The A-League’s first decade had its ups and downs, but the competition keeps growing on all metrics.
Football owns atmosphere in the Australian sporting landscape, and the rumours are that at least one of the commercial free-to-air networks are prepared to take a punt on the sport, perhaps this coming season.
But if football is to grow at all levels then facilities are crucial, particularly at community level, where participation numbers are through the roof. The good news is that in Victoria and NSW the game is slowly gaining more funding for facilities.
But this is also a huge issue for most of the A-League clubs. None of the clubs actually own their stadia, which is very common in Australian sport, but most of the 10 clubs currently play in stadiums that are either too small or too large for them.
Only Newcastle, Perth, the Central Coast and Melbourne City play at suitable venues.
Western Sydney’s home venue needs an upgrade. Parramatta is in terrible condition and there’s talk that the NSW government will rebuild it as a brand new, 35,000-seat stadium for the Wanderers and Eels, which would be fantastic for both.
Adelaide’s Coopers Stadium, on the other hand, needs both an update and an upgrade. Its capacity of 16,500 is about 5000 too small (Socceroos games also need at least 20,000-seat venues).
Brisbane Roar regularly get 10,000 to attend their 55,000-seat stadium – it’s far too big. Further, the pitch at Suncorp Stadium hardly ever presents well, as it cops a hammering from three codes, plus concerts and the like. The Roar needs a smaller venue, no bigger than 25,000. I’m not sure how or when this will happen, but it needs to be looked at.
Sydney FC on the other hand is OK for the moment at Allianz (43,000 capacity), but if the rumours are true about a rebuild to a 65,000 capacity, they’ll need to reevaluate. Their home derbies with the Wanderers could be played anywhere – even ANZ Stadium with its 83,000 seats isn’t too big for those games – but it’s all their other games that probably need a 30,000 capacity ground.
Wellington has the worst ground, being at the cake tin, and they’ve probably got the hardest job in terms of getting any government funding, as football’s still a relative afterthought in New Zealand – a bit like where the game was in Australia 10 or so years ago.
But Melbourne Victory, the league’s the biggest club, is actually starting to outgrow their great home ground at AAMI Park. With a capacity of 30,000, and Victory now having over 24,000 members and still growing, something needs to change.
Etihad is not a good ground for football, and is going into the AFL’s hands in 2025 or possibly even earlier, so the options are thin. Melbourne needs a 50,000 capacity rectangular stadium, which could accommodate both them and the Melbourne Storm, who also get half-decent crowds and are still growing.
Facilities, infrastructure and funding are the biggest issues surrounding the sport, and need careful planning and lobbying by both the FFA and the state federations for the game to go to the next level.