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Preston Lions FC: A sleeping giant is awoken with new $3 million grant

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.

The club’s main grandstand at B.T. Connor Reserve

“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.”

A digital render of the refurbished pavilion.

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.”

DFL and AWS introduce two new Match Facts to Bundesliga coverage

Bundesliga analysis

The Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) and Amazon Web Services (AWS) have announced the addition of two new Bundesliga Match Facts powered by AWS that will premiere as graphics during broadcasts and in the official Bundesliga app during the 2021-2022 season.

The two new Match Facts – Shot Efficiency and Passing Profile – will bring the total number of advanced statistics to eight, with each of them aiming to give fans deeper insights into the action on the pitch.

The first of the new advanced stats – Shot Efficiency – compares the number of goals that a player or team has scored with how many goals the player or team should have scored based on the quality of their chances.

The second – Passing Profile – provides deeper insights into the pass quality of a player or an entire team. Both of the stats are generated by gathering and analysing the match feeds from live games in real time as they are streamed into AWS.

Both new stats made their debut during Matchday 4 on the clash between German Champion FC Bayern München and the second-placed team of the previous season RB Leipzig.

The two new Match Facts will better showcase the action on the field – giving fans, coaches, players, and commentators visual support for analysing the decision-making of players and teams.

Andreas Heyden, Executive Vice President of Digital Innovations for DFL Group, was excited to further innovate the matchday experience for viewers based both domestically and internationally.

“Bundesliga Match Facts powered by AWS allows us to give fans more insight into the game of football, broadcasters more interesting stories to tell and coaches and teams, more data to excel at their game,” he said.

“Last year, the reception for Bundesliga Match Facts around the world was very positive, and we expect through ML and AI to continue to innovate on these analytics to make them even better.

“These two new stats give fans a view into player efficiency that hasn’t been achieved before, and we are just at the beginning of our relationship with AWS. I’m excited to see how technology will continue to evolve the fan experience and the game.”

Jamie Harnwell driving the game forward in Western Australia

Jamie Harnwell is Perth Glory’s record appearance holder, with 256 of them across three decades. Now Chief Football Officer for Football West, he spoke to Soccerscene about the changes from the NSL to the A-League, the challenges of running a football federation, and his favourite footballing moments throughout his career.

So firstly, what’s the biggest challenges facing Football West at the moment?

Harnwell: I think it’s interesting. Football West is in a really good position, being very fortunate with COVID over here and able to get out and play. The challenges are more for our clubs I suppose, and then Football West supporting them. Facilities are always a challenge for every sport, but certainly for football. We need to make sure there are enough grounds and space for people to play, but also aspects like lighting, adequate change rooms, and those sorts of things are suitable for clubs. We have a number of them almost putting up the closed sign because they have too many players and not enough space for them to play.

The other challenge for Football West and the clubs is the increase in governance requirements. We are basically a volunteer sport in many ways. And the increasing legalities and issues across that for volunteers to deal with can be difficult. So it’s time that we at Football West need to be able to support our clubs, make sure they’re adhering to good practice, and doing the right things so that they can continue to grow.

How has professional football in Australia improved since you first debuted with Perth Glory in the late 90s?

Harnwell: I think it’s actually professional football now. You know when I first started playing, I think there was ourselves and maybe Carlton who were actual full-time professional clubs. The rest were part-time as people were still working during the day, going to training at night, and trying to juggle the two. So certainly the transition into the A-League and full-time professionalism for all clubs has been huge, and just the continued increased coverage and media around the game has made us much more accessible. It’s easier to see and has a much better chance of building that supporter base across the game here in Australia.

What areas do you think the game can continue to improve on going forward into the future?

Harnwell: There’s always talent development and making sure that we stay on pace with best practices and what’s happening in other parts of the world. We are a smaller nation in the grand scheme of things in football, so we need to be smart about how we approach those sorts of things and make sure we get bang for our buck for everything that we do. The other thing is we need to try and increase the commercialism of the game and make sure that we continue to get funds into the game that can assist in the youth development that can help in costs for clubs and all those types of things. So that’s the way I know Football Australia is working hard on it. They’re starting to bring more and more partners into the game. But if you look at the mega machines like AFL, then we probably still have some way to go in that.

How can football win across young athletes into joining the sport over others?

Harnwell:
I think we’re really lucky as a game. I can’t speak for other states, I suppose – but the numbers here at Football West in Western Australia just continue to grow year in year out. We are a very attractive game for parents to pick for young boys and girls. It’s a very easy game to choose and very easy to play and train. So we’re certainly well-positioned in that respect – making sure that our clubs provide positive environments that they enjoy what they do. There isn’t the overarching focus on just winning games, but more a longer-term development based approach that will make sure talented young players will stay in football rather than going across to other codes.

On a personal level, what is your most memorable footballing memory?

Harnwell: There’s probably a few, I suppose for myself as a player – it would have been the first NSL Championship that we won. We’d had a couple of cracks at it before and sort of fell away in the Grand Final. So that first win in 2003 was huge, and really got the monkey off our back, and managing to score in that game with the massive crowd was fantastic. But I’m also a Manchester United fan, so the treble was pretty good as well. So I don’t know which one ranks better for me!

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