Goal.com's Chris Paraskevas investigates the cultural impact of the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
Talk to anyone from Melbourne and the above cliché is likely to somehow find its way into the conversation.
Indeed, the suggestion is that no other city in Australia knows how to host a sporting event like Melbourne, though that reputation perhaps stems mostly from the city’s AFL density, ‘Grand Final Day’ something of a national day of celebration among fans of the code and certainly generating enough interest to cause a glance even among its sceptics.
The city’s sporting identity appears to have at its heart iconic imagery provided by the Melbourne Cricket Ground as the home of Australia’s first ever Olympic games, it’s standing as an Aussie Rules Mecca and of course, as the nation’s biggest cricketing venue.
Yet the absence of a home for football, ‘The world game’, has been conspicuous and perhaps has played into the hands of the ancient stereotype about Victoria’s anti-football movement. Most recently the rather unwise comments by AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou – ironically about stadium and fixture wrangling – served to highlight such a view of the country’s Aussie Rules heartland.
The construction of a purpose-built stadium for football – the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium - might just go some way to restoring the city and state’s reputation and perhaps allow it to begin to truly complete its sporting identity. Even the resident Aussie Rules zealots must grudgingly admit that without a football stadium, the city cannot be considered a global leader in sport, regardless of personal feelings toward the round-ball code.
“This stadium probably completes the jigsaw of world-class sporting facilities and I think it will add some significance,” Melbourne Victory CEO Geoff Miles tells Goal.com, asked about the impact of the stadium on the city’s sporting identity.
“Sitting in an amazing sporting precinct here with the MCG and Melbourne Park across the road, this stadium will bring football and rugby to a different level in this city.”
Ignoring for a moment the technical details of what appears to be an aesthetically pleasing and unique stadium, it is perhaps a symbol of football’s new standing within the Australian sporting landscape.
Adrian Leijer inspects his club's new home
“It’s going to be remarkable. The AFL players down here in Melbourne must have a massive buzz being able to walk out onto the MCG, it being the stadium for AFL. To have something purposefully built for football and for footballers to call it home, it’s going to be awesome,” says Melbourne Victory starlet Evan Berger, who will be reaping the benefits of the Victory’s new home in years to come.
“You look around in Europe, you’ve obviously got Wembley, the Nou Camp, the San Siro, all the big stadiums that know that they are there for football, where the name of that stadium comes back to football. To be able to have a stadium here in Australia that’s the home of football and to have something similar to the MCG, hopefully this stadium can become that for football.”
At 22 years-old, Berger is young enough to remember the now extinct National Soccer League on its death bed; a time where an investment totalling $267.5 million by the government into football was laughable.
“Five or six years ago I was still a young teenager coming through and there was obviously no A-League established, it was just the NSL.
“To think that in five years the government has put a lot of money in to build a stadium for football, it shows you how far the game has come and hopefully with this new stadium it will show how serious football is becoming on the Australian landscape.
“I think there’s a place in the market for all three sports, obviously the rugby union [and rugby league] team coming into the landscape as well.”
The Victory will indeed share the stadium with the city’s resident Rugby League representative, the Melbourne Storm, as well as it’s incoming Rugby Union outfit.
Along with new A-League franchise the Melbourne Heart, it will make four clubs across three different codes calling the stadium home and allows it to stand as a symbol of peace at a time where the awakening of the sleeping giant of football has unsettled the traditional establishment.
“There’s been overwhelming support for this stadium and whilst a lot of people say that there’s competition between the codes, we find here in our state that the codes compliment each other and that we have almost 50% of our membership base of 20,000 as AFL members,” says Miles when pressed about the supposed war between AFL and football.
“There’s a huge crossover of interest from fans of all codes and because of that crossover of interest that we’re lucky to have here in Melbourne, the stadium has been warmly welcomed by all sports fans. We have two great stadia in the MCG and Etihad Stadium that have been used for Australian Rules Football and cricket and to complement that, we have a purpose-built stadium for our code and for rugby.”
Iconic | The MRS will sit alongside the MCG
Testament to that fact is the manner in which the Victory and their rugby league counterparts the Melbourne Storm will be moving into the stadium as commercial partners, utilizing the stadium’s café, social club and function facilities in tandem, as well as sharing it’s training facilities.
