With one of Australia’s most passionate fanbases and a history of on-field success, it seems inconceivable that less than a decade ago the Preston Lions FC was on the brink of financial collapse. But despite its recent struggles, a resilient leadership team has led the club out of darkness and towards a bright new dawn.
Following a triumphant 2019 season which ended in promotion, the crowning jewel in Preston’s redemptive arc is the announcement of a new $3 million government grant to redevelop its facilities – meaning the club will finally have the infrastructure to match its lofty ambitions.
“The club recognised that we operate in a competitive environment and we needed to significantly improve the state of our facilities if we were going to attract and retain players, coaches, sponsors, members, and families,” said Zak Gruevski, Preston Lions FC President.
“Furthermore, we need to continue to improve our facilities if we are to meet our ambitious plans of playing at the highest level of NPL in Victoria, and possibly in the National Second Division.”
The funding marks a dramatic turnaround for the club. Struggles on-the-pitch saw Preston relegated twice, in 2009 and 2011, and things were no better off-field, with crippling debt almost forcing the Lions into bankruptcy in 2012.
But just a few short years later fortunes had changed again, and this time for the better. Thanks to the dedication of the Debt Demolition Fundraising Sub Committee, fundraising efforts managed to eradicate the debt in 2014, giving the club a new platform of hope and financial stability.
Gruevski, a life-long supporter of the Lions, was elected President in 2015 and has already overseen drastic improvements to the club’s stature and home ground, B.T. Connor Reserve in Melbourne’s north.
“At the time I was elected, our objective was to build a strong and united team of professional and passionate people to create a sustainable future for the club,” Gruevski said.
“Prior to 2015, the club’s facilities were extremely run down and not fit for purpose but thanks to the dedication of our passionate people including the committee, supporters, and sponsors, the club has been able to emerge from a difficult period to deliver significant improvements.”
Although recent investments have already enhanced the state of Preston’s stadia, the new redevelopments will take the facilities to an entirely new level.
Work is expected to commence in early 2021 and be completed towards the end of the year. Among a raft of improvements, the Lions’ new pavilion will include the following features:
- A purpose built social area with state-of-the-art kitchen and bar facilities to accommodate up to 220 seated guests
- Full access viewings onto the main playing pitch with floor to ceiling glass doors and windows
- External undercover seating for up to 200 patrons
- Six purpose-built change rooms, with associated medical facilities to accommodate players, medical staff, and officials
- Media/meeting room facilities with access to high-quality audio-visual amenities including a 6 x 3 metre electronic scoreboard (funded by club sponsors), audio visual (AV) projection facilities, as well as AV throughout the ground
- Canteen and restroom facilities for patrons (including those with disabilities) accessible external and internal to the pavilion
According to Gruevski, the facilities will create enormous benefits for those at the club, but also people in the wider local community.
“The new pavilion will provide state of the art facilities where the entire Preston family and other visitors can enjoy café, restaurant, and bar facilities in a fully enclosed environment whilst still being able to watch unobstructed. The facility will prove particularly popular for parents and visitors during the week on training nights, particularly in Winter.” Gruevski said.
“In addition, it will provide the club significant revenue opportunities before and after games to accommodate patrons as well as the potential for use on weekends for functions and events.”
The announcement comes during a time where debate has raged around the state of Australia’s footballing infrastructure. A victim of chronic underinvestment, the issue has drawn commentary from some of the game’s leading figures and has been exacerbated by a strong rise in participation rates, causing a strain on grassroots facilities nationwide.
But despite the negative sentiment surrounding Australia’s football amenities, the path forward will be paved by cooperation and goodwill between clubs, administrators, and government, and the Lions have set a positive example in how this can be achieved.
“The club has adopted a partnership model working closely with the City of Darebin to develop a football precinct that the club and the community can be proud of and enjoy for many years to come,” Gruevski stated.
“Whilst the club has contributed to a number of the infrastructure projects at B.T. Connor Reserve, the majority of the funding has come from council. The club has provided the ‘justification’ to council for investment in facilities which had previously been neglected for many years.”
Prior to the season’s cancellation due to COVID-19, Preston was preparing to compete in Victoria’s NPL 3 in 2020. It was set to be the club’s first venture back into the NPL system since suffering relegations in 2009 and 2011.
The recent promotion back to the NPL and upcoming redevelopment signal an exciting new era for the Preston Lions FC. The club’s approximate 350 players – and much wider community – have good reason to rejoice, for the facilities-upgrade represents far more than just tangible benefits it will provide.
The state-of-the-art complex signifies that the proud club, which once competed for 13 years at Australia’s top level (the now defunct National Soccer League), is once again a force-to-be-reckoned-with in Australia’s highly competitive domestic sports landscape.
“With significant improvements in facilities and the implementation of quality football programs for our men’s, women’s and junior teams, we aim to attract and retain quality footballers and their families who want to be part of the next phase of the club’s journey to competing at the highest level of competition possible,” Gruevski said.
“The sleeping giant that has awoken is now in a strong position to leverage its wonderful history to create a bright and successful future.”