Knights Stadium: More than just a home ground

Knights Stadium is one of the most iconic venues in Australian football – for many it is more than just a stadium.

The ground was built in 1989 with storied history. Melbourne Knights, formerly known as Melbourne Croatia SC, were two-time National Soccer League (NSL) champions and four-time minor premiers at the ground during the 1990s.

The Mark Viduka Stand can seat up to 3,000 people, while another 12,000 can stand around the pitch. The ground represents the largest football-only sporting ground in the state of Victoria – testament to the history and strength of Melbourne Knights FC.

Knights Stadium in 2002 with the Mark Viduka Stand.

Former Melbourne Knights president Andelko Cimera says he was part of the club while Knights Stadium was becoming a reality.

“We were playing at the old number two pitch at Olympic Park, where the dog track was, and that was virtually our home. We were looking for alternatives and a couple of properties came up – a drive-in in Altona and a drive-in at North Sunshine,” he said.

“We settled on Sunshine because it was a little bit cheaper. I think we paid $180,000 at that time in 1984. 12 months later we started developing the stadium.”

Melbourne Croatia at the time tried to secure the rights to play at Heidelberg United’s home ground Olympic Park and several other venues, before a decade-long donation drive allowed them to raise the money to purchase the land and develop a facility at the current site of Somers Street.

94/95 NSL champions

Melbourne Knights FC President Pave Jusup says that much of his childhood was spent at Knights Stadium.

“We only saw the stadium for games. We would always strive to go there, and sometimes the juniors would have an important game that’d let us on the second ground, even the main ground,” he said.

“If you walked into the wrong part of the ground the groundskeeper would grab you and make you be a ball boy, and you’d get a hotdog and drink after the game. It was a whole childhood for a lot of us.”

Jusup adds that Melbourne Knights and the stadium serve as a key pillar within the Croatian community.

“There are a lot of memories that have been created there. A lot of people are tied to the physical place and it is a hub of the Croatian community along with the Croatian club in Footscray and the original Croatian church in Clifton Hill. We are the three constant and long-term fixtures in the community,” he said.

Cimera explains that there were both positives and negatives towards the stadium being community ran and operated.

“There were advantages and disadvantages. It was our property, it was our ground. It was up to us whether it was Sunday night, Saturday afternoon, or Friday night game. It was always available to us,” he said.

“The disadvantages were that everything was up to us. The maintenance of the ground was up to us. The facility became a burden to the Croatian community, which involved all our payments, all our rates which were paid for by the community.”

Both Jusup and Cimera agree that the biggest games were always against South Melbourne.

“It became a fortress for us in the 90s. It was difficult to take points away from our ground for teams,” Cimera said.

“I think our record crowd was when Hadjuk Split was here, that was close to 15,000. I remember when we played South Melbourne we had 12,000 people. The games between South Melbourne and us were always the biggest crowds.”

During the 2000 National Soccer League season, over 11,000 people descended upon Knights Stadium to watch Melbourne Croatia vs South Melbourne Hellas.

“Around 2001, they were top of the table and unbeaten, while we were mid to low-end of the table. We beat them 4-0. That is one game that sticks out in my mind,” Jusup said.

For both Cimera and Jusup, they acknowledge that the supporters and members of Melbourne Knights want to see Knights Stadium and the club feature in a second division.

“It’s not only the Melbourne Knights. It’s the juniors too because they can have a career path. Right now they can’t see a career path. Without promotion and relegation, it makes it very difficult,” Cimera said.

“We’ve got a lot of latent fans who are disappointed in the situation we find ourselves in. There are a lot of people who would put their hands up and into their pockets to help propel the club if given the opportunity. We’ve gone through a period of consolidation, but there’s a new generation of people who want to propel the club into the limelight as their parents and grandparents did,” Jusup said.

If the opportunity to join a second division does arise for Melbourne Knights, then their home ground won’t look out of place on the national stage.

Football Australia near $200m TV deal with Network Ten

Football Australia is currently in the final stages of negotiations to secure a record-breaking $200 million TV deal with Network Ten that will extend the current broadcast deal for four more years.

Reported by The Australian, the deal will be worth double the current $100 million agreement.

