By Rod Gillett
AFL goal-posts are back up at the Olympic Park Stadium, now known as Accor Stadium.
The GWS Giants will host cross-town rivals the Sydney Swans at the stadium on Saturday (19 March) in Round 1 of the 2022 AFL season with the anticipation that Lance Franklin might kick the five goals he requires to reach the magic 1,000 figure.
The last AFL match to be played at the Stadium was 2016 qualifying final between the Swans and Giants which attracted a crowd of 60,222 won by the Giants.
This is the 53 rd AFL match to be played by the Swans at this venue. They played a series of “blockbusters” and finals games at the Olympic Stadium from 2002 through until 2015; this included ten finals.
As a matter of interest in the 10 games played against Collingwood the crowd was in excess of 50,000 each time.
” The game was opened up to a greater range of people from all over Sydney, especially western Sydney, as well as those to the north and south of the metropolitan area”, former Swans chairman Richard Colless, who was the key driver of the push to Olympic Park, told me in an interview recently in his office suite in Edgecliff.
Colless convinced the AFL hierarchy to invest in the re-configuration of the ground after the 2000 Olympic Games to provide for an oval – suitable for AFL football. The cost to the AFL was a modest annual rent. Neither Cricket Australia nor Cricket NSW were involved in any of the negotiations but were potential beneficiaries.
Colless told me, “The prevailing view was that post the Olympics the facility would be naturally configured for football codes that used a rectangular field”. He took the view this was literally a once in a century opportunity to take the game (i.e., AFL) to the people. Rather than the reverse given half Sydney’s population lived west of Homebush and found it difficult and at times impossible to get to the SCG.
“It required a compelling pitch to the AFL for them to grasp the opportunity as well as a strong argument to a cross-section of Swans administrators including coaching staff, of the benefits”, he added.
In summary, it exposed the game to an additional 2 million people (in the west of Sydney) and broke the monopoly the SCG held as to where AFL games could be staged.
The Sydney Swans set a record crowd for a home-and-away game outside of Victoria when 72,393 attended the Swans v Collingwood match on 23 August 2003. This was followed by a crowd of 71,019 at the preliminary final that year, between the Swans and (eventual premier) the Brisbane Lions.
AFL matches at Homebush enabled the Swans to leverage a better relationship with the SCG. In 2016 they played all their games at the SCG under a new 30-year deal with which to probably for the first time both parties were genuinely comfortable.
According to Colless, who served on the SCG Trust from 2014-2016, the first Australian football official since original trustee Phillip Sheridan (1876-1909), “The relationship is today an extremely professional one and it’s doubtful there is a more shared vision between any sporting facility landlord and a major tenant. For example, on two occasions when major work was being undertaken at the ground the Trust took the opportunity to extend its length. And it is now circa 10 metres longer than it was when the club first played there”.
For the Giants it will be just their third game at the Olympic Stadium. Their first-ever game in the AFL was Round 1 2012 when they were “home” to the Sydney Swans; they were convincingly beaten by 63 points, 5.7(37) to 14.16 (100). The crowd was an impressive 38,203. As already noted, they beat the Swans at the venue in the 2016 qualifying final.
The ledger going into Round 1 2022 is Swans 13 wins to the Giants nine.
(The extracts from the interview with Richard Colless are from an article published in the NSW Australian Football History Society’s forthcoming journal, Time On, to be released in April. This year’s special edition will be published at a commercial printery and again sent to all members of the Society.
The views expressed by Mr Colless are his, and his alone, and are not to be construed as the official view of the Sydney Swans Football Club)
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