THE END OF COBURG?
It’s been known for some time – as Paul Amy outlined last week – that under Moreland Council’s fanciful ‘Coburg Initiative’ the Coburg City Oval would be bulldozed and replaced by a housing and civic re-development. It is a truly ridiculous plan that is opposed with great force by everyone I talk to. The pretty website http://www.thecoburginitiative.com.au/why says ‘The Coburg Initiative …will celebrate and preserve the things which make Coburg great, while also providing for the needs of the future residential and business communities.’
So the destruction of a football ground where Coburg played its first VFA match in 1925 will ‘preserve the things that make Coburg great’? How can any council in its right mind believe that doing away with the area’s best sporting facility is progressive? Moreland Council should be pilloried for daring to even raise the idea that this prime piece of sporting infrastructure should be swept away, in what is little more than a land grab. The decision of the Coburg Football Club to play some games – Richmond wants all games - in Craigieburn does create problems. But this isn’t just about the Coburg Football Club. It’s about the needs of the community.
The sad truth is that the Labor controlled Moreland Council has never been pro-football. Even when we were a power club in the ‘80s our social club, toilet and kiosk facilities were among the worst in the VFA and the ground surface had deteriorated to such an extent that training was conducted in the car park as we set about winning consecutive premierships in 1989. Even now, five years after the historic grandstand was severely damaged by fire it’s only partially restored. The Coburg City Oval, the very place where Swans legend Bob Pratt spent two seasons and kicked 183 goals in 1941 - is a story of neglect. Instead of affirming the club’s contribution to the municipality the council would happily see the land sold off and re-developed by the Grollo Group.
Bob Pratt - third from left - of the back row at Coburg in 1941.
There is much more to my opposition to the re-development than 18 years with the club, between 1975 and 1992. Yes, playing 205 games and being part of three premierships – two as coach - means I’m emotionally connected. But the Coburg Lions of the VFA era was a radically different entity to the Richmond-aligned Coburg Tigers of today and it’s surely understandable that my heart no longer beats with the same passion. As irony would have it,that alignment has made it easier for the council to contemplate a re-development. I’ve already heard the arguments about the club no longer truly representing the kids of the locality. Although that argument has been no impediment to the upgrading of Chirnside Park in Werribee, the Box Hill City Oval, North Ballarat, Casey Fields and other VFL grounds, it’s inconsequential.
These days I coach West Coburg under-16s in Division One of the Essendon District Football League. The experience has given me an acute perspective on the state of football facilities – it’s even worse for girls – for the young kids of the municipality. If, as all the research suggests, association with a sporting club is good for a child’s physical and mental health, why do we relegate such activities to second-rate facilities? Is it only those children those who make it into the elite TAC stream or their equivalents in other sports who are entitled to decent facilities? Shore Reserve in Coburg, where my under-16s play, alternates between dust bowl and mud heap, depending on the rainfall. Most grounds have poor, if any lighting and change-rooms that belong in the Dickensian age. The famous old Gillon Oval, where Brunswick played before it collapsed in 1991 is the same wreck it was then, except that the grandstand is now a prohibited site, leaving no cover for spectators.
The Moreland Council proposal for the City Oval Coburg is a matter not just for local people. It’s something Peter Schwab at Football Victoria and the AFL should be opposing with all their force and influence. As much as people want Coburg to stay at the City Oval, if the club does move to Craigieburn I believe the ground should be appropriated by the EDFL and have already said as much. And no matter what Coburg does the young EDFL kids in the area should share the ground. It goes without saying that the state government should be providing funds for the proper development of the City Oval as a prime football ground in the municipality. Our kids deserve more than what is being dished up to them!
PS In 2010 Moreland Council declared it had put the plans away. Let's hope it's forever!