Geelong Advertiser, Saturday 9 September 2006, p. 35.
Well, well, who would have thought it? No footy finals in Melbourne after this week-end for two weeks, but the Storm and the Victory packing in the fans at Olympic Park and Docklands. Is nothing sacred any more?
I’d better declare my colours. I am a dyed in the wool football (soccer) fan, but I would be very disappointed if Australian Rules ceased to be the number one code of football in this part of the world, as some of the merchants of doom are predicting following the events of the past weeks. We have a wonderful, unique game here with a long and proud history. Of course it is a national game nowadays, following in the footsteps of the round ball code which started its first national league way back in 1977.
Of course there is a place for the other codes and good dose of healthy competition on and off the sporting field should be welcomed by everyone. But it would help if there were a degree of co-operation as well, especially to make use of the fantastic facilities we have for sport within walking distance of central Melbourne. The MCG, following its reconstruction, is a superb, adaptable stadium, capable of holding the biggest crowds in a brilliantly focussed atmosphere. We need that for AFL blockbusters, Bledisloe Cup matches, World Cup football qualifiers and perhaps down the track even a World Cup final.
Docklands, or Telstra Dome, it is often forgotten, was originally designed to accommodate the oblong codes, union, league and soccer. It has retractable seating which can be moved out to form a proper football venue. The other night at the Melbourne Victory versus Sydney FC match, where the pitch was marked out on the footy oval, players were sometimes disorientated and uncertain where the sidelines were since the playing surface was marooned in this great expanse. The same is true of the MCG when it is used for the oblong codes. Apart from that and ongoing problems with the dying grass and the resilience of the surface, Docklands with its roof and 50 000 capacity is ideal for most AFL home and away games, and blockbusters in the other codes.
So then we come to the Olympic Park replacement stadium scheduled for completion in 2009. This is limited to 20 000 capacity initially, largely because of an agreement between Docklands and the State Government, that no stadium with larger capacity than 20 000 be built for the next ten years. With around 10 000 members already, the Melbourne Victory is beginning to feel the pinch and wants the State government to reconsider. But this is where a broader picture needs to prevail, for 20 000 would be quite ample for the majority of the Victory’s games, and those of the Storm and any conceivable rugby union matches apart from the big ones against the All Blacks or England. Better to have a stadium which will be near to capacity and reverberating with the noise of the support than a small proportion of the stands occupied and echoes around the ground. That makes for bad television as well.
But if this scenario is going to work we desperately need co-operation between the codes when it comes to scheduling and sharing venues, rather than playing beggar my neighbour. Given that ladder positions, relative success and attractiveness, of the home team and the opponent, cannot be predicted with certainty long in advance, this may mean some shifting of venues during the season. It also means the avoidance of scheduling clashes so that two big games are played at the same time at nearby venues, if only to make our overworked infrastructure’s contribution to the occasions easier.
Oh and it would be great if we could have the odd game here in Geelong making more use of Skilled Stadium and the other venues we have around this city.