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.
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.
Great @SydneyFC members day out at Jubilee Oval. Meeting the players and catching up with a lot you from twitter! Definitely looking forward to games there. Nice venue!
— Anthony Vescio (@vesh88) April 21, 2018
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.
A historic night at Wanderland. 🔴⚫
— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) July 20, 2019
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…