The longer the A-League season runs and the further behind us the pandemic appears, the more distant excuses and extenuating circumstances drift from the collective thinking around the performances of the 12 teams.
During the last round of A-League expansion the issue of stadiums came up in relation to a number of bids, including in Tasmania.
One design that I thought looked interesting was a concept by Bear Stadiums featuring stadiums made of timber that were built offsite and sent to the location in prefabricated segments, all of which were designed to be able to fit into shipping containers.
Out of curiosity I looked into them again to see what progress they have made.
As it turns out, they have now finished two stands for a stadium on Vancouver Island in Canada for a team called Pacific FC. In addition to the permanent seats, Westhills Stadium also has a section of temporary seats in front of the permanent stand behind the goals that I think can be removed for gridiron use. It’s no longer just a concept on paper or in 3D renderings; it’s now the reality. The system can also be built at half the price of regular construction, so they could potentially build two for the price of one.
For a place like Tasmania natural materials like timber fits in really well with the vibe of the place. The forestry industry and world heritage areas are both well-known, and natural material like timber picks up on the land, sea, sky, weather, primary industries and the local food and drink that the state is famous for. Scallop pie and a Cascade anyone?
If Tasmania built a stadium out of timber, it could actually help to define the identity of the club by connecting the stadium with the natural world that plays such a big part in the identity of Tasmania itself. In other words, it is at one with nature and the elements, and through this it creates a connection with the people who will be fans of the club.
It seems to be doing its job as intended, going by the crowds. When I went on to YouTube to see how it looked on gamedays I came across a video of the grand reopening. It has a real community vibe and a strong sense of local identity with a carnival atmosphere.
But there’s more to the club than just the stadium.
Vancouver Island is similar to Tasmania in a number of ways. In terms of its size, Vancouver Island is 460 kilometres in length and 100 kilometres in width at its widest point compared to 364 kilometres long and 306 kilometres wide for Tasmania. It has a cool temperate climate and its landscape has amazing scenery, with rugged mountains and old-growth forests.
But most importantly it’s peoples sense of identity that stands out, all through the videos about the club you hear comments from key figures like club president Josh Simpson and co-founder Rob Friend about how they want to create a pathway for kids to play at the professional level without having to leave the island. While Peter Schaad of the brand identity team spoke of how when they asked local people what to name the club it was nearly unanimous that they wanted a name that reflected the ocean, as it is what defines them as an island.
Further still, the same video makes it clear that the club is intended to represent the whole island which once again sounds a lot like Tasmania.
When it comes to the local players, they were constantly talking about how good it was to be able to play professionally for a team without having to leave the island. They also talked about how special the atmosphere was with the home crowd behind them giving them an advantage and having an effect on the opposition. They spoke of how having a team was already helping to develop the culture of the sport on the island, helping it to grow.
But they also spoke of how the stadium itself was important, by being small and intimate it helped create a close connection between the players and the fans. That in particular seems to be a definitive lesson for Tasmania, that they can’t hope to replicate with large ovals.
During the A-League expansion process I, like many others, thought a Tasmanian team would make a good addition to the league. But seeing Pacific FC and what they have been able to achieve it really helps visualise what might be possible for Tassie.
For a Tasmanian bid to be successful it will need to engage itself with fans by evoking and expressing the essence of Tasmania through the identity of the club. Thankfully Tasmania already has a rich vein of its own sense of identity for a club to form itself around. All that the bid team need to do is actually tap into this when getting fans involved in the process of building it.
Some of the similarities are uncanny.
The logo of Pacific FC features an abstract outline of the island with a trident at the base. As it turns out, a number of concept logos for a Tasmanian team also feature a map of the island and a trident. In terms of its environment, Vancouver Island is part of a larger bio-region which just happens to be called Cascadia, a name that sounds familiar. Then there’s the name of Vancouver Island itself, which is often abbreviated to Van Isle, and what was Tasmania previously known as? Van Dieman’s Land.
The parallels and similarities between these two places are too strong to ignore. They don’t just seem like long lost twins of each other so much as kindred spirits. If there’s any club that Tasmania should model itself upon, I can’t think of any better than Pacific FC. After seeing how well that fans have connected with Pacific FC, I have no doubt that a Tasmanian A-League club would be a success.