Yet despite the presence of two other sporting outfits, the Victory will have no qualms about calling this their home, with the club to be totally based out of the venue. In a first for A-League clubs, members and fans will be able to visit the stadium both on match nights and during the week, with the membership office and merchandise outlet to be based at the stadium itself.
World class facilities for the team itself include a gym, pool, ice baths, a permanent change room and even a video-editing suite.
“We’ll have our membership office and merchandise outlet at the stadium. For us it is a home. We are fragmented at the moment in our offices, team training and merchandising operations in different locations. It’s a huge benefit and we certainly will be viewing it as a home for us and our fans,” says Miles.
It’s a home that certainly won’t be easily missed.
“This stadium will be a world leader and has an amazing design. It features a unique bio-frame that... is a world first, with the roof which takes advantages of a dome structure,” Miles continues.
“It also includes over a thousand LED lights within this roof which will light up the stadium. We believe it will stand out; fans approaching it on match night won’t be able to miss it. It will provide so much anticipation by the look and the feel of the stadium, which is unique world-wide.
“The design of the roof is amazing. We’ve seen the visuals of the lights show that will be possible with the one thousand LED lights. It looks incredible and that’s going to be a real standout on match night.
“There will be a whole range of different artistic visual effects which will create a great look and ambiance for fans coming to the game. You won’t miss this stadium from so many parts around Melbourne, particularly on match night. It will be a living, breathing stadium which we certainly haven’t seen before in Melbourne.”
The conspicuous physical presence of the stadium, which will sit alongside the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground, only serves to highlight the cultural and sporting significance it will have on the city and indeed physically etches the Victory into its sporting landscape.
Unique | The stadium design will be hard to miss
“It is unique with the way they’ve built it, they’ve obviously put in a lot of research time and money to try and build something different and I think they have achieved that. Being able to tell people ‘Yes, that’s our base, that’s our headquarters, that’s our home’, I think will only increase interest levels,” says Berger.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated effect of the new stadium will be on what many consider to be the league’s loudest and best fans, with the defining feature of the stadium the close proximity between the sideline and the crowd and a steep tiering system helping to create a more continental atmosphere at matches.
“We’re talking only a few metres; we’ll be able to hear the players, hear the tackles and I think really feel part of this experience,” says Miles.
“They’ve [the players] just commented on how close the seating is to the pitch and the atmosphere that will be generated by our home fans when they’re out there in a Melbourne Victory shirt.”
“We’ve got the best fans in the league and we have for the first five seasons. A few weeks back against the Gold Coast they brought the seasons in and it was closer but with this new stadium they’re going to be right on top of us and create that buzz around the stadium,” Berger elaborates.
“Hopefully it will be even harder for teams to come down here with the atmosphere. With the new Melbourne team coming here hopefully it can create a real European atmosphere in our stadium because the fans deserve it.
“It was very exciting when the fans came in and there was a massive difference in the noise level, even though there was the same amount of people the fortnight before in our previous home game. To think that these fans are going to be right on top of you in this new stadium, the whole way around, it’s very exciting and we can’t wait to get in there and start using it.”
The prospect also of broadcasting what should be a sold-out A-League stadium on a weekly basis will no doubt excite both fans and administrators of the game, with the 33,000 capacity in fact forcing the Victory to cap their membership at 20,000 for next season, when the stadium is expected to be in operation.
“The balance of the seating for club use, community groups, away fans and corporate seating (1500 seats), it provides a challenge,” Miles says. “Our members to the Melbourne Victory who have been loyal are naturally getting priority to pick up their seats at the new stadium.
And what of pricing?
“We haven’t established our pricing for the new stadium as yet. We’re still to get a draw for next season so we’ll need to review the number of home games we’ll be playing and the balance of games between the new home ground and Etihad Stadium.
“We will continue to play our five biggest games at Etihad Stadium. The view of the club was for blockbuster games (Sydney, Adelaide and the derby against the Melbourne Heart) we didn’t want to lock out fans. So we had a commitment to play the five biggest games at Etihad. We are naturally conscious of membership pricing and affordability for our fans and that’s a key considerations.”
Trivial details though within the context of what could be a watershed moment for the sporting identity of the code and the city.
Chris Paraskevas, Goal.com
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