In Sport

AFL Takes Rugby League Head On

Victor P Taffa

Following the launch of the Gold Coast AFL team in 2011 Western Sydney is due for takeoff in season 2012.Will it be Blacktown or will it be the AFL who is better served by having the Western Sydney Team based at Homebush?

According to former Blacktown Mayor, Leo Kelly “it will be marvelous for the region of Western Sydney for the new AFL team to be based at Blacktown.”

The AFL has agreed upon a second Sydney team being established, most likely in season 2012 and with only 3 years to spare, is there enough time to start a new ground from scratch at Blacktown?

Ever since the success of the Sydney 2000 Olympics, Homebush has become an easy, convenient destination for football followers and concert goers. Homebush is central to Parramatta Road, Homebush Bay Drive and Centenary Drive.

These roads bring traffic from the West, North-West and South. Blacktown is simply too far away. The AFL Strategic Planner, Stephen Gray has said that “Homebush is likely to be our choice for a Home base for the new team.” There is also a Railway Station to Homebush Bay. Why base the Western Sydney team at Blacktown rather than Homebush?

When the Sydney Swans came to Town in 1982, crowds were poor and in the vicinity of 15,000 per game. When Dr. Geoffrey Edelstein took over the Club, attendances grew, however that was short lived. Only since 1996 when the club made it to a Grand Final, did the Sydney public really start to accept the Swans as their own. This culminated in 2005 with their First premiership since 1933.

Sydney Swans Club Membership is now in excess of 30,000 per season. The AFL would like to grow the code not only in Sydney, but on the Gold Coast by having matches played on a weekly basis in the two Rugby League dominated states during the Football season.

This has been a long held aim of the AFL. Dr. Allen Aylett, Former President of the VFL and Legendary player and coach Ron Barassi has long supported the establishment of Australian Rules football as the national football code. To attempt to establish a new team in rugby league heartland between the Parramatta Eels and the Penrith Panthers will be a risky strategy.

Old Habits die hard and the Sydney Football market can be fickle. By taking the safer option of Homebush Bay ensures that the Western Sydney AFL team will have a venue capable of holding the large crowds. By using a smaller venue at Blacktown, the AFL runs the risk of turning away crowds in a full house and if this occurs, it has the potential of becoming a public relations disaster that the code can ill afford.

According to Newcastle Lord Mayor John Tate he thinks that “the AFL has a great business package” and with a small capital investment Newcastle could also host AFL matches as does Darwin, Canberra and Hobart.

As Soccer in Australia improves the way in which it runs the code, the success of the A League competition and a likely world cup bid the football code ‘war’ will only intensify.

What at stake is the potential to attract the best and brightest to play football in an intensely competitive playing market. The clock is ticking for the AFL and if they take the wrong option, the code will lose out and could take years to recover.

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