Leederville Oval could kill several birds with one stone
There were 22 separate puddles discernible amid the Leederville Oval swamp on Monday this week while the area surrounding the bullseye in the middle of the ground was a sandy hole awaiting new turf.
Given that drowning has now been added to the list of potential game-day hazards, good luck getting the battle of the Leederville co-tenants Subiaco and East Perth underway on Saturday. Another neutral match at East Fremantle appears likely unless the two teams want to fork out the gob-smacking $15,000 fee to play at the WACA Ground.
Wednesday WAFL addressed the Leederville debacle last week, with a focus on how the WAFL’s once-lauded centre of excellence has degenerated into the most decrepit facility in the league. The WA Football Commission, the City of Vincent and even the West Coast Eagles, at whose behest three decades ago clay was poured onto the surface in a bid to produce a training venue that better replicated muddy Melbourne grounds, have all contributed to the decline of Perth’s most central and, arguably, most important second-tier football ground.
Yet there is a solution to the Leederville fiasco.
All it will take is imagination, will, vision and cash, which, admittedly, are not always elements abundant in local footy circles. WA football needs a modern, well-equipped second ground capable of hosting the crowds of up to 20,000 or so that might attend a WAFL grand final, State game, AFL pre-season match or AFLW final.
The WAFC needs a home. It has $20 million in the bank, including $2.5 million in reserve for its future premises, and an allocation of 3000 square metres of land at the Subiaco Oval dog park. East Perth need a new facility. Their current headquarters have reached their use-by date and a new building is required if the Royals are to stay in the inner city rather than move out to Whiteman Park or another greenfield3 site in Perth’s north-east corridor. And while Subiaco’s decades-younger clubhouse is in significantly better condition than their neighbour’s, the day is not far off when a substantial upgrade is required.
Why not kill a handful of birds with one stone?
Why not consider a centralised second-tier football ground that houses two WAFL clubs as well as the sport’s management body and its ancillary needs?
It could include a football museum to showcase the game’s grand heritage at a location that has a century-long football tradition and is already home to the State’s main sporting bureaucracy. Better-appointed extra training venues would be required, particularly with the growth of women’s football, but the need for a substantial ground to complement Optus Stadium trumps all else.
Unless Subiaco Oval regains a strong football presence, and that appears unlikely unless the Lions return there, there would be little value in housing the sport’s headquarters there as a stand-alone facility. The lack of context would be stark.
But the WAFC has a valuable asset in its Subiaco Oval allocation that could be leveraged to help raise the several tens of millions of dollars required to complete this generational project.
The latest plans for the proposed Fremantle Oval redevelopment come with a $90 million price tag while the State Government has just increased its East Fremantle Oval contribution to $25 million of the $32.5 million budgeted to complete that ambitious venture.
The City of Vincent, which reported a $10 million loss last year, is an issue. It is already bleeding cash at Beatty Park and is hardly enamoured of another major capital project for a sport that appears not to resonate with its decision-makers.
Still, football is a major contributor to local economies and it would come as little surprise should a bigger football presence at Leederville Oval drive greater activity in the precinct.
WA football needs clear leadership as it navigates through the challenges that have beset the sport in recent times.
There is opportunity here for WA sport minister David Templeman, as a neutral but interested party, to provide that leadership and help create a legacy for football by finally creating the centre of excellence once imagined by his predecessor Alan Carpenter.
Wednesday hero: Lach Delahunty will depart the WAFL this month with five premierships, a Sandover medal, a fistful of State jumpers and the respect of everyone who played with and against him during nine prolific seasons at Subiaco. Standing alongside fellow Lions Allistair Pickett, Darren Rumble and Kyal Horsley as this century’s most successful WAFL players, but standing alone as the league’s most versatile big man, Delahunty’s impact on the field was only surpassed by his ability to help his team-mates to gel in the league’s most robust playing environment. “He is an important antidote for our serious cats,” Delahunty’s great Subiaco and Frankston team-mate Leigh Kitchin said after last year’s grand final when the No.17 overcame a broken foot and severed ankle ligaments to steer the Lions to victory. It is appropriate that the 31-year-old will retire after Subiaco’s final home game against Perth when his great mate Kitchin is due to play his 150th match.