Yarra Man: I love the quirks of local footy grounds

By Tavis Perry

A mate of mine says Ovens and Murray Football League club Corowa-Rutherglen has the best ground he’s seen in country footy. Indeed, when I played at the John Foord Oval for the first time earlier this year I was struck by its tranquillity and scenic appeal. It’s surrounded by immense gum trees, and it’s extremely spectator-friendly because the boundary lines are built up. The surface is good, without being outstanding, and the size of the ground is ideal for local footy.
One of the unique features of Australian football is that there is no standard size for grounds. Each ground has its own idiosyncrasies, character and charm (or otherwise). Having played on or watched footy at several Victorian country and metropolitan grounds, I thought I’d go through the quirks of some of them.
Lavington, which hosts the Ovens and Murray grand final, has exceptional facilities, a good-sized grandstand and a surface that is the envy of most country footy clubs. But I think it lacks personality. The crowd tends to congregate near the south-west pocket, so if there is a small crowd the atmosphere is non-existent. And the ground itself is a fair way out of town, making it seem desolate.
In my opinion good local grounds have an aspect of heritage; the Queen Elizabeth Oval in Bendigo is a great example. The amenities beneath the QEO grandstand are first-class, but the grandstand itself was built 100 years ago. And rather than standing over a pocket like it the grandstand in Lavington, the QEO grandstand runs along the southern wing, meaning there is a great view of the action and the players always feel the presence of the crowd.
La Trobe University, a club that fields teams in the Victorian Amateur Football Association, has an enormous ground with a lot of surrounding greenery. It’s bigger than the MCG, measuring 190 metres in length and 165 metres across (the MCG is 157 x 139), whereas the average size of the grounds of La Trobe’s rivals would be no more than 150 by 130 metres. This means La Trobe needs two distinct game plans – one for at home and one for away. The president of the La Trobe footy club last year told me that he remembers three seasons when the Trobers won every game at home but lost every game away. I’ve never encountered a club with such a decisive home-ground advantage.
Lilydale, which plays in the Eastern Football League in Melbourne, has a peculiar set-up; their ground is more a rectangle than an oval. Before I played there for Blackburn, I couldn’t believe the stories about the ball being kicked up out of bounds on the full. Several teammates told me about trying to kick to players leading towards the wing and booting the ball 20 metres out of bounds! It’s definitely a ground that suits pack-marking forwards, because the ball intrinsically gets funnelled through centre half-forward.
When you arrive at Wonthaggi’s ground you can’t help but notice the goalpostsm which are almost twice as high as regulation posts. Rumour has it that when the old posts were in place, Wonthaggi’s goal umpire had two interpretations if the ball was kicked higher than the posts. If a Wonthaggi player kicked it, a goal was signalled. If an opposition player kicked it, the result was a behind. Opposition clubs made Wonthaggi put up posts that no one could kicked higher than!
My favourite ground is the Ironbark Stadium, which is on the fringe of the Ironbark Forest, in my home town of Rushworth. Opposition clubs in the Kyabram District league describe the ground as the worst ground in the competition, but they fail to appreciate the rustic setting. They harp about the roo poo and the seemingly endless run from the change rooms to the ground, but there’s no way they could argue with the fact that a big crowd at Rushworth creates an unparalleled atmosphere. The passionate supporters of Rushworth generate more noise than anywhere I’ve encountered across the state. Running on to the Ironbark Stadium made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time.

Comments

  1. I’ve never played on it but the oval in Ararat had always appealed to me as a great footy ground. Any Knackers played on it?

  2. pauldaffey says:

    Dips,

    The Alexandra Oval. A lot of people know it because you can see it from the Western Highway while you’re driving to Murtoa to go to the Cup.

    Like a lot of Goldfields grounds, Ararat has a beautiful grandstand. Such grandstands were the burghers’ way of enhancing civic pride around the turn of last century. You might call them monuments to vanity, but I’m glad they felt so inclined.

    There’s good ones in Bendigo (QEO), Ballarat (City Oval and Eastern Oval) and Maryborough (Princes Park).

    Ararat wear the old Swans jumpers and their nickname is the Rats. I quite like that.

  3. Rod Gillett says:

    Tav,

    The opposition in the Ky league are right, the Rushy ground is a tough, hard one. Could never keep up those Jones brothers who used to chase and catch rabbits for a living. How long has it been called Ironbark Stadium?

    I reckon there are plenty of good grounds with character in the Goulburn Valley League, I especially liked the Memorial Oval in Euroa particularly charming set amongst the oak trees and because it was usually wet and boggy I could get a kick – and a whack over the ears for my trouble…

    For the size of the town I think Kyabram have got one of the best set-ups – they had a grandstand built for the visiting New Zealand cricket XI in 1967 plus the magnificent Wilf Cox Pavilion and now I believe the lights installed as a result of a major campaign led by Peter Lyon (father of Gary) have made it possible for them to stage night cricket and football.

    Bushpig Park – the home of the uni team in Wagga has similar dimensions to the Latrobe Oval – where I played once at an IV. Why is that uni administrators want to build grandiose ovals but not fund scoreboards, timekeeper boxes, etc? At the Pigs we had to transport the old tin shed over from the old Teachers’ College oval – the uni saw our “heritage” piece as an eyesore and quickly replaced it with a cream brick one. The uni have named the oval after a flunky uni heavy but it is referred to even in the local press as “Bushpig Park”.

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