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Victorian A-League clubs can benefit from unique home grounds, this is how.

What makes a sporting venue unique?

Is it A). the respective fanbases that cheer for what seems an eternity in the hope their team will win?

Is it B). the overall quality and look of the venue, on the field and in the stands?

Or, is it C). the location of the venue that gives the team and its fans a sense of identity?

If you answered with C, congratulations. You won the jackpot. Go off and celebrate with Jamal Malik. Or Charles Van Doren, it doesn’t really matter.

Whilst there are cases that can be made for A and B, having a venue located appropriately for both the club and its supporters goes a long way to creating the most unique sporting venues across the planet.

European teams all have their own venues, which they have used for years to great effect, giving their sides genuine home ground advantages.

For example, FC Barcelona, arguably the biggest club in the world, uses the Nou Camp for home fixtures.

Any rival team would be rightly justified in being slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of playing against not only a world class team, but in front of nearly 100,000 Catalans.

There’s no one else, but you and your 10 teammates. If that can’t be classified as daunting, then nothing can.

But when we compare the European leagues to that of our own A-League, the differences are night and day.

For years, we’ve become accustomed to clubs playing at venues which are either shared with another club or simply not suitable for their supporters.

Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City often share AAMI Park for league fixtures. Sydney FC and Western Sydney have sometimes shared ANZ Stadium for larger fixtures.

By doing this, the local and state governments are ignoring the possibilities that come with individual home grounds.

It has worked for European teams and for a long time, it even worked in the Australian Football League. North Melbourne would play at Arden Street, Hawthorn in Waverley, Collingwood at Victoria Park, Carlton at Princes Park and so on.

By having unique venues, clubs would not only give back to the community, but they would attain a unique and distinguishable identity.

Picture this.

We are used to seeing London-based sides playing at their own locations. Crystal Palace have Selhurst Park, Arsenal have the Emirates, Chelsea have Stamford Bridge, Tottenham have their new Tottenham Stadium. The list could go on forever.

Now, take away all those stadiums, Every single one of them. Except for Wembley Stadium.

Now imagine all fixtures for London-based Premier League sides being hosted at Wembley and Wembley only.

It seems an incredibly stupid concept, doesn’t it?

That’s how it feels when both Melbourne sides are forced to share AAMI Park.

Sure, Wembley is a great stadium but soon, teams would slowly start losing their congruity and relationship with their fans. By having grounds in relevant and discernable locations, fans feel like they’re at home.

It’s not a club, it’s a large family.

That’s what having unique stadiums/locations for each side can do. It makes them feel at home, because in a way, they are.

Melbourne Victory could achieve something like this, should they invest in their Epping facilities. It is currently used for their NPL2 West fixtures, but it could be so much more.

Yes, it’s a downgrade from AAMI Park in terms of capacity and probably quality, but over time, fans will associate themselves with the ground and it can become a genuine home ground.

Sydney FC used Jubilee Oval in the city’s south to great effect in recent times, making it a tough ground to win at.

But also, it is located in the suburbs. With the people. With those who are the only reason the club is around today.

Now, Western Sydney will have the Bankwest Stadium as their unique home ground, starting next season. It will work as they are, once again, catering to their fanbase and community.

The Melbourne-based sides should take notes from this.

In Football Victoria’s strategic plan laid out earlier this year, FV said they would be look to be “expanding and improving all facilities and providing infrastructure to increase access, utilisation and sustainability”, by “building strong relationships with Local, State & Federal Governments.”

Creating a A-League quality stadium in Epping could go a long way to achieving this.

Clubs know that the fans are the most important stakeholders and that by adhering to them, they will become an infinitely better club.

History suggests that when clubs have their own distinctive venues, they perform better both on and off the field.

With time and money, more clubs across Australia can turn the A-League into a league on par with the MLS.

And yes, money can be a significant factor when it comes to this issue. Understandably, the governing bodies will not be wanting to make a move on this without money-back guarantees.

No one would agree to any sort of deal without guarantees that in time, their investments would be worthwhile. But the proof is in the pudding. It’s been done elsewhere, it can be done here. If the Sydney-based clubs can make it work, there’s no reason that other states can too.

Should this become a reality, more marquee players will want to play here, more youngsters will want to play the sport and overall, the sport of soccer in this country will thrive.

And who knows? With the right management and oversight, we could dare to dream even bigger…

 

Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

Football Coaches Australia presents ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ S2 Ep 8 with Gary Cole interviewing Jeff Hopkins

Jeff Hopkins

Jeff Hopkins is currently the W-League Championship winning Head Coach of Melbourne Victory.

Jeff was born in Wales and played over 400 games for both club and country. He started in Fulham’s Academy before playing over 200 games in the first team before heading to Crystal Palace and Reading. Jeff also played for Wales at U21 and Senior level.

