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Wednesday WAFL: Leederville Oval could underwrite Templeman legacy

By John Townsend

If David Templeman was searching for a substantial project to generate his main legacy as WA sports minister, he could do worse than steer Leederville Oval’s transformation into the State’s second football ground.

The 16,791 people who attended the WAFL grand final on Saturday – and the many thousands who celebrated in the neighbouring bars and restaurants that night – provided overwhelming proof of Leederville’s suitability as a prime football venue.

The size of the crowd was a major surprise, particularly as WA Football Commission chief executive Michael Roberts was adamant when he announced the fixture in August that “the capacity would be 14,000”.

But if the WAFC can find room to squeeze in an extra 3000 people, convincing the State Government to allocate a portion of its record $6 billion surplus to a Leederville revamp should not be that difficult.

“Footy is a great part of the West Australian story,” Templeman said during his official speech at the Sandover Medal count last month.

He was spot on.

Now the numbers need to be crunched, the bottom line assessed and a vision for the future conceived.

That vision should include a redeveloped Leederville Oval as a permanent, or at least regular WAFL grand final venue, but there are many factors that need to be examined before.

Let’s look at the known knowns.

The game was a beauty, with a tough West Perth outlasting a gallant Claremont, most spectators got a decent view and were able to get easily to food stall and toilets, the central location was easily accessed and the ground and surrounding facilities were suitable for club functions and the like.

The crowd streaming onto the field when the final siren sounded, and then victorious coach Darren Harris being lifted high above a sea of hands, provided iconic images of the day.

And given that the WAFC just about broke even on the budget of $490,000, with $150,000 coming from the City of Vincent, it could be deemed a financial success.

But is that enough to wrest the match from Optus Stadium?

Three grand finals have been played at Burswood, with average crowds above 24,000 indicating strongly that more football fans will attend matches there than at Leederville.

Will that trend continue though, or will Optus crowds decline towards the 15,660 average that marked the last five grand finals at Subiaco Oval or the average of 18,293 that attended the last 10?

Playing the WAFL grand final in October, a week after the AFL decider, might guarantee clear air and a better chance of good weather, but this season underlined the risks attached to fixturing a football match at the main cricket stadium during cricket season.

The unknowns are also compelling.

No football was played at the ground in the month leading into the grand final, helping the new turf settle and preventing a repeat of the Lake Leederville fiasco that marred games there during the peak of winter.

The ground repairs, funded by Vincent as part of the sweetener that could extend to a million-dollar complete turf replacement program and new broadcast standard lights, were excellent.

But what would have happened if there was a wet and cold September?

And is it tenable to have no football there in the grand final lead-in given that two clubs in Subiaco and East Perth, with three teams each, have to play and train at Leederville?

Wednesday WAFL has previously argued that Leederville Oval should be redeveloped to allow it to house grand finals, State matches and other second-tier games, while also becoming WA football’s headquarters with an administrative base and potential football museum.

For that to happen, the ground needs to increase its capacity to 20,000 or so and the deteriorating facilities need to be repaired or replaced.

Footy IS a great West Australian story. If Templeman acts decisively and with vision to bring together all the necessary stakeholders, it could be his story as well.

Wednesday hero(es): All the contributors to West Perth’s success, from president Neale Fong, his can-do deputy Jimmy Caffieri, CEO Joe McCarthy, coach Darren Harris (wasn’t his passion after the game one of the most memorable elements of the year?), inspirational captain Aaron Black, his fellow skipper Dean Munns, who produced the defensive effort of the season in the dying moments, and every other member of the Falcons nest who added value to the cause. West Perth set the WAFL benchmark in so many ways, including connecting their rich heritage to the current-day environment.

They deserved their flag and will be hard to beat next year as well.


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