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Grounds for complaint

A slightly alarming story appeared on Stuff yesterday that will no doubt have the football community up in arms. According to Steve Kilgallon and Dileepa Fonseka, there are moves afoot to fund Auckland’s plan to prize speedway out of Western Springs using between $6.8 and $9.3 million from the parks budget. A quick skim of the article might also lead you to believe that there’s only $450,000 left, especially the way the quoted councillors are screaming ‘the end is nigh’.

I checked with Councillor Richard Hills, and he was able to tell me that there is in fact approximately $1.7 billion in Auckland Council’s ten year plan for purchase and upgrade of local parks plus a further $120 million for sports development. So we need not get our knickers in a twist about that per se.

I do follow a lot of these things with an element of frustration though. I feel like some of the public’s priorities are all wrong. I don’t agree with pushing speedway out of Western Springs and I don’t think we need a waterfront stadium.

The last upgrade of Eden Park cost $256 million and was only completed eight years ago. The stadium holds 50,000 people with room to add temporary seating for another 10,000. It’s full maybe three or four times a year in a good year. There is nothing particularly wrong with it. Why we need to bulldoze it and start again somewhere else is completely beyond me.

I have never liked the campaign against speedway at Western Springs. People who buy a house next to a speedway only to subsequently complain that there is a speedway there should get in the sea not be pandered to. I have some sympathy with the argument that cricket needs a proper oval somewhere and don’t object to money for that purpose but I see no reason why it can’t be at Auckland Council’s newly acquired Colin Maiden Park or even at Victoria Park if there must be something more central.

But to build three new stadia (one for speedway, one for cricket and one for rugby) when one would do the job just seems like a massive waste of the world’s resources. Meanwhile, where I do agree with Councillor Watson in the Stuff piece is where he says: “There’s a number of grassroots local parks in dire straits . . . it’s a real issue.”

It is a real issue alright, especially for football – all over Auckland. Not only is there a chronic lack of grounds in many parts of the city but there is also a massive issue with the state of a lot of them – particularly in perennially under resourced South Auckland.

My most recent ‘State of the Nation’ pitch report two years ago gave an average rating of just 6.29 out of ten for NRFL football pitches in the Super City. I would shudder to think what the non-NRFL clubs are like on the whole. And that was in the immediate aftermath of the U20 World Cup when a number of pitches had been recently upgraded to serve as training venues – I am told a number of them have regressed since. Further, I have also heard stories that some of the multi million dollar artificial pitches around the city are falling into bad disrepair.

And that’s just the turf. A lot of footballers will tell you that facilities like changing rooms are pretty bad in a lot of places too. I have heard stories of rain pouring in through light fittings at one central Auckland NRFL club I won’t name!

So yeah, stadiums are nice. I might watch sport at a fancy new waterfront stadium once a year or so on average. I might enjoy a nice strawberry at the cricket at Western Springs once or twice every five years or so. And I might go to speedway… Let’s not kid ourselves – that ain’t happening ever – but I’m no elitist and I think speedway fans deserve to enjoy their sport just as much as I do!

But what I cannot stomach is hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars going towards stadium musical chairs when there are basics to be taken care of.

And when every club footballer is playing on carpet, maybe we can have a boutique football stadium as well…

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/

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