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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.”

Football West to welcome Jamie Harnwell as new CEO

Football West has announced the appointment of Jamie Harnwell as the new Chief Executive Officer of the organisation.

Football West has announced the appointment of Jamie Harnwell as the new Chief Executive Officer of the organisation.

Harnwell will succeed outgoing CEO James Curtis, who is stepping down after spending almost six years in the role.

Harnwell has been involved with Football West for over 12 years, with his most recent position being Chief Football Officer. Prior to that, he had worked as Acting Chief Operating Officer and Head of Development.

Before joining Football West, Harnwell was the captain of A-Leagues club Perth Glory, as well as the record-appearance holder He made 256 appearances for the Glory men’s squad, where in the process he was involved in back-to-back national championships.

Football West Chairman Sherif Andrawes:

“Football West is delighted to announce Jamie Harnwell as our new CEO,” he said.

“Jamie is a real football person, from his days as a star player at Perth Glory to becoming a top coach in both the A-League Women’s and NPLWA – Men’s competitions. He has transferred the drive and dedication needed to succeed on the pitch to his roles at Football West.

“In addition, Jamie also possesses the necessary skills and vision to drive Football West forward as we continue to grow the sport in WA and we move towards the opening of the State Football Centre and the 2023 Women’s World Cup and beyond.

“Jamie has worked closely with James Curtis for a number of years, and in terms of senior management, it is great that he has been able to ‘learn on the job’ and is well placed to lead the team at Football West over what will be an exciting period for our sport in WA.

“Following an extensive nationwide search and the assessment of several excellent candidates, Jamie proved to be the stand-out. We look forward to him leading Football West in the years ahead and continuing the terrific progress achieved under James Curtis.”

Incoming Football West Chief Executive Officer Jamie Harnwell:

“It is exciting to become CEO of Football West and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.

“We are the biggest team sport in the country in terms of participation and we are in a fantastic position. But there is still plenty of potential for further growth, especially here in WA.

“It has been terrific to work with James Curtis and gain invaluable experience, now I am ready to put my own stamp on the position.”

Harnwell will work together with Curtis until the latter departs from Football West on March 31, 2022.

Sky Sports extends rights to NIFL

The Northern Ireland Football League has announced that Sky Sports will be the exclusive broadcaster of Football in the region once again.

The Northern Ireland Football League has announced that Sky Sports will once again be the exclusive broadcaster of top-flight football in the region for the next three years.

The Irish League has had a long-lasting partnership with Sky over the years and the agreement will see the relationship in place until the end of the 2024/25 season.

The new agreement will see four Danske Bank Premiership fixtures and the BetMcLean League Cup final broadcast live across the UK & Ireland each season.

Northern Ireland Football Chief Executive, Gerard Lawlor:

“We sincerely thank Sky Sports for their continued backing of our game and we look forward to showcasing some of the best NI Football League matches together over the next three seasons,” he said.

“To continue to have the invaluable support of such a high-profile broadcaster shows how far our league has progressed in recent years as we bring our game to an increasing audience of loyal fans.

“The NI Football League brand is continuing to grow outside of the confines of Northern Ireland, and through Sky Sports, many football fans are now becoming more familiar with the rich history of our clubs and as well as some of the household names that have played in the Irish League.”

Sky Sports Director of Football, Gary Hughes:

“As a long-term partner to the Northern Ireland Football League, we’re delighted to extend Sky Sports’ support of the league and ensure that its entertaining action continues to be available to our customers,” he said.

“Sky Sports customers will be able to enjoy the Northern Ireland Football league alongside our ever-expanding football offering in the UK & Ireland which includes over 500 live games in 2022, from the Premier League, EFL, Scottish Premiership and FA Women’s Super League as well as international action in the form of World Cup Qualifiers, and this month’s Africa Cup of Nations – placing Sky Sports as the home of live football.”

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