The deal will include broadcast rights to the 2026 Asian Cup women’s tournament that Australia will host, the 2027 Women’s World Cup in Brazil as well as most Socceroos and Matildas games. Football Australia has also bought the rights to some junior World Cup tournaments in order to package them in the new TV contract.

There is no bigger indication of the lasting impact the Matildas have made since the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup concluded in August of last year.

Channel Seven reported that for the Semi Final against England last year, the broadcast reached staggering 11.15 million people nationally with an average audience of 7.13 million, making it the most watched TV program since the OzTAM measurement started in 2001.

Not to mention the fact that the Matildas have sold out stadiums 14 times in a row, including an incredible 76,798 attendance at Monday’s Olympic send-off friendly against China in the cold weather.

Football Australia Chief executive James Johnson didn’t publicly discuss the numbers in the deal but commented on the TV package itself and how the FA no longer relies on broadcast deals to survive.

“What it does ­strategically is it creates a one-stop shop for Matildas and Socceroos content over the next four-year cycle, and it is a creative way to come up with a new package broadcast deal,” he said via press release.

“If you go back four or five years, we were very dependent on broadcast.

“But today you’ve got strong sponsorship and other revenue streams, like merchandise, the broadcasting for national teams only, and also ticketing revenue.

“We have more broadcast revenue that will pick up in (financial year 2025) and there’s also new sponsorship deals like Milo, Coles and the new Nike deal that we signed at the back end of last year.”

This deal is extremely positive for football fans, normalising free-to-air TV in an era where Australian’s access to free sport is dwindling.

The impact of the Matildas and Socceroos producing good results in their respective World Cup’s has given the FA a platform to surge growth at grassroots level and this record-breaking TV deal is the biggest indicator that the future is heading in the right direction.

Came From Nowhere: the forgotten story of the Western Sydney Wanderers FC

Less than 24 hours after the Central Coast Mariners captured national attention with their historic treble of titles, SBS quietly released a documentary, this film told a similarly, yet arguably more remarkable, football story that has almost disappeared from the collective memory of Australian sports fans.

In 2014, only two years after their existence, the Western Sydney Wanderers won the most prestigious club competition available to Australian teams: AFC Champions League.

They achieved this victory in front of 11 of their own fans, due to the travel difficulties and restrictions, and 60,000 enraged Saudi Arabians, overcoming challenges such as bus crashes, hotel raids, public taunts, and laser pointers aimed at their eyes. Despite these obstacles, the Wanderers persevered, becoming the first Australian club to win the continent’s most prestigious trophy.

However, this narrative appears to have faded into the pages of history, scarcely acknowledged in broader discussions concerning pivotal moments or memories that have moulded Australian sports, the question is why?

This is what journalist Marc Fennell sought to explore this question in his latest documentary, “Came From Nowhere.” The film delves into the inception and initial triumphs of one of Australia’s most intriguing, yet currently contentious, football clubs.

“What became very apparent very quickly, and what interested me, were two things,” Fennell told ABC Sport.

“One was this truly incredible, Hollywood-esque, fairytale arc of a team that literally went from no name, no players, nowhere to play, nowhere to train, no coach to winning the highest championship you can as an Australian club.

“Then there was the other side, which was that the active support group had gotten lots of coverage. The RBB (Red and Black Bloc), there were reams and reams of news and footage of them. And I felt like those two things were linked somehow, and they were both stories worth telling, but we were trying to work out: how did they intersect?”

For years, the region had fostered a vibrant football community, nurturing numerous Socceroos who honed their skills at clubs such as Marconi, Blacktown, Parramatta, and Sydney United in the former National Soccer League.

In 2012, when Clive Palmer’s Gold Coast United ceased operations, the opportunity arose for the Wanderers. With the FFA requiring ten teams for upcoming television rights negotiations, but facing difficulty in finding a financial sponsor to establish the team in time for the 2012-13 season, they took matters into their own hands. The FFA secured a $4 million government grant to establish a professional football club in Sydney’s west, essentially from the ground up.

Following numerous community forums and fan surveys held across the region, various topics including club colours, playing style, home grounds, club values, and proposed names were thoroughly discussed and debated. On June 25, it was revealed that the club would officially be named the Western Sydney Wanderers, paying tribute to Australia’s first-ever registered football club, Wanderers FC, established in 1880. The club’s colours were designated as red and black.

