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Leederville Oval fiasco turns spotlight on ground hierarchy

John Townsend

It is nearly 20 years since Leederville Oval became the WAFL’s ambitiously and, ultimately, comically-named centre of excellence.

“(It) will bring Leederville Oval back to life and provide modern, permanent facilities for two of the WAFL’s most competitive teams,” then sport minister Alan Carpenter said in early 2003 at the announcement of a $4 million ground redevelopment funded by his government and the City of Vincent.

Any life at the centre of excellence is now aquatic, the modern facilities are looking decidedly prehistoric and neither East Perth nor Subiaco will be competing beyond the home and away season.

The Leederville Oval fiasco of the past week, with both the Royals and Lions forced to play elsewhere because winter rain made the surface unfit for a winter sport, is the second WAFL ground debacle in as many weeks.

Optus Stadium is already off-limits. Who would have thought that fixturing the WAFL grand final at the State’s main cricket ground in cricket season would be gazumped by, of all things, a cricket match?

Compromise, lost opportunity and up to 30,000 disgruntled fans unable to attend the grand final will be the main legacies when, probably, Arena Joondalup sees off Fremantle and Leederville to host the league decider.

While the shambolic grand final affair reflects poorly on football and its short-sighted administrators, it does have some value though.

This farce should shine a spotlight on the need for the State, driven by current sport minister David Templeman, to address the infrastructure issues that challenge football today. The one thing that has changed significantly since the turn of the century when WA started to contemplate building a new and bigger multi-sport stadium to cater for the State’s growing demand was that a clear hierarchy existed amongst the facilities.

Subiaco Oval could fit 43,000 or so fans, the WACA Ground could host AFL crowds above 30,000 – and did so nearly a dozen times - and the various WAFL club grounds were capable of accommodating crowds of 15,000 or more. The ceiling was low but there was a spread of tiered options that reflected the various levels that existed in the sport. And games could be moved down through the ranks if required.

Fast forward two decades and while Optus Stadium is a sparkling jewel in the crown of Australian sport, there is no balanced hierarchy below it.

There is certainly no second-tier ground that could adequately house a decent WAFL grand final crowd, for example. The WACA could have done it once but WA Cricket is in the process of spending $100 million to convert one of the world’s most iconic cricket grounds into a domestic venue that will rarely draw more than a few thousand people.

And the WAFL grounds are declining in capacity to reflect today’s smaller but more selective demand.

A crowd little more that 10,000 will provide a searching examination of whichever club venue gets the grand final nod while it is barely conceivable to envisage a crowd half as big as last year’s 29,879.

Football’s need for a better ground hierarchy requires considerable strategic thinking and a clarity of vision that will test the mettle of administrators across various spheres.

In the meantime, the state of Leederville Oval is simply embarrassing and an indictment of a council that appears reluctant to spend any more than the bare minimum to maintain it.

The proposed Leederville Oval Master Plan seems to have evaporated, the ground reserve fund has a budget balance of just $66,488 and while places like the dog-walking hot spot Britannia Reserve has money shovelled at it, the centrepiece of the Leederville precinct is allowed to turn into mud.

Centre of excellence? Sorry Al but that is not this century’s news.

Wednesday hero: He was not quite as spectacular as Collingwood’s recent after-the-siren hero Jamie Elliott, probably Dongara’s finest football product, but Tyler Keitel’s ice-cold finish in the dying moments helped West Perth salvage a rare draw against South Fremantle on Saturday. His team down by six points, Keitel converted a 40m free kick with a level of calmness and precision expected of one of the league’s biggest stars. It also took Keitel past Frank Hopkins on the club’s goal-kicking list with his 251 majors putting him within reach of the club’s top 10 scorers by the end of the season.

IMAGE: Supplied


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