Australian football is to return to Whitten Oval, with Western United planning on bringing an A-League fixture to the ground on Australia Day.
The expansion club, which has previously played games at Geelong’s Kardinia Park and Ballarat’s Mars Stadium, is set to host Adelaide United at the ground on January 26 in round 16 - a fixture originally pencilled in for Kardinia.
“Western United is a club that brings top-class football to the whole community of the greater West,” Western United CEO Chris Pehlivanis said in announcing the plans.
“Which is why the Green and Black are playing in Geelong and Ballarat this season and have plans in place for a boutique stadium in Tarneit.
“We will continue to be a club for all who call the West home as we take this journey together.
“Relocating our A-League Round 16 fixture to Whitten Oval gives the club’s growing fanbase an opportunity to taste the A-League at another family-friendly, community venue in the West."
According to Australian football stats doyen Andrew Howe, there have been eight previous Australian top-flight games staged at what was then known as the Western Oval, five hosted by Footscray JUST and three by Melbourne BUSC.
The last game occurred on 14 November 1993, when Newcastle Breakers defeated BUSC 2-0 thanks to goals from Warren Spink and Rod Brown.
A western suburbs institution, the ground currently serves as Australian Rules Football side Western Bulldogs' administrative home, AFL training base and AFLW home ground.
However, with the Bulldogs' AFL side scheduled to take part in a training camp on the Sunshine Coast that weekend and the AFLW season not starting until February, a bargain was reached.
“Hosting A-League football at Whitten Oval is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the broad capability of our venue and to connect with a new audience,” Bulldogs’ CEO Ameet Bains said.
“We have been able to create a unique, family-friendly atmosphere for sporting events we have hosted at Whitten Oval, particularly in the summer months at our AFLW matches.
“We were pleased to work with Western United to make this game happen on Australia Day, and we look forward to helping them to ensure the event is a success.”
While United have been competitive on the field in their first season, their presence has not given the A-League the immediate shot in the arm administrators hoped for when they were announced as one of two expansion sides in late 2018.
Playing the majority of their home games at a cavernous, 36,000 capacity Kardinia Park in front of crowds ranging from ~4K to ~10k has done few favours to the club in their attempts to establish a culture and distinct atmosphere around themselves.
In contrast, while still being played at an Australian Rules oval with a suspect surface, their lone home fixture at Mars Stadium in front of 5084 fans produced a much-improved atmosphere thanks to the relatively more intimate surrounds - as well as a helpful assist from boisterous Wellington Phoenix fans.