Victoria Park’s retro reno

As published by The Footy Almanac, 4 May 2012

It’s ironic something that once united and defined Collingwood supporters has become a source of angst and division.  Especially at a time which could be considered the club’s high noon.

Funded by the Yarra City Council and the Australian Government, the $7.2m Victoria Park renovation completed in December last year has certainly won many plaudits.  Despite a combative past, the council and the football club sought to achieve a result satisfying rather different expectations and requirements.

Of course well before the last ‘social club free kick’ was paid, Victoria Park had fallen into a state of disrepair.  Quite simply, the club did not have the means or the will to wind back the effects of time on its weatherbeaten old structures.  And to do so for the sake of three or four games a year was not sustainable, particularly when bad investments had put the club on a financial precipice.  Whilst Vic Park never purported to the aesthetic charm of the Brunswick Street Oval, the ground belonging to supposedly the most famous club in Australia was barely safe for human habitation.  Embarrassing stuff.

After Collingwood left Victoria Park holis bolis in 2004 (a final act including the stripping and selling of social club and various other fixtures, signs and bric-a-brac), the ground’s decline hastened as the council mulled over the options.  Even conducting scratch matches and training became problematic.  What a waste.  And this was prime land within a few Trav Cloke roosts of the city.

Whilst Collingwood supporters in general had become used to the MCG and the allure of regular blockbuster games, a small but dedicated group lobbied the club and council to address the neglect.  There were valid fears Victoria Park would be sold off to private developers.  The Victoria Park Heritage Committee at least scored a few wins, Heritage Victoria protecting elements of the Park from what one member labelled ‘Yarra City’s destructive master plan’.

Yet the group remains embittered, particularly over the removal of the R T Rush Stand and the old scoreboard they believed was to be saved.

A sometimes nasty intraclub debate continues, mostly played out across the interweb.   It’s not unlike the hand wringing over Fitzroy, which like Victoria Park still exists, albeit in a minor key.   Romantic idealists v Pragmatic realists – I tend to  find myself barracking for both.

Though to be honest, given the almighty dollar rules most aspects of modern life, my opinion is what has transpired is as fair and satisfactory as one could reasonably hope.  Consider the 1882 edict;

Victoria Park is given to the City of Collingwood for the resort and recreation of the people of Collingwood and must never be sold to any individuals.” 

The VPHC may never be satisfied, but they should be proud of their part in ensuring a black and white past has been preserved in true life colour.  I certainly don’t begrudge the wider community being provided far better access to a much improved recreation facility.  I say ‘so what’ if people walk their dogs on the sacred turf.   It’s a small price to pay when I can take my boy to watch and learn about the Magpies at Victoria Park on a Saturday afternoon – a notion that would not have been entertained five years ago.  Yes, a rudimentary old grandstand that housed many great memories is gone, but it wasn’t there in 1965 either.

In context, other Melbourne based clubs face far more pressing concerns.  To my mind Victoria Park actually serves as a template for other unloved scenes of a much loved era of football and Melbourne culture, so eloquently recounted by Barry Dickens.

One that is for better or worse gone, but via respectful projects such as this, not forgotten.

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