Western United appear to be seeking a solution to their 2020-21 A-League home fixtures conundrum by reaching out to the city of Geelong to host more games at GMHBA Stadium, a local council member said in an exclusive to Inside Feed and this reporter on Friday.
Speaking at GMHBA Stadium along with Western United key personnel ahead of the club’s pre-season friendly Saturday evening against the North Geelong Warriors of the National Premier League, Ron Nelson, the chairman of major events for the City of Greater Geelong, revealed that the council is part of a multi-party discussion to increase the second-year A-League side’s number of games at the ground.
“Western United are looking to extend that already,” Nelson said.
“It’s happening because right now, everyone is down and travelling in and through in this part of Victoria, and we think it’s the best place to be.
“So they will extend that – and from our point of view, it’s not a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’,” Nelson added.
Currently, when the A-League’s start to the 2020-21 delayed season begins later this month, Western United will debut against Adelaide United on December 28 at GMHBA Stadium, spiritually known as Kardinia Park to Geelong locals.
That opener is currently one of three scheduled fixtures in Geelong, with the others being on January 6 against expansion side Macarthur FC and January 24 against Newcastle.
Previously, Western United had announced that they would be playing four games in Geelong, with another fixture in that allocation yet to be announced, with three other regional Victorian games to be played at Mars Stadium in Ballarat, two of which – January 12 against Wellington and May 22 versus Brisbane – have already been confirmed.
In addition to those six fixtures in Geelong and Ballarat, Western United had been said to be embroiled in negotiations to play their remaining six home games in either of three scenarios: a mixture of games in Melbourne’s inner west at Knights Stadium in Sunshine North and the Western Oval in Footscray; at AAMI Park, and groundsharing with a number of sporting teams, including A-League rivals Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory; or a mixture of both of those.
The club has been seeking a unilateral solution that would appease its members and fans, and meet COVID-safe requirements laid out by the A-League and the Victorian state government.
Increasing their allocation of games in Geelong would help alleviate that conflict, at least for the time being, said Nelson.
“This is their home ground, until they get their new facilities in the west of Melbourne,” said Nelson, making reference to the club’s eventual home ground of Wyndham City Stadium in Tarneit, which is slated to commence construction in 2021 with completion scheduled for early 2023.
As Western United are currently groundsharing GMHBA Stadium with the Geelong Football Club, the Kardinia Park Trust is also a part of the negotiations in the quest to bring more Western United games to the venue, especially after the AFL’s 2021 season fixture list becomes announced, which now may not happen until February.
However, GMHBA Stadium finds itself in a unique situation as the first sporting venue in Victoria to house fans for an event – the Western United v North Geelong Warriors friendly – as the loosening of restrictions by the Andrews state government begins to take effect.
A spokesman for the Kardinia Park Trust said that GMHBA Stadium, along with all other sporting stadiums, arenas and other event venues throughout Victoria, will eventually be permitted to open to 25 percent of capacity, but they and Western United are capping attendance for the friendly to 200 fans and a total of 500 persons, including players, officials, administrators, staff, media, and medical personnel.
While the spokesman said that the Trust had been working alongside other related bodies from not just the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Marvel Stadium in Melbourne but others throughout Australia, such as the Gabba in Brisbane, towards a COVID-safe opening to crowds, they wanted to ensure doing it when safe to do so.
Meanwhile, Nelson said that the approach to success to opening the ground to fans would be measured from an event management perspective, in the ever-changing age of the pandemic.
“It’s just to get the logistics right, and see what works, and what’s successful. And if it does, it’s a step in the right direction for us, and for Western United,” he said.
And Mark Rudan, Western United’s coach, said that his players are excited to be playing in front of a home crowd, no matter the size.
“It’s more significant for the fans. Sure, we love playing our football in front of people, but for the fans, to come out, grab a seat or even to stand up and sing, it’s very meaningful for them,” said Rudan.
“It’s been months since they’ve been able to do that,” he added.
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