Friday, October 10, 2008

Hindmarsh Vs AAMI - ACL Final Venue

Adelaide United are in with a huge chance of being the first A-league club to make a final of the AFC Champions League. After a 3-0 victory in the first leg of their semi final on Wednesday night (what a result!) they only need to prevent their opponents, Bunyodkor from winning the second leg by 3 clear goals and they will be through to the final - and will qualify for the Club World Cup.

It's been a brilliant run, a brilliant story and a happy ending seems very possible.

One big issue that has come up, is where Adelaide United should play the final match, should they get there. If Adelaide beats Bunyodkor, they will host the second leg of the Champions league final - against either Urawa or Gamba Osaka of Japan. On the surface, it would appear there are 3 options - Adelaide's traditional home ground, Hindmarsh Stadium, Adelaide Oval (where Adelaide have played a game in the past) or AAMI Stadium, the home of AFL in Adelaide.

Hindmarsh Stadium has been sold out for both Adelaide's Quarter and Semi final matches, which demonstrates the interest this tournament has generated in the city. The final would potentially draw a huge crowd, I would anticipate that even AAMI Stadium, which holds 52,000 people would be sold out for the final. Especially when you consider that we could have 10,000 fans coming from Japan for the game.

May would suggest, the best option would be Adelaide Oval. United have played there before, the venue is right in the heart of the city and it has a capacity of over 30,000. Unfortunately the Asian Football Confederation does not like grassed areas, so these may be unavaliable for the final, taking away the Oval's capacity advantage. Add to that, it is cricket season, and the pitch would not be in good condition for such an important match. Unfortunately, Adelaide Oval is out of the question.

What about AAMI Stadium, then? Is it a real option? I'm going to compare AAMI to hindmarsh, and try to outline all the advantages/disadvantages of AAMI, compared to Hindmarsh.

AAMI Stadium

AAMI Stadium is the home of Australian Rules football in South Australia. For many years it hosted SANFL matches, and more recently has hosted all home matches played by the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide in the AFL. It's an oval venue, it's stands have a gentle slope, and it has a second tier on one side, extending along one corner of the ground.
It's a poorly desinged venue in my opinion (why they built a second tier at the Northern end before putting a second tier on the outer side is beyond me). Even for AFL, the view for spectators is not good. If you attend a game of AFL at AAMI, you get used to watching half the match on the big screens. Not only that, but it is poorly located - crowds are definately affected by the stadiums location in West Lakes. The added drive time, plus the fact that there is not much to do before/after the game in West Lakes definately takes away from the experience of attending matches there.

Of course, if it's not a good venue for AFL - it's a terrible venue for football. The stands are quite a way from the action, and with a venue like AAMI you can't have the intimacy you get at Hindmarsh. The size of the playing surface isn't actually that bad. I used Google earth to compare AAMI's dimensions to a typical stadium with an athletics track (used commonly in world football) - this is the stadium I compared AAMI to, it's Miyagi Stadium in Japan, which hosted 3 world cup games in 2002:

The Miyagi stadium is about 10 metres longer than AAMI, and 2 metres narrower. If anything, AAMI should be better than Miyagi for football. Here are some dimensions of other oval grounds that have been used for football (all measurements are taken from the front row of seating):
AAMI Stadium: 143x182m
Ataturk (2005 UEFA Champions League Final Stadium): 130x190m
MCG: 148x177m
Olympic Park (Melbourne): 112x178m
Athens Olympic Stadium: 123x184m
Of course this doesn't take into account the slope of the stands, AAMI's stands have a very gentle slope, while most of the other stadiums have stands that rise steeply - so that those at the back are still fairly close to the action. Also, most stadiums with athletics tracks have the stands raised by a few metres, so if you are in the first row you are about 5m above the playing surface and still get a good view.
Still, AAMI doesn't seem all that bad to me - certainly no worse than the MCG, and not that far behind stadiums like the Telstra Dome or the Miyagi Stadium. I decided to try and 'visualise' what it would be like to attend a football match at AAMI, unfortunately I couldn't find any pictures of football matches which have been played at AAMI in the past (Argentina played Saudi Arabia at the venue 20 years ago - there has been an NSL game there as well), but this is what it would be like to watch football at AAMI:

Doesn't seem all that terrible, does it?

Of course there are other things to consider. By moving to AAMI stadium for one match, Adelaide United could have part of their home ground advantage taken away - a big home crowd could go part of the way towards making up for this, but I'm sure Aurelio Vidmar and the United players would ideally like to stick to familiar surroundings. Prehaps, if AAMI were to be used, United could hold a few training sessions there, to help with this.

Another thing to consider is the playing surface. It is not AFL season, so the turf at AAMI would be perfect, however one potential problems is that the surface at AAMI is not completely flat - the center is around 1 metre higher than the edges of the ground. This could be frowned upon by the AFC.

Overall though, AAMI doesn't seem like that bad a choice to me. Assuming the AFC allow it, we would make more money out of a game there (even though some of our money would probably have to go to the SANFL, who own the ground), and a lot of new supporters would get to see Adelaide United. It would also ensure that the hardcore fans (of both Adelaide and the away side) would not miss out on tickets. It would be good for the game to have 52,000 fans at the Champions league final.

Hindmarsh Stadium

On the other hand, we have Hindmarsh Stadium. Hindmarsh is United's home ground, and is a great place to watch football. You are nice and close to the action, the atmosphere is good (which happens when you have intimate venues), the surface is perfect and the general facilities are also good.

It does have it's problems - the ground is not that easily accessible, parking is hard to find, there is limited public transport to the venue and of course it only holds 17,000 people. All these problems are caused by the fact that Hindmarsh is situated quite close to roads and other businesses, meaning potential for expansion is very limited. Prehaps one day the surrounding properties could be bought, transport and parking could be improved, the ground could be expanded, and United could have a perfect home venue, but for now, this is irrelevant.

It has been suggested that temporary seating could be erected for the match - which was done for the Olympic football in 2000, but even if this could be organised in the few weeks we have untill the game, it would only allow another 3-4000 fans to attend.

If there's one major advantage that Hindmarsh has in this debate, it's the fact that it's United's home ground. The ACL final may well be very tight, and having a ground that the players are used to, may just be the difference. If we were to win the champions league, we would get an extra $200k in prizemoney (compared to coming second - of course we would probably gain more money than that from ticket sales if the match was played at AAMI), plus we would get an easier draw at the Club World Cup, and we would claim the title of Asia's best club. If United does end up playing the final at Hindmarsh, it should be for these reasons - if it wasn't for this, I think AAMI would be the obvious choice.

I think it would be a great shame, and maybe a little embarassing to have such a huge game played infront of only 17,000 fans. Not to metion the loss of income, when there are many who won't be able to get tickets, and many Japanese fans who won't travel to Adelaide, even though they would like to.

I would hate for dedicated supporters to miss out on seeing the game, and I do feel that it's better to have a ticket, than to have a perfect view.

For these reasons, I hope Adelaide United strongly considers AAMI Stadium as a venue for the ACL final, and I hope they do decide to hold the match there. Most of what I have read and heard in the press suggests that Adelaide United do plan to play the match at Hindmarsh (although there were some reports that they would look at AAMI stadium), but there is still time to reconsider.

In my opinion, the best thing to do, would be to use AAMI. Make the decision now, get into AAMI and install some good quality player benches, ensure the pitch is in as good condition as possible and try and get a good deal with the SANFL (so that the profit from the game goes to football, rather than AFL). It would seem appropriate, that United's biggest ever match, would be played in front of 50,000 fans.

Bye for now,