Our beautiful game needs a home

Pardon me for being a bit European but much of my upbringing was in a part of the world where football owned its grounds. Things are very different in Australia.

Football needs a new home

Source: Getty Images

We live in a country of sharing and sub-letting when it comes to stadium and ground use.

When I first arrived in Australia, I noted with a smile how sports quaintly shared not just venues but seasons. When the cricket season ended my school switched immediately to the football sports and vice versa. Never did the twain overlap.

Once, when I was spotted kicking a football in a park during the cricket season, I got a bollocking for not following custom from another kid dressed in flannels.

But the grounds didn’t change. We played football on vast expanses of oval-shaped turf. The goals going up was the only change when the football season began. Even the concrete cricket pitch remained, with its risks to life and limb if we played football on them.

I have since developed the theory that the only reason Aussie rules is played on an oval-shaped field is that the playing perimeter doesn’t have to change once the cricket season ends.

So what we now have is football (of the real variety) in many cases having to be played on oval grounds, like the MCG, Docklands, Subiaco and Stadium Australia. Telescopes are needed to watch games.
Sensible Brisbane seems to be an exception to this. There, the Gabba is reserved for cricket and AFL, football and rugby league games are played at Lang Park (Suncorp) while Ballymore is the home of rugby union.

Some sanity elsewhere was introduced in recent eras when rectangular stadiums, preserved for rugby league, rugby union and football were built or upgraded, like Sydney Football Stadium, Parramatta Stadium, AAMI Park, Hindmarsh etc.

But this still left a problem of discomforting co-habitation.

The so-called rectangular stadiums are most often shared between football, rugby league and rugby union. This needs to end, at least in the interests of football.

For one thing they are internationally embarrassing.
Visiting members of football teams must be scratching their heads at the sight of strange patterns in multi-tones of green and the fading ghosts of funny white markings on the playing surface.

But that’s the least of it.

Football and the two other sports played on rectangular fields don’t make good co-tenants. Football, ultimately a game of skill where control of the ball on an obedient surface is everything, needs a carpet as a playing field. Egg-shaped ball sports don’t need this. All they need is a field with a rectangular perimeter and some grass, which they liberally dig-up in a scarcely lesser degree than the hooves of racehorses.

What highlighted this flaw in Australian sporting culture was the recent AFC Champions League match between Sydney FC and Pohang Steelers, played on an appalling surface at the SFS. Never before was it more apparent that football needs its own exclusive home.

The NSW government is currently in the mood to build new stadium infrastructure, with a replacement for the SFS and generous upgrades to Stadium Australia and Parramatta Stadium in the pipeline. Good. But sadly all three venues will again be co-habited between the three football sports and rock concert promoters.    

Maybe now is the time for the FFA and the football lobby in general to push for the building of a stadium for football’s exclusive use in the country’s biggest city.
That a worldly city with a population of 4.3 million doesn’t have this is a travesty.

In the past, football has been far too limp-wristed to push for this. For the 2000 Olympic football tournament the Gabba in Brisbane was upgraded at great cost to the taxpayer. No football has been played there since and the only sports to benefit are cricket and AFL.

The blueprint for the 2022 World Cup also included costly stadium upgrades in Victoria. But again, had Australia won that hosting bid, football would not have been the long-term beneficiary.

That there isn’t a solitary stadium for football’s exclusive use in either Sydney or Melbourne is not just a bad look internationally, it is an injustice.

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4 min read
Published 7 April 2016 at 10:39am
By Les Murray
Source: SBS