The Age 30th July 2018
Since 1888, two of the state's longest-running sporting clubs have co-existed on one of the city's most iconic sporting arenas in one of Melbourne's oldest suburbs.
Williamstown Cricket Club has played at Williamstown Cricket Ground (aka Burbank Oval or Point Gellibrand Oval) every summer since it was founded in 1852. Williamstown Football Club have played VFA and now VFL football at the ground every winter since 1888.
The oval in question is perhaps the most picturesque in Victoria. It sits on the edge of Hobsons Bay and is renowned for its beautiful seaside setting, which — infamously — can quickly turn into a gusty, rainy mess.
But the historic WCC-WFC co-tenancy could soon come to an end, after the WFC approached Hobsons Bay Council with a proposal to move the cricket club away
The football club – known as the Seagulls – are concerned about the state of the ground during winter footy seasons, particularly the large wicket area in its centre.
They want drainage installed and are worried that works to the outfield only will leave VFL, VFLW and reserve AFL footy players running on uneven grass covered with mud at some spots and strong growth in others.
Andrew Davies is a former WCC president. He played 300 senior games for the club, is a life member, premiership captain and current club umpire. Mr Davies "can't understand" why the co-tenancy can't continue.
"I am pretty disgusted to be honest," Mr Davies said. "I have been involved with the cricket club for 50 years and I have had a bit to do with the footy club as well, I played as a junior there, but my parents live across the road from the WCG, it's a long history.
"We train our senior cricketers on Tuesdays and Thursdays so WFC have access to the ground for training in their pre-season, which is our time, and we say 'Yeah, go for it, just stay off the wicket area'."
He said it would be a shame if future generations of cricketers were robbed of the chance to train and play at the iconic venue, which has been a cherished summer pastime for thousands of people since 1852.
"It's just fantastic to be down there under those conditions at the ground. Those memories, you can't replicate those sort of things. It's unique. I am not sure why they think they've got the right to do this."
WFC said a better surface would mean more of their teams get to play at the ground, but that could come at the cost of the cricket. Some VFL matches at the oval have almost been abandoned due to the state of the field, including a recent clash with Geelong that featured a number of AFL-listed players.
The footy club's first priority is to secure funding for upgraded women's facilities at the ground. After that's in place, they want to bring the cricket club to the table to discuss ways to improve the surface, which they concede could include moving from the ground.
The Seagulls first asked the cricket club if they would move to another facility in Williamstown - two upgraded ovals near Bayside High School - in early 2017.
The WCC considered the proposal, which would be part-funded by the WFC, but rejected it. WFC have re-introduced the Bayside High School upgrade proposal to the council as part of the push for female facilities and better drainage.
"We haven't engaged the cricket club yet [in the second proposal] but we have mentioned it to council," Williamstown Football Club CEO Jason Reddick said.
"We're not the big bullies trying to push off a club that's been there longer than us.
"In 2017 we found a venue that ticked all the requirements in terms of what WCC said they wanted but they came back and said 'Nope we don't want to go'. We haven't re-visited with them since then so basically we have moved on to work on other facilities and once we get those in place we want to come back to the table with the cricket club."
But a "WFC club facilities proposal" created in August 2017 and put to council this month is clearer.
Under a heading titled "The Goal", WFC wrote: "[We seek a] secure a long-term full-year lease that facilitates football participation at all levels and across all player categories" and "[to] relocate Williamstown Cricket Club to a purpose-built cricket facility at Bayside College that supports connection to a school academy system".
Hobsons Bay Council supports shared use of the oval. But given the council owns the venue and manages the lease, the cricket club remains concerned about the football club re-introducing the proposal to move them away, given they have already expressed a clear desire to stay.
WFC made more than $7.4 million last financial year from its 66 pokies machines at its Seagulls Nest Club in Newport.