Push to fund regional soccer centre of excellence

Morwell MLA Russell Northe (pictured with Falcons coach Mark Cassar, left and president Tony Salvatore, right) believes the completion of the Latrobe City Sports and Entertainment Centre masterplan could see Morwell become a host in the 2023 Women's World Cup. Photo: Zac Standish

Zac Standish

MORWELL MLA Russell Northe is leading the charge to pump funds into the Latrobe City Sports and Entertainment Centre, which would transform the Morwell facility into a football centre of excellence capable of attracting elite level competition.
Despite a masterplan to improve the stadium precinct being commissioned, developed and approved by Latrobe City Council in 2019, Mr Northe believed more progress had to be made towards completing the redevelopment as the region eyed off being a host venue of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which will held in Australia and New Zealand.
He described the details behind this redevelopment project and why it is urgent funding is secured as quickly as possible.
“Costings have been done where we know around $13 million is required to redevelop this precinct into a football centre of excellence and there is some urgency attached this as I believe that if we could have a modern redeveloped site here, there is the ability to attract practice games and even be a host through the 2023 Women’s World Cup,” Mr Northe said.
“Football Victoria have very clearly said to me that if this plan was funded we could have the second best football stadium in Victoria and that is precisely what I want to see, which would obviously give us more opportunity to host nations and games as part of that tournament.
“I just think this is a massive opportunity that shouldn’t be missed — we have the masterplan ready to go, we know what is required to develop the site, and all we simply need now is minimal funding from all levels of government to make this happen.
“There are some items of the masterplan that have been advanced which is good, but there are still a plethora of items that we need funding for – that goes all the way to the grandstand, to the pitch itself and the facilities that are here at the moment,” he said.
“In the past we have still been able to attract games of football and other events at this precinct, but that gets harder when you have a relatively low standard of facilities and playing surface, and the only way we can remediate that is to find funding and transform this into a football centre of excellence, as marked out by the masterplan.”
The redevelopment of this facility would be pivotal to revitalising the game in the region,  with president of home club Falcons, Tony Salvatore, saying it was time the stadium received a much needed upgrade.
“We have spent quite a few years with the grand plan and now it is time for that to come into fruition — it is a stadium that is too big just for the one club. Obviously we love the history of the club and there no other club in Australia with history quite like Falcons, but we would be delighted with the redevelopment,” he said.
“While work has been done, through state government, council and the clubs, to start improving the facility, it is still run down and needs to be addressed because there are health and safety issues and concerns for players, staff and spectators — so despite all its great history we believe it is time for a new era.”
Mr Northe said the potential of hosting elite level football at the stadium would be a massive boost for not only the club, but region as a whole.
“It (elite level football) is what everyone would dream about, when we had the best football in our backyard people would come and now if we were a host venue for these A-League games or the Women’s World Cup it would just improve the sport,” he said.
“It would motivate our community to participate at a much higher level and would inspire someone to want to be an elite champion in the sport.
“You can’t buy that and it is something we would all love to see come out of this area. If you look at the history of Latrobe Valley football it was probably Falcons that inspired some of these players that played A League for many years – so to me the big picture is priceless.”
In terms of getting the wheels in motion, Mr Northe outlined his correspondence with state and federal government regarding this issue.
“I have formally written to the sport and recreation ministers at state and federal level and haven’t received a reply at this point in time,” he said.
“Time is of the essence if we are to go hard and try and attract an event through the 2023 Women’s World Cup, we can’t wait until next year’s budget or the following year’s budget or election commitments. What we really need now is the state and federal governments to come on board and talk with council about this unique opportunity.”
Football Victoria chief executive Kimon Taliadoros said the Latrobe City Sports and Entertainment Centre was the centrepiece of FV’s strategy to grow the game in Gippsland.
“This upgraded masterplan represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity and would again position Morwell as the undisputed football hub in Victoria’s south-east,” he said.
“This facility is one of our most iconic and historic pieces of football infrastructure, symbolising decades of aspirations for football in the Latrobe Valley. With the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup expected to spark a major surge in participation, particularly among women and girls, now is the time to start writing the next chapters in the story of this famous facility.”
“FV looks forward to working closely with the key stakeholder groups to realise this critically important project.”
The state government was contacted for comment.