April 29, 2016

Horse 2105 - Field Of Stupid Dreams

There has been a kerfuffle between the AFL and Football Australia over the height of the grass at the Adelaide Oval. The AFL would prefer the grass on the field to be taller because they know of the punishment that an Australian Rules match throws at the pitch. Football Australia would  like the grass to be shorter because they want a round football to glide across the pitch. Naturally this caused a ripple in most of the daily newspapers around the country but in Adelaide, the Advertiser made it sound as though the pitch was a temperamental uncle who might flip out at any moment.
This perfectly illustrates one of the oft ignored problems of Australian sport; which reads its head and shrieks a terrible din at the most inconvenient moments. That problem is thus: sporting clubs and teams are perpetual tenants and almost never own their own grounds in this country.

Think about this. One of the two protagonists in the A-League Final, the Western Sydney Wanderers, will be playing their matches for the next couple of seasons at either the Penrith Stadium (whatever the heck they call that, these days) or the Showground, or Olympic Park.
Parramatta City Council owns Parramatta Stadium and not the Western Sydney Wanderers or the Paramatta Eels, who are both tenants of the council. Even though the Parramatta Eels Leagues Club is literally within eyesight of the stadium they play at, they are still subject to the whims of the council. You'd suppose that the council isn't going to kick out two of its long standing tenants but the capriciousness of local government can not be underestimated and I shall return to this later.

On the 15th of April 1989, 96 fans were killed in a crowd crush at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. Naturally after the single worst disaster in British sporting history, you'd expect an enquiry and the subsequent Taylor Enquiry made all sorts of recommendations with regards the safety of sporting grounds generally in the UK. Among those recommendations was the conversion of terraces to all seated stadiums and in conjunction with this, proper counting of crowds and proper seating allocation to ensure that grounds wouldn't again be overcrowded.
The expense of converting stadiums in the UK, fell not on councils but the clubs themselves, who mostly owned the stadiums that they played in. For the early 1990s, clubs found themselves playing at stadiums with entire stands missing (and you can see this on YouTube if you look for matches from the period) but the point remains that they continued to play football as stands were progressively upgraded, demolished and rebuilt, closed and brought up to standard and then reopened.

We've seen similar sorts of things go on at the very big venues in Australia like the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Gabba, but that's only because those grounds are administered by trusts who couldn't afford to close their doors for extended periods of time.
Unlike the UK where the clubs themselves owned the grounds they played in, Australian sporting teams are subject to the whim of government entities. In the case of the Parramatta Stadium, that means that two professional sporting teams will be temporarily homeless while the entire venue is demolished. Similar plans were afoot for the Sydney Football Stadium but that would have affected as many as four tenants; all of whom have no real power in the discussion at all.

I said that I'd return to the capriciousness of local government and so here we go. North Sydney Oval which is a delightful little ground, should be the home of at least one professional sporting team in Sydney and the fact that it isn't, is 100% absolutely certainly and entirely the fault of the utter cussedness of North Sydney Council.
For 91 years, North Sydney Oval was the home of the North Sydney Bears Rugby League Club. Admittedly there were issues surrounding their financial viability but one of those issues was to do with their inability to negotiate terms to rent the ground they were playing in. Evidently someone at the local council decided to milk the bear and so their asking rent shot up ridiculously. The North Sydney Bears played their last season in the national rugby league competition in 1999 but some of the blame has to go to North Sydney Council for their downfall. They continued to play on in the New South Wales Cup and its various iterations like the NSWRL Premier League and the current NSW Super Premiership but the damage had permanently been done.
I can say this with a fair amount of confidence because North Sydney Council played the same game with the National Soccer League club, Northern Spirit FC. Again, Northern Spirit was going through financial problems but these weren't helped by North Sydney Council again being a bunch of cusses by jacking up the rent they were charging for North Sydney Oval. Northern Spirit ended up playing their next season at Warringah Oval which was more difficult to get to but that ended up being academic anyway as they completed their journey to oblivion when the old NSL folded.
Finding details about what the largest ground which was specifically built for football is difficult. Most developments in Australia are owned by governments or trusts and so they almost always have the problem of different sports being played on the same ground depending on the season. I suspect that the largest football only ground in the country is Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide which holds 16,500 people and bizzarely, the biggest ground that I could find which was actually owned by the club itself is Marconi Stadium which holds a paltry 9000 people.

I suspect that a lot of the reason why we have what basically amount to perpetual renters of grounds in Australia is that councils themselves won't approve the building of stadiums unless there will be multiple uses and because of the fractious nature of sport in Australia, no club is big enough to raise the initial capital costs to build their own stadium. Mostly that is because we have five major sporting codes which all vie for sponsorship and not even the United States with a population of more fourteen times the size of Australia, is bonkers enough to do that.

This is why when I become an eccentric billionaire (after GM sells me their Australian manufacturing operations for a dollar and I magically turn the new company into a world beater), I'm going to buy a bunch of land in Schofields, build the Bogandome and have FC Nefarious play there. FC Nerfarious would own it's own ground and would never need to share the pitch with anyone.
Okay, I admit that I'm dreaming and I know that you should follow your dreams unless they are stupid; then you need to get a new dream but my dream is less stupid than the current reality where the A-League Final will have to be played on a totally rubbish surface because football has to share the pitch with the AFL, and it's also less stupid than the Western Sydney Wanderers being turfed out of their home because Parramatta City Council wants to demolish the entire stadium to rebuild it and as tenants, they had virtually no say in the matter.

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