Cat’s Cradle

Simonds Stadium

At time of writing, the footy season was approaching its climax as the finals began. On the ladder, the Geelong Cats had closed back to second behind the Hawks. Familiar territory for such a successful club – no change there.

But for Geelong itself, change is very much in the air. Forever – and perhaps unfairly – associated solely with the Ford auto plant there, the city, the surrounding area and the local authorities are preparing for the jolt that Ford’s departure will bring and planning a variety of means to improve the lives of the local people.

There is a considerable body of opinion to suggest that the ending of such a tight relationship between the city and the carmaker could be a springboard for Geelong to better things rather than a disaster and the City Council is certainly working hard in that direction. It owns and operates the stadium that is home to the Cats, and a major push is underway to extend the reach of this valuable facility and enhance its value to the community.

In 1877, Geelong joined the Victorian Association as a Foundation Member. The team was known as ‘The Seagulls’ for years, then ‘The Pivotonians’ because Geelong was the pivot point for all railway and shipping for Ballarat and western district merchandise. Years of domination followed as from 1878 Geelong won seven VFA premierships in nine years. Corio Oval was the headquarters until 1940 when the ground was taken over for military training – so they moved again, this time to Kardinia Park in Moorabool Street. Kardinia is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘sunrise’.

Since then the ground has played host to the Cats’ most successful eras, with six successive top four finishes between 1951 and 1956, including premierships in 1951 and 1952 as well as four grand final appearances between 1989 and 1995, followed by three premierships during the first decade of the new millennium.

Located 75 kilometres southwest of Melbourne but only a kilometre from the Geelong city centre, Simonds Stadium is a modern stadium but one which still gives fans an old-fashioned footy experience with its relaxed atmosphere and standing room terraces. Capacity has been around 33,000.

The council became involved in running the stadium in 2006 in a move aimed at both supporting the local footy team and attracting more sporting and entertainment events to the area. Natalie Valentine is Manager of Simonds Stadium and co-ordinator of sports venues at the council; in addition to the Cats’ cradle, there are two outside ovals and netball facilities and three other sports arenas in the city. Natalie enjoys the challenges these present. “They can be quite diverse day to day and each AFL match throws up its own different challenges,” she explains. “But we have the opportunity to grow the stadium and provide further opportunities for the wider community.”

Simonds is unusual in that there is a ‘sitting tenant’ in the formidable form of the Cats. The footy club trains there up to six days per week, so it is hardly standing empty like the traditional sports venue might (the numbers are approximately 350 hours of training across VFL and AFL teams per year as well as more than 40 actual matches in various leagues).

Natalie has visions of bringing more people from Melbourne and the wider national community (Avalon airport is close by) down to Geelong to see not only AFL but a widening range of other events. Already the Simonds has hosted national A-League and W-League Soccer, Super Rugby (Union – in League, Melbourne Storm trained there earlier this year), Nitro Circus, SuperX motorcycles, domestic first class cricket matches and, in something of a different league, as it were, two visits from the Dalai Lama. Although it may seem an unrealistic ambition to attract other top events away from Melbourne with its plethora of sports complexes, some of them with much greater capacity, the council remains serious; there are parallels and precedents. Newcastle, up in NSW, is doing well in this respect and taking some events away from Sydney. Horses for courses, perhaps? Sometimes an event that can attract 30,000 people – but not, say, 80,000 – feels far more exciting if the stadium is bursting at the seams rather than half empty.

Natalie explains that it is not a question of competition between venues. “We are aiming to be Victoria’s third stadium and to be known as the best regional stadium in Australia,” she says. “We can – and we aim to – deliver similar programmes to those at the Etihad and the MCG.” The numbers are different; yes, Simonds is smaller, but per population it frequently gets a better response than the bigger venues in the state capital.

And there has been significant investment in renovation. The 9,000-plus seater Players Stand opened in May and was a $42 million development, accompanied by $10 million of lighting to enable night events and a 120 square metre video board that cost another million. All the projects were supported by federal government, the Geelong Football Club and the City of Greater Geelong. A ‘phase 4’ development is now under way, featuring upgrades to just about all other features. Natalie promises that an area of standing room will be retained for tradition’s sake and that the reconstruction will be staged to minimise disruption. However, no completion date has yet been set.

The Simonds is also in the process of putting together a new brand identity which will be rolled out as part of promoting the facilities and capabilities. Music and shows will be accommodated in the stadium as well as sports-oriented events (20-20 cricket is a target as well as more of both rugby codes). Geelong is looking forward to welcoming a wider audience to this corner of Victoria – for everyone’s benefit.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:25 AM AEDT