Sunday, 16 August 2009

It was a simpler time

Push for dual-code venue at Albert Park

Could South Melbourne's Bob Jane Stadium become the home of Victorian soccer, rugby union and even rugby league?

South Melbourne's new president, television newsreader George Donikian, reckons it can - if the State Government gets together with the sport's controlling bodies and unites to give the Albert Park venue a multimillion-dollar make-over to increase its capacity and refurbish its office and entertainment areas.

Donikian, who recently took over the top job at South as part of a wholesale revamp of the club's management and committee, says a refurbishment program at the South Melbourne ground would add significant value to an existing community resource.

It would allow it to be used as a multisport venue and come at a much cheaper price than a redevelopment of Olympic Park, the other stadium that has been mooted as a candidate for a rework to accomodate the likes of new A-League soccer club Melbourne Victory or a rugby Super-14 team.

"I have approached Ron Steiner at the Victorian Rugby Union and talked to him about the possibility of playing at Bob Jane if the stadium was upgraded and reconfigured for rugby as well as soccer," Donikian said yesterday.

"Might it not be worth looking at the possibility of spending, say, $35 million, on turning this ground into a 25,000 to 30,000-seater venue for soccer and rugby rather than spending a lot more at Olympic Park?

"The atmosphere would be very good, Melbourne Victory would find it a better fit for them in the new A-League than Telstra Dome. I am approaching Craig Bellamy (coach) at the Melbourne Storm to see if there might be interest from rugby league.

"The way we used to do business at this club (South) is long gone.

"We need to go forward, find ways to make better use of the facilities, attract new supporters and improve the place so that clubs like Melbourne Victory could also look at playing here.

"Let's not worry about the development of footy grounds like Punt Road and Optus Oval. We need a ground like this to be improved and it has a lot of advantages. It's in a great location - Albert Park is right near the centre of the city, has tram and light rail links, is close to Clarendon Street and its shops.

"Why couldn't this become another sporting precinct. We could upgrade and build administrative offices here, put in a sports medicine clinic, build a new grandstand on the far side of the ground, put boutique-type stands up behind the goals.

"It's already very close to Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, so the links could be further developed."

While it is the new A-League club Melbourne Victory that will be the city's premier soccer side, Donikian and a host of new South Melbourne committeemen say they are determined to ensure that South's future does not lie all behind it.

The club - along with another former NSL side, Melbourne Knights - will make its Victorian Premier League debut in January and its new administration is adamant its long-term aim is to rebuild South, so that, if and when the Australian Soccer Association decides to expand the A-League, it is at least in a position, both financially and on-field, to lodge a credible bid for inclusion. That may be in five or 10 or 15 years, but, insists the new president: "We are not just going to be satisfied with trying to win the Victorian Premier League all the time.

"What we did in the past, how we marketed and sold the club, was not good enough.

"If it was, we would be in the A-League ourselves now, and we're not. So everything we do now has to be based on the committed premise that we eventually want to be in the A-League.

"That has to be our main ambition long-term, how we keep the fire in the belly of players, administrators and supporters."

As part of its new branding, the club has made a small but subtle change. No longer South Melbourne Hellas, or South Melbourne SC (for soccer club), it has changed its name to South Melbourne FC (for football club).

Because of its financial problems earlier this year, it has been unable to retain many of its former stars so new coach John Anastasiadis - himself a former NSL title winner with the club - is being forced, in the main, to rely on youngsters such as former Melbourne Knights player Billy Natsioulis and leading Victorian junior Evan Karavitis, an under-17 Australian representative.

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