Big stands at footy ovals celebrate grand times
By Richard Jones
There’s probably not too many footy followers from whichever age bracket who haven’t spent a bit of time watching his or her favourite team from a town grandstand.
Think of the famous structure at the Queen Elizabeth Oval.
What about the historic old stand at Canterbury Park or the multi-stepped one at the Kyneton Showgrounds. Not to mention Maryborough’s magnificent grandstand.
Maldon might not have a grandstand but it rates as the only footy ground in the nation with a courthouse on one wing.
Apparently the last case heard in the court, built in 1861, was a minor traffic case 108 years on. It was heard in 1969.
The building then fell into disrepair before refurbishments were completed back in 2001.
Rising damp was a major problem, but out on the field footballers have to cope with a rising surface.
Yep, the Maldon footy ground used to have an eight-metre rise from the eastern end, where the botanical gardens lie, to the other end.
During construction of the oval earth was gouged out of the rise to create the ground.
That eight-metre cantilever is now much less but it’s still there.
Spectators in the shadow of Mt. Tarrengower hover over the players below them from the top of a steep wall.
Meanwhile players --- especially forwards -– at the botanical gardens end look uphill as they try and anticipate attacking moves from teammates further upfield.
On a sunny winter’s day they have to shield their eyes as they peer up the rise. It’s even more acute as the last quarter gets under way with the sun dipping low down on the horizon.
Enough about Maldon and its wing-side courthouse.
Back to grandstands and Maryborough’s was the first built among the clubs in the BFNL.
It was built at Princes Park in 1895 and was modelled on South Melbourne’s famous old Lake Oval stand.
The lakeside stand might have gone, destroyed by fire, but Maryborough’s is still there.
Collingwood modelled a grandstand on the Maryborough model before it was demolished during renovations at Victoria Park in 1966.
The gardens around the Maryborough oval are landscaped and there’s a band rotunda behind the goals at the city end.
Pines and willows form a fringe around Lake Victoria, which divides Princes Park and Maryborough Rovers’ adjacent Jubilee Oval.
Originally adorned with a blue roof that structure was blown off the Princes Park stand during a storm in 1960.
Country footy historian Paul Daffey has a few interesting observations to make about footy grandstands, particularly in central Victoria.
“The stands in the Victorian goldfields celebrate the vanity of men rather than the valour of fallen soldiers.
“Towns such as Ballarat, Bendigo and Maryborough created ostentatious displays of wealth which contrasted with the mood brought on by the 1890s depression down in Melbourne,” he wrote, back in 2003.
He harked back to the uproar here a year earlier (2002) from comments which Paul had heard when the proposed re-development of the Queen Elizabeth Oval first surfaced.
We’ll return to that shortly. The impressive grandstand was completed in 1901 and has regularly featured as the central stage for senior grand final medal presentations.
At least the part of the grandstand closest to the South Bendigo rooms end. It has a podium where players march up the stairs from below to receive their premiership medallions.
The ground was known as the Upper Reserve (to differentiate it from the Lower Reserve, better known now as Rosalind Park) until 1954 when it was renamed the QEO in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation tour.
But what about the shape of that famous and time-honoured QEO turf?
Well, an uproar was caused here in 2002 when a proposed re-development scheme was handed to the city council.
No one disagreed with plans for refurbishing the oval. But plans to alter the shape of the ground brought fans out in their hundreds.
So what was the uproar about? The old QEO was more or less rectangular as anyone can see from shots taken from the Rosalind Park tower which are still easy to access on-line.
Back in the day the rectangular ground hosted concurrent cricket matches, on two separate pitches, until the early 1980s.
Two decades on and the council decided with only one central pitch there was now no need for deep pockets at both the city and Barnard Street ends.
The council voted to chop nine metres off each pocket allowing the oval to take on the same shape of most Australian footy grounds.
As well as that the fences would need to be brought in to allow spectators to see the action along the new contours.
Footy co-tenants Sandhurst and South Bendigo made it clear to councillors that they liked the old shape. So, too, did most of their rival clubs in the BFL.
And then with the early to mid-Noughties drought in full blast the scheme fell into the bottom drawer and objectors were able to rally their forces.
Nonetheless the Advertiser Letters to the Editor columns of the day were packed with comments from those arguing that the square shape was “an aberration of history” while others penned pleas for the shape to be retained.
The decision to cut the square pockets and straight wings was reversed. But it re-surfaced again once the rains returned to central Victoria and a complete re-furbishment was undertaken over the summer months of 2010-2011.
The ground was scraped back to bedrock, new soil and grass plus underground water piping added with the first BFL game on the new oval surface played in June, 2011.
Out at Eaglehawk the Canterbury Park stand was restored by the then Eaglehawk Borough Council as part of its bi-centennial project.
It was officially re-opened by mayor Cr. Jack Taylor on March 27th 1988 and in more recent times has been re-furbished once again.
The adjacent new $2.2 million community pavilion (containing change rooms and a large recreational space) was ready for use by April 2017, but its only upstairs viewing area is strictly for a coach, the two timekeepers and journalists: print and radio.
It’s next-door to the grandstand which has also been updated. The magnificent old stand was discussed at a Borough of Eaglehawk meeting on October 3rd 1899 and architect Mr H.E. Vahland was asked whether it would be ready for Christmas celebrations that year.
The hold-up had occurred because a Melbourne planning body had stipulated that steel, not iron, would have to be used in the construction.
Mr Vahland assured councillors and officers that he’d always used steel in his projects and was confident the stand would be ready by Xmas.
So the Canterbury Park stand is actually close to 120 years old and remains one of country footy’s most impressive structures.
Thanks to Paul Daffey and his 2003 publication Beyond The Big Sticks: Country Football Around Australia.