It was a beautiful place to watch the footy at Brunswick’s Gillon Oval on Saturday, basking in the sun in front of the Glenn Stand while Amateur clubs North Old Boys-St Pat’s and Williamstown CYMS went at each other in their Division 1 match.
But it was a strange sight if you looked across the ground. The Gillon Oval, the home of the old Brunswick VFA club, has always been delightfully hemmed in, with back fences nudging the eastern goal-line. Countless footies have been lost in nearby residents’ persimmon trees.
Late last week the fence that ran along the reserve’s northern flank was ripped down. So was the strip of fence beside the grandstand on the southern side. If you looked across the ground, it looked just so … open. The houses across the road seemed shameless as they ogled at the battle of footballers in purple, white and blue.
In a city where battles for parklands are beginning to heat up, the Gillon Oval development is probably a good compromise. Sportsmen and women can continue to test their wills as they have on Brunswick’s main oval for a century, while dog-walkers enjoy easy access to the open area surrounding the ground.
The losers, at least financially, are the Victorian Amateur Football Association and the tenant club, NOBs-St Pat’s. For years the Amateurs have held finals at the Gillon Oval because the surrounding fence has enabled an entrance fee to be charged. NOBs have benefited by reaping the canteen and bar takings from finals. To host further finals at the Gillon Oval, the Amateurs would have to put up temporary fencing like they do at the Central Reserve in Waverley. The cost is yet to be worked out.
The main challenge for footy authorities, and all sports authorities, seeking grounds in Melbourne is the rising population, which brings more competition for space. Then there’s the effect of climate change. In recent times, councils have responded to lesser water allowances by re-sewing their ovals with dry-weather grasses. These grasses deteriorate with use in winter.
Most councils are reluctant to allow their ovals to be used for more than 20 hours a week. On the eve of the season, four Amateur clubs had to abandon plans to enter new teams in lower divisions because they were unable to gain ground access.
Soccer authorities have found a solution to wear and tear by installing artificial pitches than can withstand 80 hours of use a week. An artificial footy oval has been planned for Point Cook.
At the Gillon Oval on Saturday, NOBs-St Pat’s seemed perfectly in tune with their more open, relaxed surrounds when they went to sleep in the last quarter. Their three-quarter-time lead of six goals was whittled down to a few points before key forward and captain Simon Harwood took two big grabs to arrest the decline.
The home team got up by 11 points. Dogs trotted along in the background as the players walked from the field.