Here is the situation for Sydney FC: they have completed one season removed from their former home ground, the Sydney Football Stadium.
There are five home matches still to be played this season. The timeline for the completion of the new Sydney Football Stadium is currently unclear, but it is expected to be ready for Sydney’s opening home fixture of the 22/23 A-League season.
The club has been and will continue to be nomadic at this point in their history until their home is constructed anew, and this situation has shown faults in the club’s attempt to engage their supporters, along with some positive signs for the club.
Up to this point, a majority of Sydney’s home fixtures following the demolition of the SFS have been played at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium in Kogarah, approximately 17 kilometres south of their old home in Moore Park. The less said about the Leichhardt Oval and the Sydney Cricket Ground experiments, the better.
Jubilee’s two other major tenants are the NRL’s St George Illawarra Dragons and Cronulla Sharks. Clashes with the two NRL clubs are not an issue for the majority of the A-League season and Kogarah is unlikely to play host to the latest Ed Sheeran or Taylor Swift pop extravaganza.
Sydney were routinely booted from the SFS mid-season while major international artists’ concerts were held at the inner-east stadium. Attendees would do so much damage to the playing surface it would have to be relayed and this would keep Sydney from using the ground for weeks at a time, forcing the club to play consecutive away games or move home games to their now quasi-home in Kogarah.
There are positive aspects of playing home fixtures at Jubilee. I’m not disputing that. But there are myriad issues with the suburban ground that cannot be ignored. The ground offers little protection from the elements for supporters not in the main grandstand, which is a majority of them.
The south-of-the-CBD location is convenient for some but adds significant travel time for fans living in the inner city, the outer west or north of the Harbour Bridge as compared to the SFS, forcing some fans to drive when public transport used to be an option.
Fans hoping for a variety of options for a bite to eat or pre-game beverages in a boozer with some ambiance are sorely disappointed with the offerings in the immediate vicinity of the ground. This factor cannot be understated.
Anecdotally, I am hearing the same from fans I have spoken to and for some, it is not worth making the trip out to Kogarah.
The location of the SFS was perhaps its biggest advantage. A short hike up the hill from Central Station, the trip to the ground was littered with eateries and watering holes full of sky-blue jerseys, scarves and fan-made merchandise in the hours before kick-off.
It helped to create that ‘event’ feel of playing at a major stadium. The new iteration will boast an improved roof to keep patrons dry and vastly improved corporate facilities.
The SCG Trust wanted the SFS Mk. II to be bigger, more grandiose and certainly more corporate, and they have got their wish. The removal of the proposed club mode (under early development proposals the top tier of the ground would be covered with an LED curtain capable of displaying advertisements and helping to retain crowd noise) from development plans is a kick in the teeth and will affect atmosphere.
The capacity will end up being at least ten per cent too big. It will look sparsely populated on an average game-day and it will look terrible on rainy Sunday afternoons against Wellington or Western United.
But know this: for Sydney FC, not returning to the SFS in favour of making Kogarah their permanent home would be a grave mistake.