Focus grows on Dandenong Stadium in wake of Melbourne City’s South East move

Full story first published on SBS’ The World Game:

Focus on the potential construction of a boutique stadium in the heart of Melbourne’s South East has intensified in the wake of Melbourne’s City’s announcement that they would be relocating to the region.

City announced last month that they had secured an agreement with the Cities of Casey and Greater Dandenong that will see the construction of a new “Etihad City Football Academy,” at Casey Fields in coming years.

When completed, the complex will house an elite training pitch, four full-sized floodlit pitches, a facility to house the club’s performance and administrative staff and possess scope for the erection of a 4,000 seat “mini-stadium”. Community access to a number of existing and newly constructed facilities will be maintained as part of the plans. 

It’s also understood City are in the final stages of negotiating a partnership with a South East Melbourne NPLW club that will see the establishment of a girl’s academy in the region. 

State Member for Dandenong Gabrielle Williams, who was an enthusiastic supporter of the Team 11 bid to bring an A-League side to the region during the 2018 expansion process, told SBS The World Game she was hopeful that City’s move would augur further investment in the region. 

“As local member for Dandenong I am delighted by the news that Melbourne City FC has chosen to move to the south-east and play their W-League games in Dandenong,” Williams, who is a Minister in the Andrews Government, said.  

“I hope that choosing to kick off the move by hosting W-League games in Dandenong, is a sign of Melbourne City’s commitment to our community and to establishing themselves in the south-east. 

“Having our very own club based and playing in the south-east is a significant statement for our region and an opportunity to put Dandenong on the map and showcase all that our diverse and growing community offers.” 

“The South East has a lot to offer Melbourne City – a fan base, membership base and geographical anchor – and I look forward to working with the City Football Group to ensure this is rewarded with strong social and economic investment in our region.”

However, though City’s W-League and academy sides will be playing games in the region under the agreement – the first W-League game set for January 10 when City meet Melbourne Victory at Frank Holohan Soccer Complex, the home of Dandenong City – City’s A-League side will continue to play their home games at AAMI Park following the move. 

That there will now be an A-League team – not an idea of a team – based in the South East makes it more likely than it was previously that a long-mooted stadium could be built in Dandenong, but there is no certainty that it will. 

In 2018, despite a State Election looming and proponents of Team 11 adamant that the issue was a vote winner, the Andrews Government, which was ultimately re-elected with an increased majority, declined to signal their support for a new stadium during the expansion process – one of the major reasons behind Western United’s ultimate success. 

City would be fully supportive of a stadium in their new home region – and as part of the City Football Group certainly has the capital to aid in its construction in partnership with the government – but has so far remained tight-lipped on the matter in favour of talking up their existing commitments. 

“We know the history that Team 11 were trying to get [a Dandenong stadium] off the ground,” said Melbourne City CEO Brad Rowse.

“If that came up later on we’d be certainly happy to have a conversation about it. At this stage, it’s still speculative. 

“The announcement, something concrete and tangible, is that we’re moving the club from the CFA at La Trobe University in the North to the South East in Casey.

“We’d want to do the due diligence and understand if [a stadium] was the right opportunity and it made sense. 

“We’re still in contract with AAMI Park and that’s the plan at this stage to be at AAMI Park. [A stadium] hasn’t been discussed but if it’s something in the future that is a viable opportunity, after all the due diligence, then we’d certainly have a look at it. 

“I think we’d be guided by the numbers and if it was compelling enough.”

The World Game understands that much of the Victorian State Government’s willingness to partner with City on a proposed venue in the region will likely depend on the state of the Victorian economy in a post-pandemic world and if it can be convinced that a new stadium and entertainment venue would add to the social and cultural capital of the Dandenong area and provide jobs in construction and the sports services sector.

Ostensibly, this criteria meshes with Team 11’s original vision for a stadium.

The bid unashamedly declared during the expansion process that a Dandenong Stadium would function as more than simply an A-League stadium: operating as a community hub, host for multiple codes, location for concerts and events and more for the growing, highly multicultural region. 

And while Team 11, Melbourne City and State Government have been loath to publicly comment on a renewed push for a stadium, other figures have been quick to raise their voices. 

“We would love to see the State Government build a stadium or maybe some money from the club itself because they have built stadiums in previous cities,” Angela Long, Mayor of Greater Dandenong, said at an event welcoming City to the region. “Greater Dandenong would love to have our stadium built.”

Greater South East Melbourne (GSEM) chairperson Simon McKeon AO agrees.

“The [City] relocation is a win for sports fans, for Melbourne City and for the greater South East Melbourne region. What we need now is a purpose-built venue for use by Melbourne City FC, other elite sporting codes and for entertainment.” 

Chancellor of Monash University and 2011 Australian of the Year, McKeon sits on the board of GSEM alongside former Federal Government ministers Bruce Billson and Simon Crean.

The organisation represents a grouping of eight councils in Melbourne’s South East – Monash, Casey, Greater Dandenong, Kingston, Frankston, Cardinia, Mornington Peninsula and Knox – that seeks to lobby for investment, prosperity, jobs and sustainability across the whole region.

“The venue would be a multipurpose sport, community, cultural and entertainment venue catering for elite sporting competitions, major events, concerts, festivals, community events and corporate functions,” McKeon continued. “It would have easy access to transport options and finally provide an elite sporting venue for sports and entertainment fans among the 1.5 million residents of the greater South East Melbourne region.”

According to Socceroos’ defender Bailey Wright, who grew up in South East Melbourne and played his junior football at NPL2 Victoria side Langwarrin SC, the chance to bring a stadium to the region is an exciting prospect. The 24-time international representative is also a big fan of the prospect of it being a small, boutique venue. 

“I’m sure there will be a lot of planning and processes in place but I think getting a world-class stadium in the area would be brilliant,” Wright told The World Game.

“It would be a step in the right direction. I know it’s being talked about and I’m sure it’s part of the plan. But the potential to get it done and be there and be highly successful and I have no doubt about that. 

“Big stadiums look great visually but there’s not always necessarily rocking and creating that atmosphere. From a home team’s point of view, you want a place that is intimidating to come to, somewhere that is tight and intimate. Sometimes in big stadiums, you don’t necessarily get that.

“When you have those tight-knit, intimate sort of stadiums where you feel like the fans are on top of you and can hear every word that fans are saying to you, you feel the pressure if you conceded and feel the buzz if you score because you’ve got that type of ground. They’re some of the best atmospheres and experiences.

“It doesn’t always have to be a big capacity stadium, it’s the people that fill it and the atmosphere created inside it, it doesn’t have to be massive – it just has to be right.” 

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