When it is full, Parramatta Stadium is one of the most atmospheric venues in Australia. Its capacity will soon increase, but have the Western Sydney Wanderers been shafted by the deal?
The news this week that Parramatta Stadium would receive what the Federal Government has called “a major upgrade” came somewhat out of the blue.
With the incumbent Labor government facing electoral annihilation at the polls, perhaps they’re just engaging in the sort of slash-and-burn spending you see punch-drunk corporations indulge in at the end of every financial year.
“Sports fans and local sporting teams will benefit from a major upgrade of Parramatta Stadium, which will ensure more A-League and NRL matches can be played in Parramatta and secure the stadium’s future as key infrastructure for Western Sydney,” read a typically asinine media release.
Well, no – actually. The Wanderers will still play all of their home games at the ground, just as they did last season, while co-tenants the Parramatta Eels are now likely to explore the option of a permanent move to the cavernous ANZ Stadium in Sydney Olympic Park.
In other words, far from “securing the stadium’s future,” this half-baked stadium upgrade will almost certainly spell its demise.
The problem is that the upgrade falls well short of solving any genuine long-term issues, especially in terms of capacity.
The fact it will cost $20 million to tack on just 3,300 additional seats to the northern and southern ends of the ground is an absolute farce.
At a venue crying out for two new covered two-tiered stands at either end of the ground, the Federal Government has all but condemned Parramatta Stadium to redundancy in one fell swoop.
Now a stadium which as recently as a decade ago held 27,000 spectators will undergo costly renovations to bring its capacity up to 24,000 – well short of the number realistically needed.
The ill-fitting behind-the-goal terraces at Parramatta Stadium are a remnant of former Eels chief executive Denis Fitzgerald’s 30-year-reign of power.
After beer bottles rained down on the southern end during a particularly spiteful derby between the Eels and hated local rivals Canterbury many years ago – I should know because I was ducking them at the time – the Machiavellian Fitzgerald lobbied the State Government, if memory serves me correctly, to replace the grassed hills with seats.
It was a rushed job at the time and 10 years on it looks even more ill-conceived, given that the Eels are currently pushing upwards of 17,000 members and newcomers the Wanderers have the potential to sell out the ground on a regular basis.
There’s no doubting that Parramatta Stadium needed an upgrade; its corporate facilities were all but non-existent and the players trained and changed in cramped conditions.
However, the Federal Government is taking its constituents in western Sydney for a ride if it thinks a 24,000-capacity stadium is suitable going forward.
The Wanderers, in particular, have the potential to become the biggest sporting club in the region – a fact I suspect is almost always lost on anyone who doesn’t come from the area.
Even Sydney FC fans, of which I’m one, would have to admit that unifying the football-loving tribes across the sprawling basin west of the city centre was bound to generate support.
And while the Wanderers will need to do it all again next season – and a few early defeats could well see the club suffer a case of second-season syndrome – there’s no reason to believe that Western Sydney will get anything but stronger as the years roll by.
It’s a shame, then, that their current home won’t reflect that – because the Wanderers deserve better than this largely pointless “stadium upgrade”.
The Eels will simply pack their bags and move to ANZ Stadium, however the Wanderers are now caught in a bind.
Hopefully their supporters prove a point by packing out Parramatta Stadium every game next season.