Doveton playing away and angry

Doveton's John Stapleton and Brian Oates express grievance at the situation. 342768 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS.

By Jonty Ralphsmith

Southern Football Netball League (SFNL) Division 2 club Doveton is all but certain to play no games at its home ground in 2023.

Robinson Reserve has been out of action so far this footy season due to a $240,000 drainage renewal project undertaken by the City of Casey.

The project, part of the 2022-23 capital works program, was initially slated to begin on 12 September 2022 with the expectation that cricket would be played on the ground after Christmas.

However, contractor availability and turf and material shortages caused the works to not begin until February 2023.

An email sent by council to the affected clubs in 2021, sighted by Star News, stated that the expected time frame was six to eight weeks with ideal conditions being from February to April.

“As this would provide the best weather conditions for the turf to be laid and ready for the footy season,” the email read in part.

Despite works beginning in February, the return-to-play date is still yet to be confirmed by the council.

At the time, Doveton received email communication that the expectation was that the works would be completed by the end of March.

The football club had been cautiously optimistic of playing on Robinson Reserve late in the season but, due to weather, this prospect now looks unlikely.

As of this week, the club is able to train on Robinson Reserve but the council has discouraged them from doing so.

The council on multiple occasions has dumped a pile of sand at Robinson Reserve, which those at the club have dispersed.

Access to the club room on training nights and game day is still possible.

“Whilst the works were completed prior to the commencement of the 2023 football season, due to seasonal wet conditions the new turf has not knitted together effectively, and the soil is soft,” said City of Casey Manager City Presentation Mardi Cuthbert.

“In its current condition, the surface is not safe for players and umpires to play on.

“At this stage, it is unlikely to be available for the remainder of the 2023 season, however council will continue to monitor the surface condition and will continue to provide regular updates to the club should conditions improve.”

To compensate for the loss of home games, City of Casey invested into Reid Oval, which is on the same site as Robinson Reserve.

Lights have been repaired, line marking has been undertaken and new goal posts have been installed, the playing surface now well-maintained.

However, the football club was forced to reschedule its first four home games elsewhere, with Reid Oval only available from round nine.

The club said it received no assistance from council in the rescheduling of those initial home games.

It was able to effectively swap its home games with Caulfield and Highett to the return clashes later in the season.

The game against Hampton Park was played at Cranbourne Football Club’s Livingston Reserve and the game against Murrumbeena was played at Narre Warren North Recreation Reserve.

That pair of games away from Robinson Reserve resulted in significantly reduced revenue, with home games typically bringing in $5000 from the canteen, gate and bar.

The lack of shelter at Reid Oval has been a deterrent for attendance in the last three weeks according to those at the club, while canteen and bar sales are still reduced.

The location of the ground also makes it impossible to charge a gate fee as Doveton typically would.

The football club acknowledges that there will be long-term benefits to the project, with the council highlighting that it will improve surface drainage, extend the life of the turf, and increase usability.

The centre cricket wicket is also being replaced.

The Doves, however, expressed serious concern to Star News about the implications of missing a full season of true home games given they believed they had a suitable playing surface.

As well as the game-by-game monetary loss, the club chose to cancel the 1982, 1983 and 1984 premiership reunions scheduled for August this season due to the impracticality and logistics as a result of the works.

The club’s annual white ribbon event, scheduled for 1 July, was also cancelled.

President John Stapleton is furious about the situation.

“The club is separated now more than ever with playing our home games and training on an adjoining oval and having our main clubrooms and amenities next door at our traditional venue,” Stapleton said.

“We are really worried about what this means for the football club.

“It’s putting at risk the survival and sustainability of the club after the difficulties already endured through Covid-19.

“We’re getting reports, not real actions, solutions and timelines.

“It’s a disaster all round and we are all at a wits end with the entire process.”

The club is receiving fortnightly updates, with the council also meeting with them on-site and providing information regarding grants but Doveton believe the dialogue to be insufficient.

Fellow City of Casey SFNL club Hampton Park is also off its home ground, Robert Booth Reserve, this season due to the construction of a new pavilion, set to be completed in October.

The club has instead been playing home games at Tony Way Recreation Reserve in Cranbourne West, but did not have access to that facility until round 9.

Civil works and the installation of meters were still yet to be completed by AGL/Ausnet and Origin/APA with the club regularly updated.

The Redbacks now have a glut of games at the expansive ground in the second half of the season, after swapping many home games in the first portion of the season.

Doveton and Hampton Park currently sit third and fifth on the Division 2 ladder respectively.