His coaching career began by working with young players in the UK, where he started his coaching licences before heading to Gippsland Falcons as a player and then for a year as Head Coach.

As a former professional player Jeff, like so many of us, thought he had a good grasp of football until he began his coaching journey and learned he didn’t know, what he didn’t know!

With over 20 years’ experience as coach at youth, assistant and head coach level Jeff is very aware of the changes he has made to his coaching over the journey. He has a number of premierships and championships to his name with Queensland and Brisbane Roar Women and both a Premiership and Championship with Melbourne Victory, which he is very proud of, but he also finds a great deal of satisfaction in seeing his players and teams grow and develop.

Jeff was honest and open discussing his journey and believes that finding a mentor in the beginning would have helped him make fewer mistakes on his journey. In fact, in answering the ‘one piece of wisdom’ question he had two pieces for developing coaches! Firstly, find a mentor early on in your coaching career and secondly keep growing and learning as a coach and create a learning environment for your players.

Please join Gary Cole in sharing Jeff Hopkins’ Football Coaching Life.

FIFA’s mission to expand the World Cup will only damage it

With 166 member nations of FIFA voting to explore the concept of a two-year cycle for the World Cup, questions need to be asked whether too much of a good thing will destroy what makes the competition special.

One of the best parts of the World Cup is the spectacle of it all. The elite quality of the tournament is already being watered down with the changes to the format, with 48 teams instead of 32. 

While allowing more teams in will create new markets for the competition, it isn’t like the World Cup would struggle for viewership without them, as it is the most-watched sporting event on the planet.

The changes to the structure of the cup – with two out of a group of three going through instead of the top two in a group of four – is already challenging the tradition and excitement of the World Cup. If you draw one of the powerhouse teams, like Spain, France, or Brazil, then it is likely your country will be on a plane ride home after playing just two games.

Despite the success of the World Cup, FIFA seems to want to tinker with the competition without any concern for the negative impacts the changes may cause. To build support for this, FIFA is wheeling out stars like Arsene Wenger and Yaya Toure.

Wenger is currently FIFA’s chief of global football development

Why FIFA wants to interrupt what has proved to be a winning formula only has one answer: Greed. More games mean more money. In a 48 team competition, there will be 64 games, compared to 40 in the current format. More games equal more money for TV rights and a wider reach for the game with an added 16 teams.

Combine this with the concept of hosting a World Cup every two years instead of four, and FIFA will be printing money like never before.

The unfortunate side effect of this will a weaker competition in terms of quality. There are always some relatively poor teams featured in a World Cup, but adding another 16 of the ‘best of the rest’ will dilute the talent pool. Combine this with the fact some teams may even go home playing only two games, it will surely make the World Cup a less exciting affair for many appearing in the group stage.

Another factor that needs to be considered is sustainability. We’ve already seen that major sporting tournaments often leave countries with huge stadiums without any use for them.

Engineers Against Poverty say that hosting a World Cup leaves a “legacy of white elephants”, with stadiums built for the 2010 South Africa World Cup and 2014 World Cup in Brazil “hemorrhaging taxpayer’s money”. 

A white elephant refers to a possession whose cost of maintenance is well beyond its value, and whose owner cannot dispose of it. An apt reference to what World Cup stadiums have become for countries that do not need bumper stadiums.

Four cities in Brazil that hosted games at the 2014 World Cup –Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal, and Brasília – have no major football teams to play in the humongous stadiums built for the event.

South Africa spent $2.7 billion to build 12 new stadiums for the World Cup, in a country where half the population lives off an average of $242AUD a month

Polokwane, a city of 130,000, now pays $2.7 million a year in maintenance towards the legacy of the South African World Cup.

Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane, South Africa

Russia is also struggling with issues related to stadiums built for the 2018 World Cup. In Saransk, local authorities are dealing with the upkeep of 300 million rubles (AUD 5.5 million) to maintain the stadium built for the event.

Major events don’t just lead to empty stadiums either. For the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian Government built a $13.5 billion tunnel system to connect Sochi to the rest of the country. The operation and maintenance of this underutilised infrastructure cost taxpayers $1.6 billion a year. 

FIFA has praised the joint World Cup bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada for using existing infrastructure instead of building new stadiums, however, few countries already have the facilities to host games. 

By expanding the World Cup to every two years, many countries will  be hosting for the first time. This will inevitably lead to similar cases to South Africa, Brazil, and Russia’s stadiums becoming a burden on citizens. 

FIFA risk damaging their premier competition in the pursuit of greed. It needs to be asked why they seem hell-bent on changing a winning formula, especially one that has already been embraced worldwide.

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