Melbourne Victory is likely to become a victim of its own success with reports that the Victorian state government is second-guessing its plans to construct a purpose-built rectangular stadium for the A-League club and the NRL’s Melbourne Storm.

With another 30,000-strong crowd attending Victory’s 2-1 loss to Queensland Roar at the Telstra Dome on Friday, people are continuing to vote with their feet. Melbourne Victory has been made part of Melbourne’s extended sporting family.

With nearly 300,000 people passing through the gates to see their 11 home games this year, attendances have exceeded all expectations. And that’s where things have become messy for the club, the state government and Victory’s current landlord, Telstra Dome.

The original plans for the new stadium to be built in the Olympic Park precinct was for a 20,000 seat venue with the capacity to expand to 25,000. With average attendances at Victory games at Telstra Dome now hovering around 29,000, it became obvious to fans that if those plans went ahead, some would miss out.

Pressure has been building on the club and the state government to expand the capacity of the venue but this is unlikely in the short term.

Due to its initial agreement with Telstra Dome, the government faces a compensation payout to Telstra Dome’s operators if it underwrites a venue above 25,000 capacity that would put competitive pressure on the Dome up until 2010.

And with the state in drought and myriad costly infrastructure issues arising out of both the bushfire and water scarcity issues, no state government is going to be seen to be spending its hard-earned to put more bums on stadium seats while the a-se is falling out its pants in the bush.

Victory can continue playing at Telstra Dome and make the most of its facilities regardless of what happens at Olympic Park. The winter program for the Asian Champions League will present scheduling headaches for Telstra Dome, but that can also be overcome.

The real loser in all this is Melbourne Storm. Promised a brand spanking new home, it now looks as if they’ll be stuck in the old Olympic Park, which is now a relic compared to other venues.

If rugby league was going to have any chance of finding a new audience in Melbourne, it needed a new home. It now looks unlikely to happen.

And while Melbourne claims to be one of the world’s great sporting cities, it is kidding itself if it doesn’t have a purpose-built rectangular stadium for the most popular game in the world.

Francis Leach is the match day MC at Melbourne Victory home games.

Peter Fray

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