On Friday, newly formed A-League club Western United announced that they would host their match against Adelaide United at the Whitten Oval.
The match, set to take place on Australia Day (January 26) will mark the third AFL ground that Mark Rudan’s side has used this season as a home venue.
Previously to this, Mars Stadium in Ballarat and GMBHA Stadium in Geelong have been used.
On paper, this is a perfect move for the expansion club. Their match against the Reds will mark their first official match to take place in western Melbourne, opposed to greater western Victoria.
Their stadium in Tarneit is on course for a 2021 completion, so obviously until then, they need to make do with what’s available.
But now, they finally have a chance to play in front of the people who were their targeted demographic from day one.
The Whitten Oval is a great location in itself, having played host to large scale AFLW games and consistent seasons of the VFL. So the ground will be up to scratch for 90 minutes of A-League football.
Currently, the AFL, AFLW and VFL are in their off-seasons, so there is no risk of any clash between AFL side the Western Bulldogs and Western United.
There was only a minor risk of clash between the match and any pre-season training for the Bulldogs. But thankfully, the 2016 AFL premiers are on a training camp up north on the Sunshine Coast at the time of Australia Day.
In an article from The Age, United CEO Chris Pehlivanis and Western Bulldogs CEO Ameet Bains echoed each other’s thoughts on the prospect of A-League football at Whitten.
“We will continue to be a club for all who call the west home as we take this journey together,” Pehlivanis said.
“Relocating our round 16 fixture to Whitten Oval gives the club’s growing fanbase an opportunity to taste the A-League at another family friendly, community venue in the west.”
“Hosting A-League football at Whitten Oval is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the broad capability of our venue and to connect with a new audience,” said Bains.
“We have been able to create a unique, family-friendly atmosphere for sporting events we have hosted at Whitten Oval, particularly in the summer months at our AFLW matches.”
— Western United FC (@wufcofficial) January 10, 2020
United’s start to the season has been a mixed bag, both on and off the field.
Many A-League fans would agree in us saying that it’s a nice breath of fresh air to have a new side, boasting new names as well as some familiar faces in the competition.
Their on field performance has been decent. They currently sit in fifth on the A-League table and despite some disappointing results as of late, they remain firmly in contention for a finals berth in their inaugural season.
That in itself is a remarkable achievement, should Alessandro Diamanti and co. get it done.
But off the field, there has been a struggle for numbers, particularly at home games.
They currently hold the second-lowest attendance record in the competition this season, averaging a measly 6,225 per game. They also hold the record for lowest attendance at a single game this season.
In their round nine encounter against Sydney FC, a mere 4,187 fans clicked through the turnstiles in Geelong as the reigning champions of the A-League ran out 2-0 winners.
Great to see Western United playing a game at Whitten oval – far more sensible than Geelong for growing a supporter base in the west !
— Jason W (@JRW1973) January 10, 2020
Understandably, as a new side it’s tough to acquire fans from the get-go and to establish genuine connections with fans will take time. Poor on-field results would go a long way to diminishing any hopes of that.
But with time and the opening of their new stadium in the near future, it’s a simple case of staying the course for Pehlivanis and co.
This match on Australia Day in the heart of Melbourne’s inner-western suburbs could do a world of good for Western. With tickets reportedly going for as little as $6, it could be the beginning of a wonderful new relationship between them and the Western Bulldogs.
Fingers crossed for them that regardless of the on-field result, they have a good showing from their fans and any neutrals who watch them as well.