Over the last few years, many have called for the demolition of Etihad Stadium and the construction of a newer, better venue in a different location.
Usually the objections are the following: it’s hard to get to, it has no soul, or it blocks the CBD from Docklands and means that the two are to be forever disconnected.
But all are baseless – Etihad is an exceptional sporting venue.
The argument that Etihad has no soul or atmosphere is without merit. In fact, it seems to be the only place in the entirety of Docklands that has any soul at all. That might be the problem with it – the surroundings that it’s in.
I parked at Waterfront City before going to a game last year, and the area is just dead – even on Saturday nights. That’s not a problem with the stadium, that’s a problem with Docklands, it’s not yet a destination that people want to go to.
I think some people still also think that the stadium has no history, and its soulless for that reason. I think that they forget that the stadium is now nearly 20 years old, and in that time, it has created many stories and is making its own legends.
The atmosphere itself, as with anywhere, surely depends on the crowd. And not just crowd size, but how invested the crowd is in the game, and how the game is progressing on the field. A one-sided game between North Melbourne and Gold Coast will of course not have the same atmosphere as a close contested game between Richmond and Geelong. But that is not due to the stadium, that is to do with the crowd itself.
A close, important game between the Bulldogs and North Melbourne on a Saturday Night will have have a much better atmosphere than an unimportant Collingwood Carlton game on a Sunday afternoon.
If a game is exciting, then 20,000 people can easily seem louder than 100,000. Crowds not grounds make the atmosphere, so if you find Etihad soulless, it’s the people there that are the problem.
The stadium can easily be improved though. The food options are basically non-existent and there are few places to actually eat it, especially when compared to stadiums such as the MCG. If the AFL is serious about modernising it, then providing more food has to be priority number one. Give us different options, and places to eat.
That’s what the AFL and management of Etihad Stadium can do. What the state government can do is better connect the stadium (and the entirety of docklands) with the CBD. It’s not the stadium that’s forming a barrier, it’s the rail yards.
While it might be a dream, the idea of building over the yards is certainly achievable. That alone would give the stadium a connection to the city, and give the city more space.
Etihad stadium is not the MCG, but it is a good stadium. It could be better – but to blame the stadium for a lack of atmosphere is a horrible argument.
It is a stadium which is creating it’s own legends and history. It has become central to the story of the AFL this century, and will continue to be central to it for the foreseeable future.