Parramatta Stadium upgrade falls short

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Missing out?: Both the Parramatta Eels and the Western Sydney Wanderers feel aggrieved on the $20 million Parramatta Stadium upgrade.. Photo: Wolter PeetersThe Parramatta Eels and Western Sydney Wanderers have conflicting views on how the $20 million upgrade to Parramatta Stadium should be spent and have both been left underwhelmed by the federal grant.

While the respective NRL and A-League clubs have welcomed the much needed boost to Parramatta Stadium, Fairfax Media understands both organisations feel they have missed out on what they required.

It is believed Parramatta wanted a large chunk of the funding to go towards a high performance centre for their players to have a state of the art training facility. While the Wanderers, who use Blacktown Olympic Sports Park for training, were pushing for the stadium capacity to be lifted from 20,000 to 30,000 after three sell-out games in their debut season.

The Federal Government tried to please both parties by providing some upgrades to the venues dilapidated facilities and increasing the seating by 3300, but neither party was jumping for joy. The Eels are in the first year of a three-year deal with ANZ Stadium to play at least three of their ‘blockbuster’ games at the Olympic Park venue.

Parramatta have also set a target of reaching 40,000 members by 2017 and believe they will outgrow their current home ground in the next couple of years.

Eels chief executive Ken Edwards refused to rule out a permanent move to ANZ Stadium and said the planned $250 million upgrade to the venue adds further merit to the move.

However he insists Parramatta Stadium remains in the club’s plans for the future in the way Canterbury use Belmore Sports Ground and South Sydney use Redfern Oval as their training facility. “This is our spiritual home,” Edwards said. “We always want to be here in some way shape or form. More important to us at the moment, other than stadium deals, is securing the funding for our high performance and community centre, which we want based here in Parramatta and close to Parramatta Stadium. We currently have the worst training facilities of any team in the NRL and probably any professional sporting team in Australia, and it’s just not good enough. You can’t expect Ricky and professional athletes to get the sort of results we’re all talking about with the sorts of facilities he currently has or doesn’t have.”

It’s certainly more than a coat of paint but hardly the complete renovation widely hoped. The stadium’s eastern standard will be upgraded and given modernised facilities, with better facilities for players – especially changing rooms – also being installed.

A total of 3300 seats will be added to the northern and southern ends of the stadium, extending the natural slope of the existing mounds, bringing total capacity to 24,000. The training field adjacent to the main field will be extended from 70 metres to 110 metres.

There can be no doubt that the Wanderers would have liked to have seen a guaranteed increase of closer to 10,000 than the amount promised.

Such an expansion would have ensured demand was met for all games in the future after seeing the sold-out sign raised multiple times in their debut season – a predicament FFA chief executive David Gallop hopes to avoid in the near future.

“It’s pleasing to see those people rewarded with an opportunity to put their bum on a seat at Parramatta Stadium in the years ahead with increased capacity,” said Gallop. “No one likes seeing people turned away from games and that’s a real possibility given that they’ve already sold out three games in their first season.”

There was real hope among the football fraternity that the open ends at Parramatta Stadium would be given a second tier and a roof, which would give the atmosphere a significant boost, but neither has materialised.

However, Gallop admitted that the Wanderers and FFA would start lobbying again for an increase in capacity if the demand warranted it in the coming season.

“While we’re grateful for the increased capacity from around 20,000 to 25,000, but it’s certainly conceivable that, in years to come, that demand will again exceed supply,” he said. “Again, we’ll be left considering what to do, but that’s a few years off at that this stage.”

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