The Roar
The Roar


Football in Australia must never stop fighting for its fair share of funding

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24th March, 2024
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The Socceroos will draw a bigger crowd on Tuesday night than many NRL games, yet the simple act of football asking for fair funding invokes howls of fury from mainstream Australia.

If you ever want an illustration of the special treatment certain sports get over others, just flick on a St George Illawarra Dragons game the next time they’re in Kogarah.

In 2010, a couple of local politicians convinced the New South Wales government to chip in an extra $13 million to rebuild Jubilee Oval’s northern grandstand.

That came on the back of the $12 million they’d already invested to bring the creaking venue up to code and ensure the merger club could continue to play half their home games in Kogarah.

The result? That northern grandstand is almost always empty.

Most games you’re lucky to see a handful of spectators scattered behind the goal.

Yet it’s funny how no one ever asks anyone to justify spending tens of millions of dollars on seats no one pays to sit in.


Because it’s rugby league, we’re expected to take for granted clubs like the Dragons enjoying the benefits of taxpayer funding – their other home ground, WIN Stadium in Wollongong, got a $28.9 million makeover at the same time – even when it’s obvious there’s no economic rationale for doing so.

Critics will argue there’s nothing stopping football from enjoying the same benefits.

Indeed, the only time that northern grandstand in Kogarah has been full in recent years was when Sydney FC sub-let the stadium while Allianz Stadium was being rebuilt.

Yet that experience was instructive, because Georges River Council – which leases out Jubilee Oval – reportedly couldn’t wait to get rid of the Sky Blues from the venue.

They may have produced a few sell-out crowds, but fans were apparently too noisy, police too numerous, and the game just too different for administrators who grew up on a diet of rugby league.

And that, really, is the problem with the sort of stadium discussions we have in Australia.

Yes, some A-Leagues clubs have benefited from stadium upgrades.


Western Sydney and Sydney FC play out of top-quality stadiums (Photo by Mike Owen/Getty Images)

But there’s always a feeling – rammed home by the sort of discourse you see on social media that’s forever telling football fans to sit down and shut up – that the round-ball code somehow never deserves it.

Which brings the Socceroos’ clash with Lebanon in Canberra on Tuesday night into sharp relief.

After ushering more than 27,000 fans through the gates for Thursday night’s 2-0 win over the same opponent in Parramatta, Football Australia expects a record crowd to descend on the old Bruce Stadium for the return fixture.

It’s an added advantage for an Aussie side already benefiting from not having to travel to Beirut, given the security situation in that part of the world.

And the more than 20,000 fans in attendance will enjoy a rare visit from a national team which now plays most of its fixtures in Sydney and Melbourne.

But they’ll do it in an open-air stadium that hasn’t been fit-for-purpose for years.


Canberra Raiders coach Ricky Stuart recently said he feels sorry for fans who attend because ongoing sewerage issues have left the ageing venue well and truly on the nose.

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You’d hope any new A-Leagues franchise could at least team up with the Raiders and present a united front for a new stadium in the nation’s capital – assuming the Australian Professional Leagues actually manage to sell the licence.

But a united front is football’s biggest failing.

From state federations to the A-Leagues, Football Australia to the APL, there are simply too many competing interests to get politicians interested in our game.

So they return to the familiar, over and over, because it’s what they grew up with.


Yet as residents in the Olympic city of Brisbane are on course to discover, you can’t play top-class sport in second-rate stadia.

The nation’s biggest sport by participation deserves better than the crumbs tossed its way by politicians who don Matildas scarves one week and upgrade suburban footy grounds the next.

Even if it annoys a few spectators on the hill in Kogarah.