot of people over a number of years have sacrificed a lot to have this facility granted to us. People like Eddie Gauci, who was integral to our conversations with council. He has sadly passed away, but his legacy will not be forgotten. Countless other people including committee members, coaches, presidents and volunteers sacrificed a lot for our club to be where it is today,” Sultana said.
Importantly, in addition to supporting its members and the surrounding areas, the reserve was also designed in a gender-neutral manner, something which is increasingly important in the modern football ecosystem.
This has allowed George Cross to heavily promote female participation in the area and offer genuine career development pathways for women who are eager to pursue coaching or administrative positions.
“We have female-friendly change rooms and access and gender-neutral facilities. The club is committed to drawing female participation across the board. We have girls from all age groups and ensure our women’s teams train and play on our main pitch,” Djuric said.
“We are committed to this even across the board and committee. We have female coaches and self-nominated to the Change Maker Project, a Football Victoria and Vic Uni led program which is all about driving football clubs to achieve 50/50 participation.”
With a state-of-the-art facility now in place to complement the club’s passionate fanbase, the President believes Caroline Springs George Cross FC is in a prime position to compete in the highly anticipated National Second Division.
‘We have taken this club from being mainly comprised of part-timers into a professionally run organisation. When the Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) put out the expression of interest for the working group, we took it upon ourselves to contribute,” Sultana said.
“We are an old NSL club with a strong brand and supporter base. We have one of the best facilities and believe we are in a good position to be issued a license when the time comes. The licenses need to be given on a criteria base and from a capability standpoint, we will have all of the components ticked-off.”