Copyright Aidan Ormond
LOVELY LAKESIDE...boutique stadium. A-League. Sound familiar?
EXCLUSIVE: South Melbourne FC launched their remodeled Lakeside Stadium on Sunday with an eye on bringing A-League games to the famous club – and they have an ace up their sleeve.
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While both Victory and Heart have leases on Melbourne’s two main football venues at Etihad and AAMI Park, South believe their boutique offering could fill gaps in the calendar.
“We don’t have to share this ground with any of the other football codes, which means the surface doesn’t get damaged by rival codes and with no scheduling problems around other codes," South President Leo Athanasakis told au.fourfourtwo.com.
“This stadium is for football and football alone, and we’re a club that knows and appreciates football.”
And he offered support to suggestions the stadium could host one-off A-League games such as during the Community Round.
“It’s open for all football lovers," he said. “Today is all about repositioning the club where it deserves to be and the stadium is a part of that repositioning.”
Similar in picturesque beauty to the Mariners’ home ground in Gosford, Lakeside Stadium - located close to South Melbourne with a stunning view of Melbourne's cityscape and nearby Albert Park Lake - is part of a $60 million redevelopment.
With a striking blue and white running track (which hosted the Zatopek 10,000 Classic on Saturday), the venue was designed by H2O architects and also incorporates the Athletics Australia base.
It also features a large electronic scoreboard and screen, floodlights, upgraded dressing rooms and with two stands, it seats around 8000 fans. It’s estimated with standing fans the capacity will be approximately 15,000.
The idea was first mooted eight years ago and with the recent demolition of Olympic Park, Lakeside offers a new stadium option for Melbourne football.
The stadium launch also means the return of female footballers and the juniors back to Albert Park for the first time in nearly 10 years.
The surface, which au.fourfourtwo.com walked on before Sunday's exhibition clash with Sydney Olympic, is clearly A-League standard and with good drainage.
This drainage was put to the test barely 15 hours before Sunday’s game when wild thunderstorms ripped through Melbourne.
Fortunately the pitch was in excellent condition by the time South and the NSW powerhouse walked out for a late afternoon kick-off.
Olympic defeated South Melbourne 3-2 in an entertaining encounter in front of around 4000 fans.
Joining state politicians and dignitaries at the launch day were former Melbourne Victory supremo Geoff Lord, one-time NSL superstar Con Boutsianis and singer Maria Maroulis.
Interested observers at the game were Victory midfielder Grant Brebner and VPL top scorer Richie Cardozo.
Lord told au.fourfourtwo.com he was impressed by what he saw at Lakeside.
“It’s a fantastic set-up. It’s $60m well spent,” he said. “The idea of combining it with athletics and soccer is a plus because you have to utilise the facilities you’ve got.
“I think it’ll work and it’ll be good for the local community too.”
Lord believed it would be easy to organise an A-League game at Lakeside stadium.
“I’m not calling the shots at the moment but I’d be happy to see Victory play a game here as a one-off,” he added.
Long-time South Melbourne FC supporter George Donikian said the launch was start of a new era for a club that was an NSL powerhouse, winning two grand finals under coach Ange Postecoglou and appearing at the 2000 World Club Championship in Brazil over a decade ago.
Donikian, who recently left Channel Ten, said the stadium was a culmination of many years working behind the scenes.
“AAMI Park is a beautiful, beautiful stadium and an amazing sporting facility," he told au.fourfourtwo.com. "But remember, it’s shared by four codes. And the wear and tear takes its toll.
"This is now an option – which it never was before
“Today means an awful lot. You’ve now got a boutique facility that’ll be the envy of a great many A-League clubs.”
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CLICK HERE TO SEE THE STADIUM LAUNCH