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Why A-League teams need purpose-built stadiums

The aim for every football club within Australia should be to play on a ground that is both made for football and of a suitable size – and for some, eventually own them. While this is already starting to happen, there are still A-League teams that are playing in stadiums far too big for their supporter base. Fortunately, we are seeing less huge oval stadiums like Adelaide Oval and Marvel Stadium being used by clubs. However, there is still some way to go until every A-League team has a suitable home.

Hindmarsh Stadium

One of the best stadiums in the country to watch football is Adelaide’s Hindmarsh Stadium. It is the perfect size for a club like Adelaide United, and the atmosphere during big games when it’s packed out is second to none. The only addition needed is a roof covering more than just the Eastern grandstand.

Currently, AAMI Park is the premier football stadium in Australia. This is because it is a great size for Melbourne Victory (especially with bumper crowds), and it was designed with football in mind. For the other Victorian teams, it is simply too large for their home games scheduled at AAMI Park next season – Western United and Melbourne City.

Artwork for Western United’s stadium in Tarneit

With talks of a 15,000 boutique stadium being built in Dandenong to host Melbourne City games, it could be a game-changer for the club. The atmosphere at these matches would be greatly lifted, which would help them win new fervent supporters.

If Western United manages to get their stadium built, it will instantly make them the most important club in the A-League. Owning their own stadium was the entire cornerstone of their bid and while the delays to putting shovels in the ground are worrying, if they can fulfil their promise they will become the first A-League team to have complete control over their infrastructure. With at least two more seasons playing games at AAMI Park, Western United have to work hard to win supporters over without a geographical distinction from the other Melbourne-based teams.

Another club with a great stadium is the Central Coast Mariners. If their bid to take over the administration and running of Gosford Stadium is successful, then it will help ensure the viability and sustainability of the club. While it is on the larger side for the Mariners’ supporter base, it is one of the most scenic stadiums in the world, with its iconic palm trees and ocean view.

The picturesque view at Central Coast Stadium

Their F3 rivals Newcastle Jets find themselves in a similar situation, with a great rectangular stadium to call home. If the clubs were successful like in the early years of the A-League, their stadiums would be a lot less empty and the atmosphere would shine through.

The difference between seeing 10,000 people at the Sydney Football Stadium, compared to seeing the same size crowd at Kogarah oval is night and day. If Kogarah was better positioned within Sydney FC’s catchment area and had a roof and a rectangular setup, it would be perfect. While the upgraded SFS is in the works, they have found a good temporary home that is suitably sized. Western Sydney Wanderers wouldn’t be the club they are today without Parramatta Stadium, which truly feels like hallowed turf for the club now.

While Brisbane Roar’s move to Dolphin stadium takes them outside the city, the difference in atmosphere when compared to the cavernous 55,000-seat Suncorp Stadium makes it well worth it. If Brisbane had a stadium in the city that’s similar size to Perth Glory’s it would take them to the next level. Instead, they travel outside of Brisbane for a stadium that’s better suited to their needs.

Westpac Stadium is too large and poorly suited for Wellington Phoenix

Wellington Phoenix would be much better served in a rectangular stadium about half the size of the cake tin. Surprisingly, there is no suitable venue despite New Zealand’s love of rugby, and at 34,000 capacity it is far bigger than needed for a club of Wellington’s size.

While the A-League is finding more suitable grounds to host their games, the next step is owning infrastructure. While for many this is a pipe-dream, it is how so many clubs around the world have become institutions that have lasted for decades. It ensures financial stability and it has to be the aim for the clubs going forward. To achieve this, football needs to collectively lobby government to supply the money for stadiums A-League teams desperately need.

Football Tasmania CEO Matt Bulkeley: “It isn’t a national competition without a Tasmanian team in it”

Football Tasmania CEO Matt Bulkeley has been in the job since August 2018, and has had plenty of work cut out for him during a turbulent time in Australian football. He spoke to Soccerscene about his involvement in football, Tasmania’s A-League ambitions, and the future of the game in Australia’s smallest state.

Q. How did you become involved in football?

Bulkeley: I’ve been involved in football all my life, I started playing when I was about six or seven in the Hills district in Sydney. I played football probably until I was about 35, and was involved as a volunteer coaching juniors and seniors. I studied a sports management degree when I finished school and worked for about 10 years in cricket. The opportunity came up for an opportunity with Football Federation Australia in around 2005, and I took that role on and was with the national body for almost eight years. I had some other roles in between before coming back into football in this role. 

