Forget Cobden’s stunning rise from seventh last year to a second semi-final this year. Forget Camperdown’s jump from sixth to second on the ladder and forget North Warrnambool Eagles’ historic first finals win. The biggest talking point so far this week has been the venues for this weekend’s Hampden league semi-finals.
The only thing footy followers and participants want to talk about is the choice of venues — Koroit on Saturday and the Friendly Societies’ Park on Sunday.
Of course, the discussions aren’t positive. One contributor on Twitter complained the best venue in the league, Camperdown’s Leura Oval, had been ignored. What about Cobden? Its playing surface is the best in the comp at present. You could mount a case for any ground.
Sadly, the Hampden league executive can’t win.
On Saturday, 13 out of 18 competing sides will be from Warrnambool or west of the city. The Victoria Park surface should be OK because Koroit, with all teams out of the finals, won’t be training there and the venue is close enough to Warrnambool to attract a good crowd.
Saturday is Warrnambool and District league grand final day and the league has a gentleman’s agreement to play out of the city.
On the downside, why is it that minor netball premier Camperdown has to play on second-placed Koroit’s home court?
On Sunday, 10 out of the 18 sides are from the western end of the league. The Friendly Societies’ Park surface, albeit maligned, had no games last week and it is more likely to attract a bigger casual crowd because of its location. Yes, the ground slopes and, yes, there is an issue with a wet netball court that count against it. But it’s been used all season.
The league could simply allocate grounds in the first two weeks of the finals based on the ladder position of the higher-placed senior footy side. That would solve the dilemma. Not. What about netball? What if it meant 17 teams came from the eastern end and had to travel to Port Fairy or all but one came from the western end and had to travel to Camperdown?
The reality is that the decisions won’t please all.
The sooner clubs, leagues, players and voters realise the issue won’t go away until parochial interests are buried and a concerted campaign is launched to elevate one ground above all, nothing will change. That one venue has to be in Warrnambool. It is the biggest population centre and has the best chance of attracting big crowds.
Victorian Sports Minister Hugh Delahunty made it clear when he inspected Reid Oval’s dilapidated facilities last year that funding bids were more likely to succeed if they were for multi-use activities.
That doesn’t just mean sports. It means clubs. No longer does it make economic sense to have just one football netball club based at a venue. Have a look around Warrnambool. There are nine different council-controlled venues, each with playing facilities and changerooms, clubrooms, canteens, bars and scoreboards. They host 10 clubs. Reid Oval is the only venue with co-tenants.
It is time for vested interests to be pushed aside and clubs, leagues and city officials to make some hard decisions.
For the purpose of hastening some meaningful discussions, North Warrnambool, South Warrnambool, Warrnambool and East Warrnambool should share a ground, any ground — let them pick.
Imagine the resources. Imagine the opportunities. Keep the other ovals as training bases and venues for junior home-and-away competitions and use the high-class facility for matches.
The time is right for leagues and clubs to unite and march to the council table with a plan. In a sport where players are urged to make the play and take the game on, will someone please run with this? Otherwise the complaints will just keep coming, year after year.