On the 12th of June, 2009, the Melbourne Heart Football Club was founded with the intention of creating a second A-League club in Melbourne who would play their games out of the new rectangular stadium being built at the Olympic Park precinct in Richmond.
Just over a year later, on the 5th of August 2010, Melbourne Heart played the first football match at AAMI Park when they made their A-League debut against the Central Coast Mariners.
In the 11 or so years since that first game at AAMI Park, Melbourne Heart has become Melbourne City. The struggling bottom-dwellers have become the best team in the country. A lot has changed both on and off the park through the relatively short history of this club, but one thing has remained constant, and that is the stadium that the club has played out of.
You'll already be aware of local council plans to build a 15,000 seat stadium in Dandenong, and with Melbourne City recently moving the club’s training and administration facilities to Casey Fields, a change of home grounds to a stadium in the South-East seems to make a lot of sense.
Whilst a move to Dandenong would probably be great for me personally in terms of distance to the stadium (as somebody from the outer-East), I think it would be a less than ideal move for the club for several reasons:
Melbourne is a terrific city geographically speaking. The location of Melbourne’s CBD is perfectly central in terms of both the Greater Metropolitan Region and the entire state of Victoria. This makes the city a perfect central location for supporters coming to AAMI Park from across the state. Melbourne’s public transport network is designed in a radial fashion, meaning it is purpose-built to keep the city as a central point amongst the spokes of Melbourne’s public transport wheel. The city, and therefore AAMI Park, is easily accessible no matter where you are, even if it means that you have to drive a long distance.
This is the key issue with Dandenong. Dandenong is in the southeast of Melbourne, which means it is not central at all. Sure, it will mean shorter travel distances for people already living in the southeast, but for people travelling from the rest of Melbourne, it will mean a much longer journey to the stadium.
This is also where the public transport factor comes back into play. The radial transport network means that somewhere less central, such as Dandenong, is much more difficult to reach than the inner city. For example, as somebody who lives in the outer-east, I can currently take the Lilydale train line straight into the city and AAMI Park. However, to get to Dandenong I would need to catch the Lilydale line into Richmond (where AAMI Park already is) and then catch a train on the Pakenham line, more than doubling the travel time of somebody who lives on the same side of the city as Dandenong. The position of Dandenong near the end of the Pakenham line means that anyone catching public transport to games from most of Melbourne would need to catch 2-3 separate trains to arrive at the ground. The new Suburban Rail Loop being built by the Victorian Government will make this journey slightly easier, but construction on that project is not scheduled to begin until at least 2022 and could take over a decade to finish.
Melbourne is one of the greatest cities in the world. Known for its incredible food and nightlife, Melbourne is a great place for tourists and locals alike to enjoy. The area of Richmond around AAMI Park is full of great bars and restaurants and makes a terrific place to meet with other supporters and have a drink or some food either before or after a game. I can’t even count the number of games at AAMI Park that have turned into big nights out in the city for my friends and I.
Dandenong on the other hand… is not Melbourne. I don’t want to disparage the city of Dandenong, but the reality is that it simply isn’t the same as Melbourne CBD. There isn’t the same level of pre or post-game entertainment and just wouldn’t have the same feeling of occasion as a game in the city has.
People talk a lot about identity and history in the A-League. People constantly criticise City as being a club without identity or culture. Establishing a tradition and a history in the space of just 11 seasons is not easy. These things take time and patience and they take a loyal fanbase willing to stick with the process. In just a few short years the club known as Melbourne Heart has become Melbourne City, the colours and badge have changed, the whole feel of the club has turned around; that's a lot for a supporter base to come to terms with. The only constant throughout has been the ground we play on.
We played our first ever match at AAMI Park. We won our first Melbourne Derby at AAMI Park. We won our first FFA Cup at AAMI Park. We won our first Premiership at AAMI Park. And just a few weeks ago we won our first Championship at AAMI Park. Whichever way you spin it, our club has built its history on that pitch, and we as fans have built the identity of the club in those stands. Other clubs may come along and try to claim AAMI Park as their home ground, but we all know that they’re just Visitors and nomads.
The fans of this club have stuck with the club through big changes and hard times. We may not have the most supporters in the league, but we have certainly got some of the most loyal. To alienate many of our current fans by moving our stadium to accommodate potential future fans in a growth region of the state would be spitting in the face of the people who stayed with the club through everything.
Moving our facilities to Casey Fields was a no brainer, as we now have so much more space to grow our administration, training and academy. But AAMI Park is our home, it always has been, and it always should be.