Q. What challenges has Football Tasmania faced in recent years?

Bulkeley: We’ve had similar challenges to everyone else in relation to COVID, The interruption of the season, and the need to reconfigure what we had planned to do. We were able to get away a season that was roughly two-thirds of a normal season, we didn’t play all of the normal games. We did get most of our players who ended up playing after the break, which was a good thing. When we did return it was a pretty good season. What our clubs found was that they had good interest, good attendance on game days. People enjoyed themselves, and after that lockdown, it was in a sense even more important people had football to forward to and bring themselves together again. What it did impact was that the National Boy’s Championship didn’t go ahead, so that cohort of players didn’t have that opportunity last year, which was disappointing for them with a bit of gap in their development.

In terms of other challenges, one of our challenges that has been fairly well documented is around facilities. We are the biggest participation sport in Tasmania in terms of team sports, but our facilities have not kept up with that demand. They are dated, they are all a similar age and until recent times that haven’t provided suitable amenities for females in particular, both in terms of the number of change rooms as well as their design. We’ve spent a lot of time in the last couple of years working with all levels of government and our stakeholders to try and unlock more funding in football and had good success with that. There have been commitments of $30 million-plus, maybe closer to $40 million after this last state election, and we are starting to see the fruit from that – better facilities, and more across the state.

Q. Has engaging with state government and politicians been a challenge?

Bulkeley: It has been a challenge, and I think that is because we haven’t been as coordinated as we could have been in our approach, and being able to put forward a needs-based business case on why football needs better and more facilities. We are the biggest sport, we are bursting at the seams, and have facilities that aren’t fit for purpose. On one hand, it was challenging, but on the other the case sort of speaks for itself in terms of outcomes in recent years.

Q. Is a boutique rectangular stadium an aim for Football Tasmania?

Bulkeley: Absolutely, as far as I know, we are the only state capital that doesn’t have a rectangular stadium of any kind. When we have high-level games, including the Western United games, they’ve been played on ovals which as you know isn’t as good of a spectator experience for everyone. It’s really important for our ambitions for having our own A-League and W-League teams, which we are confident will happen. The Liberal state government has been very supportive in recent times under the leadership of premier Gutwein, in terms of supporting those ambitions, and has been very positive around a rectangular stadium. We know that would be very important in terms of that missing link for sport in this state. 

Q. How important would it be to become the first football code to launch a professional team in Tasmania?

Bulkeley: I think it’s just important full stop that we have that pathway opportunity. One of the big benefits we see having a team will provide for males and females in that opportunity locally to play at the highest level in this country without leaving the state. We’ve still got people as young as 14 and their families having to decide to relocate, with half of them staying and half of them going, so this provides a local opportunity for those more aspirational players. Then obviously being the biggest team participation sport it provides that local high-level football opportunity for people to go and watch to get behind. We think we have the football community to support it, but also think it adds value to our community by providing local heroes for our young people to look up to.

Q. What hurdles does Football Tasmania in launching an A-League team?

Bulkeley: It is tied to further expansion to the A-League, and from everything that has been communicated from the APL (Australian Professional Leagues), that will occur. Then it’s working on the infrastructure part of it, ensuring we have government support, and that we work with club owners and put the case for having a Tasmania team forward as a strong environment for a further team to be based. It would add a lot to the competition, and our view has always been that it isn’t a national competition if it doesn’t have a Tasmanian team in it. 

Q. What challenges does Football Tasmania face going forward?

Bulkeley: I think one thing we have worked hard on, in the last period of time, is collaboration. We have and are committed to working very closely with our clubs and associations on the aspirations of football. We know we can only do it together. We’ve made some really good inroads in the infrastructure area. We are working hard on other areas of the game, continuing to grow the game, the female side of the game. We have the highest proportion of female participation of anywhere in the country of almost 29%, which we are very proud of but want to keep building on that. We want to keep providing more opportunities around coach education and development, and similarly with refereeing. So there are lots of opportunities and challenges for us to embrace, but we know we need to work together with our clubs and associations to do that.

Will Melbourne City eventually move all of their games to the south east?

Melbourne City were the benchmark in the A-League last season, lifting the Premiers Plate in May and eventually the Championship in late June.

It was their first taste of A-League success after years of hard work on and off the pitch.

The club has invested heavily since City Football Group (CFG) took over the Melbourne Heart in 2014, initially building a $15 million City Football Academy in Bundoora, in the city’s north, which has housed the club for the past few years.

In what seems like a strategic investment however, the club revealed late last year that they will move from their Bundoora headquarters and relocate to Casey Fields in Melbourne’s south east.

