Footy’s home away from ‘drome

As published by the The Footy Almanac, 28 March 2012

Since Roy Cazaly was a boy, a perennial issue facing football has been access to suitable venues to play and train.

If it’s not a war between football and the local council, it’s a barney amongst the club’s pigskin punters and their ship of flannelled fools.  The latest is the Kangaroos jettising the cricket club to somewhere considerably North of North Melbourne (the City of Hume apparently).

And whilst few eyelids are batted at the sight of Nathan Buckley and Mark Neeld getting all neighbourly as their charges train side by side at Gosch’s Paddock, such an arrangement would’ve had old timers choking on their Weeties for several reasons; that they would train anywhere but Victoria Park and the ‘G, and as fierce rivals, they would saddle up anywhere near eachother, let alone the coaches comparing notes!

Next to Henry Gosch’s old cow paddock is AAMI Park.  Whilst it hosts matches for every professional code played in Australia but Aussie Rules, long ago this prime piece of real estate housed a speedway that almost became a neutral showpiece ground for football (predating Waverley Park by almost 50 years).

By coincidence, Collingwood and Melbourne connections to the area date back to the time of Melbourne Carnivals Ltd., which leased the area and built the Melbourne Motordrome in 1924.  The brain behind the outfit was audacious entrepreneur and Magpie patron, John Wren, who was seeking lucrative entertainment.  And football then was as lucrative as ever.

The VFA was keen to sub-lease the ‘drome as their headquarters and play a weekly match of the round on the field inside the track, however the cost was prohibitive.  Meanwhile, allowing the ground to sit idle or slip into competitors’ hands was not a palatable option for the VFL either.  One plan entailed Geelong playing all their away games in Melbourne there.  The idea had good support but failed to launch.

Ultimately, the 48 degree banked concrete track primarily hosted intrepid motorbike and side-car racers, interspersed with athletics and cycling (including record breaking feats by Sir Hubert Opperman).

Apart from a popular midweek competition, the indigenous code did end up utilising the Motordrome in two reasonably significant triumvirates; the 1925-27 VFA Grand Finals and in 1932, Melbourne lost all three of their Motordrome home games (v Geelong, Carlton and Richmond) whilst the MCG underwent resurfacing works.  It was quite a sight, crowds not behind picket fences but a less than ideal concrete embankment, complete with ‘Danger – don’t lean over’ signs.

Brunswick defeated Port Melbourne in the 1925 VFA Grand Final

After seven deaths and numerous injuries the ‘Murderdrome’ was forced to reinvent itself and in 1933 the Olympic Park Speedway opened for dirt track auto racing.  For Wren, the dream of hosting VFL games still burned.

In 1935 a pre season practice match between 1934 Grand Final combatants Richmond and South Melbourne was played under lights, with midget car racing during the breaks.  Drawing around 25,000 fans, Jack Dyer was forced to walk to the game – incredulous as to why the Swan Street trams were packed.

The game was played under ‘272,000 candle power’ spread all around the ground and pointed in all directions to reduce glare and disperse the light evenly.  Basically the whole editorial of the Record was dedicated to the technicalities of facilitating night football.  Mr E J Bacon, the electrician, reported he ‘could comfortably read in any part of the ground’.  Unfortunately the makeshift setup proved better for perusing The Argus than for players and spectators straining to locate the whereabouts of the ball.

The Record of the Rich v South practice match at the Speedway.

Amid politicking, the VFL vetoed Richmond’s plan to take up full time residence by just one vote – the wily Wren having tested a technical loophole related to charging admittance fees at Punt Road.   Paradoxically, plans for a speedway at Punt Road were scuttled in the 1960’s.

Over 70 years later things have, in a fashion, come full circle.  The Magpies have become entrenched further upstream of the Yarra, either side of Wren’s old stomping ground.  For a short while, just prior to AAMI Park’s construction, their training ground Edwin Flack Field was actually smack bang on this stomping ground.  Meanwhile, the Demons have returned in an administrative and training capacity to the site of their only other ‘home’ ground in Melbourne.  Finally, the Tigers still call Punt Rd home – but with occasional training ventures to Gosch’s Paddock and Victoria Park (how could they?).

Yes, it’s a funny game football.  Although the likes of Jack Dyer, John Wren and Norm Smith might not be so amused by their clubs’ living arrangements.

Edwin Flack Field (2004-06); the last of the three brief Aussie Rules fields pre-AAMI Park


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