During their inaugural pre-season match in St Marys, 4,500 attendees witnessed a small gathering on a grassy hill where a few songs, penned over the previous four months, were practised. This laid the foundation for the Red and Black Bloc, an active supporter’s group integral to the club’s narrative alongside the players.

Despite their first match in the A-League at the old Parramatta Stadium ending in a scoreless game, for the supporters standing behind a banner proclaiming “Football comes home,” the result on the scoreboard was inconsequential. What truly mattered was that they now had a club they could proudly call their own.

“This is a love story between a town and its team, between football and its fans. And every love story has ebbs and flows: it has moments of high euphoria, and then it has bickering and tempestuous fighting,” Fennell said to ABC Sport.

The film then tracks the team’s debut season in 2012-13, starting slow with no goals or wins in the initial month but swiftly gaining momentum. They achieved a league-record of 10 consecutive victories, challenging prominent clubs like their now-local rivals, Sydney FC, as they climbed the ladder.

With each victory, the fan base of the Wanderers expanded. In a remarkable show of support, 10,000 Wanderers faithful journeyed to Newcastle for their last regular season match. Mark Bridge’s two goals contributed to a 3-0 triumph, clinching their inaugural Premier’s Plate in an extraordinary debut season.

The film then delves into its second focal point: the club’s fanbase and the escalating tensions arising between its active supporters and the authorities.

Certain factions of the RBB posed challenges for the local police, exhibiting behaviours such as violence, property damage, intimidation, and the use of flares. This led to an increase in police presence at home games.

The RBB’s customary pre-match procession in Parramatta, along with the use of flares, megaphones, banners, and even profanity, was prohibited. While some viewed these measures as necessary for community safety, others saw it as “eroding the essence of what makes football unique.” Fans felt let down by league officials, perceiving a lack of support.

Tension may have arisen from the Wanderers’ blurring of boundaries between what writer Joe Gorman once termed the “de-ethnised” A-League, the ethnic and multicultural roots of Sydney’s west, was where the Wanderers emerged.

This might also explain why the manner in which its fanbase interacts with the sport through tifos, flares, chanting and marches has faced widespread criticism from the mainstream Australian media, which may not fully understand or feel at ease with the cultures and traditions of a working-class migrant sport that differs from their own.

In the last segment of the film, the focus shifts to the team’s extraordinary journey through the Asian Champions League. Once more, they embrace their underdog status and mindset to triumph over some of the most formidable and accomplished clubs in the region.

Members of the championship-winning team reminisce about the different tactics employed by rival fans to disrupt their visits, including infiltrating their hotels to disturb players, using lasers during games, and even orchestrating a bus accident on a congested freeway on the way to a stadium.

The match that ensued became legendary in football history, now recounted by bleary-eyed Wanderers fans who congregated in a public square in Parramatta at 3am witnessing their club, which had humble origins, rise to become one of the greatest football clubs ever produced in Australia.

The greeting for the team was at least 2000 passionate, chanting fans of the Western Sydney Wanderers flooded Sydney International Airport on a Monday night at 11:20pm, transforming the arrivals area into a vibrant and noisy celebration welcoming home the newly crowned Kings of Asia at the time.

This type of football fan culture is present all around the world which is just another normal day for them, but for WSW fans to take over the Sydney airport is remarkable when you really think about and is what gives hope that football is a sleeping giant in Australia, much to the dismay of mainstream media in the country.

The other Australian sporting codes to see scenes such as those can only dream to have it for their games at the stadiums, let alone greeting their teams at the airport.

“Any future of this sport has to really consider not just things like player development and long-term strategies and diversifying and being clubs for whole communities, but also how fans are folded into that process,” Fennell said to ABC Sport.

“Because fans are engaged with a club, it’s an experience unlike anything else. To be there in the midst of some of those games felt bigger than a Taylor Swift concert, but when they go, the whole thing just deflates.

“Whatever comes next, they have to consider how active support and everyday fans are part of the process of the club, the energy of the club, because that’s the value of it. There is absolutely a link between success and fans, and if you’re not doing well, it’s clear how that diminishes.”

Despite the club’s decline in the past decade following that remarkable achievement, “Came From Nowhere” underscores the fundamental essence of success in football. It urges current decision-makers to refocus on these core principles as they endeavour to rejuvenate a competition that many feel has passed its prime.

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