Fan labour the answer to football’s stadia problems

Nick Symonds Roar Rookie

By Nick Symonds, Nick Symonds is a Roar Rookie

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    The Amish might not be the most obvious people you would think of when it comes to stadium construction but maybe they should be.

    As we get closer to having a second division in Australia, the demand for good quality stadiums for smaller clubs will increase. But if the designs proposed are too expensive they might struggle to get funding.

    The Wanderers’ new 30,000 capacity stadium in Parramatta will cost $300 million, or $10,000 per seat. While in Perth their new oval stadium for AFL and cricket will cost a whopping $17,000 per seat.

    These costs are far too high for small clubs and their proposals won’t get the go ahead if they are simply too expensive.

    One solution to reducing costs is to get the fans to build the stadium themselves. Oddly enough this has happened before in Berlin.

    Back in 2008, German club Union Berlin wanted to bring their home ground, the Stadion An der Alten Försterei, or ‘Stadium By The Old Forester’s House’, up to date.

    Around 2500 supporters put in 140,000 work hours voluntarily to get it built. Not only that but they donated blood to raise money to pay off the club’s debts. They built the stadium themselves, and literally bled for their club.

    The stadium has a capacity of 22,000 with only 3,600 seats. The rest is all terracing.

    Why can’t we do the same here?

    If ambitious clubs want to build stadiums so they can have the chance to be promoted to the A-League they can ask the fans to volunteer and help build the stadium themselves.

    Not only will this save money but the joint experience of those who take part will help to bind the fans together as a community, like a good old Amish barn raising.

    The next question that needs to be asked is what sort of stadiums would be appropriate in Australia?

    While a capacity of 22,000 fans might be suitable for Union Berlin this might be excessive for an Australian second division club. It might even be too much for an A-League club when the average attendance is only around 12,000 across the league.

    The best guide might come from the original proposal for an Australian Premier League, which recommended that stadiums should have a capacity of 10-15,000 to create a good atmosphere. But this might also be too much for a second division club. They may be better off with between 5-8000 seats. Something simple like Yeovil Town’s stadium, Huish Park.

    To overcome this issue the stadium could be designed to expand outwards if the team is promoted. Or contract inwards if it is relegated. This would allow the stadium to be kept at the optimal size depending on which league the club is in.

    Again, like building it in the first place, the fans can do this themselves in the off-season. The cavity below the stands could be used as storage space.

    Another option might be to build a permanent main grandstand along one of the sidelines and use temporary stands around the others in a similar layout to Hindmarsh. Wellington Phoenix did something like this at Hutt Recreation Ground.

    But this doesn’t mean you can’t use the same methods with larger stadiums. Adelaide United could use a stadium with 30,000 seats but the South Australian government is hesitant about putting up the cash. If Adelaide United fans build it themselves the cost can be kept much lower. Would they rather go to Norwood Oval instead?

    How about Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar? Wouldn’t their fans prefer to have smaller stadiums? They can build new ones themselves if they want.

    Temporary stadiums with around 30,000 seats have been built before and would be ideal if they were used permanently.

    In 2010, the Vancouver Whitecaps built a 27,000-seat temporary stadium, which took only 111 days to construct for just $14.5 million. This led some commentators to suggest that temporary stadiums should be used on a permanent basis for other MLS teams whose football-specific stadiums were averaging $200 million.

    I guess that temporary is the wrong word in this context. Maybe ‘kit stadium’ would be more accurate. The price of $14.5 million comes to just 2.9 per cent of the cost of the club’s new permanent BC Place Stadium.

    In terms of amenities and features, the temporary stadium was on par with most permanent stadiums featuring covered seating, broadcast booths, luxury suites, scoreboards, enormous video screens, concession stands, restrooms, retail space and locker rooms.

    Another temporary stadium is Rugby League Park in Christchurch which has 18,600 seats and which was constructed in under 100 days in 2011 for just $30 million.

    Closer to home the 48,500-seat QSAC is still in use in Brisbane, showing that even large designs are possible without breaking the bank.

    Similar construction methods can be scaled for different needs on a case by case basis.

    But whether it’s a large or small stadium the use of volunteer fan labour might be a way to keep costs down and it’s something that we should think about here in Australia.

    As for building big expensive stadiums like ANZ or Lang Park, that’s just horse and buggy thinking.