Earlier this month, the club announced construction had begun on the new elite City Football Academy facility within the 84-hectare Casey Fields Sporting Precinct.

“The first stage of construction includes the central elite training pitch, with its 115m x 115m hybrid grass surface, and is due for completion by the end of 2021. The new pitch is adjacent to the site’s existing four full-sized pitches – one grass and three synthetic – which will be primarily used by the Club’s Academy teams and for City in the Community programs, as well as for City of Casey school and club programs.

“The next stage of construction will see the development of Melbourne City’s new two-storey administration and high-performance building at Casey Fields, currently in detailed design phase. Construction on that phase of the facility is due to commence in the coming months, with completion estimated for mid-2022,” a Melbourne City FC statement read.

Stage three of construction will look to implement a 4000-capacity mini stadium in a significant space in the precinct.

With the club’s A-League players to officially begin training in the facility in August, recent developments in regards to the possibility of a 15,000-capacity stadium in Dandenong may see the end of the team playing all of their games at AAMI Park, in the years to come.

The Victorian Government has already pledged $100,000 in funding for a feasibility review and development of a business case to build the 15,000-seat boutique stadium, with the City of Greater Dandenong also set to match that contribution.

According to Cranbourne Star News, The Greater Dandenong Council is lobbying for $110 million to build the stadium, which will also host festivals, concerts, rugby matches, alongside hosting future Melbourne City games.

While of course at this stage there is no guarantee the stadium will be built, Melbourne City head honchos may have to grapple with the idea of permanently leaving AAMI Park behind, the stadium they have hosted games at since their inception.

With Victory ditching their deal with Marvel Stadium to move all their games back to AAMI Park next season and Western United set to play the majority of their games at AAMI for at least the next two seasons, the 30,000-capacity rectangular stadium is not short of regular football content.

If the proposed stadium does get the go-ahead, City may look to move all of their home matches to Dandenong, and alongside their new academy location, this can prove to be beneficial in establishing a clear geographic identity.

They will have a stronger presence in the local areas and will have the chance to better connect with the local football community and grow their membership base.

City should also still have a reasonable chunk of members who live in the south and south eastern suburbs of Melbourne, with a report from 2018 stating 28% of their members came from those areas.

Adversely, a move away from AAMI Park has the possibility to alienate members and fans who may not want to travel to the proposed stadium for reasons such as proximity.

Sharing the home games between the stadiums could be a viable option, but also brings on the challenge of not having a singular home ground, as well as match scheduling conflicts.

A big call from City administrators may need to be made in the end and not all members and fans will be pleased.

Hosken Reserve Master Plan released for final feedback

Moreland City Council has released an initial Hosken Reserve Master Plan to the community, in preparation for a final round of feedback before a green light towards the upgrade.

Hosken Reserve serves as the primary ground of Victorian National Premier League team Pascoe Vale FC.

The plan features an upgrade to the two pitches at Hosken Reserve, as well as the development of a hybrid grass-synthetic soccer pitch to be used by Pascoe Vale FC. In addition the clubrooms, lighting and car park are being upgraded. 

In December 2020, a report was tabled at the Moreland City Council meeting recommending a new master plan developed through an in-depth community engagement process. Since then, several rounds of development and community consultation have occured.

Pascoe Vale FC President Lou Tonna explains that the plan is a result of years of consultation and it should satisfy all constituents. 

“There was a master plan in 2009, and unfortunately a lot of it hasn’t been activated. There was some community pushback in regards to that plan, and it went to community consultation. There were a few things adopted by the council and it went to a refresh group, who aimed to get a reasonable outcome for the entire community,” Tonna said.

“This being the school, the Tennis club, the football club, and also the residents. I believe this master plan has hit the mark.”

In May Moreland Mayor Cr Annalivia Carli Hannan believed the plan would satisfy members of the local community.

“Our community health and well-being is strengthened by sport participation as well as by general community use of open space. Inner metropolitan councils have increasing demands on our limited open space, with competing needs and uses. I want to thank community members, including sports clubs and local residents, for their feedback and contribution,” she said.

Tonna says that the development should be finished within three years and that the outcome is a positive one for the community.

“It’s going out to community consultation, and we are hoping it will be finished in the next one to three years,” he said.

“We’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the refresh group. We are very happy with the outcome of the master plan, and believe it’s great for everyone involved. This isn’t just about Pascoe Vale, it’s about the whole community.”

You can read more about the development of the Hosken Reserve plans, or find out how to make a community contribution, here.

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