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Official Review by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Concord Oval, originally known as St Luke’s Park, was first used as a rugby venue in 1900 although an official opening didn’t occur until 1932 following an upgrade. Concord was later earmarked to become the major rugby venue in Sydney, and in 1985 underwent a significant renovation to boost capacity to 20,000. Concord Oval was a major venue for the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987, hosting six games including the semi-final between Australia and France, arguably the match of the tournament.
From 1985 until the professional era commenced in 1996 Concord was the home of the NSW Rugby Union, hosting all NSW Waratahs games and Sydney club rugby grand finals. Indeed the venue was known as Waratah Stadium for many years. It was a somewhat controversial decision to base rugby away from its traditional home at Moore Park and the SCG, and test rugby moved to the Sydney Football Stadium when it opened in 1989. A long term lease and a significant financial investment meant NSW Rugby were based at Concord until 2003.
Despite its drawbacks, this writer fondly remembers Sunday afternoon Waratah games on the hill at Concord with specific reference to the mercurial Singleton truck-driving halfback Steve Merrick, who carved up Queensland in a man-of-the-match performance in 1995 which saw him win a Wallaby call up later that year.
Management of the ground now resides with the City of Canada Bay Council. The West Harbour Pirates who play in the Sydney grade rugby competition have been based at Concord since the early 1900s. While it may be an older venue now, Concord Oval is arguably the best club rugby ground in Australia. The Wests Tigers NRL team have also used the ground as a training base since 2004. Several NRL games were played at Concord in the mid-1990s.
The Greater Sydney Rams are one of three Sydney franchises competing in the new National Rugby Championship (NRC) along with the North Harbour Rays and Sydney Stars, providing a third tier of professional rugby in Australia. The Rams are representative of the “Greater Sydney catchment area,” broadly comprising players from the Sydney grade rugby clubs of Eastwood, Parramatta, West Harbour, Penrith and Southern Districts. The organisation itself is a private company comprising 75% investment from the private sector and 25% from the clubs involved (excluding Eastwood).
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Only the very basics are available with your selection limited to meat pies, sausage rolls, hot dogs and a small number of snack items. Soft drinks, water and canned beer are also on offer. On the plus side the service is friendly, there are no queues to speak of, and prices are cheap. Head under the western stand to visit the food stand.
There are grandstands on either side of the ground with small hill areas at each end. The western stand has 3,000 seats and also houses change rooms, training and recovery facilities, and broadcast booths. The eastern stand has seating for 6,500 and also includes a gym and some seating boxes. There is also a small amount of seating at ground level along the eastern touchline. Seats are old bucket style, but comfortable enough. There are thin metal poles in the mid-section of the western stand but it's easy enough to position yourself so that they do not obstruct your vision. There is a manual scoreboard and time clock in the south eastern corner.
The stadium is starting to look unloved and worn out. The eastern stand in particular is strewn with litter and the seats are quite dirty. There's obviously been little or no investment since the 1980s. Note if you want to sit on the hill areas, the southern hill is maintained much better than the northern hill.
There are a few hidden gems to be found. Under the western stand there are still some throwbacks to when the Waratahs were based here, with several large black and white photos adorning the walls. West Harbour Rugby Club also have their honour boards here, plus you can see the Wests Tigers offices towards the northern end of the corridor. There are also several plaques to be found on the gates as you enter the western edge of the property.
One of the biggest complaints levelled at Concord Oval as an interstate and international venue in the 80s and 90s was a complete lack of atmosphere in the neighbourhood surrounding the stadium. That remains the case today. The southern end of the ground backs onto Parramatta Road, and a typical sprawl of warehouses, discount retail shops and the occasional pub. Directly opposite the stadium is the Burwood Bus Depot.
The areas to the north and east are parkland and western Sydney suburbia. If you're desperate for a pre or post match option close by then head a few minutes south to Club Burwood, an RSL club (Australian ex-service organisation) with the standard bar and dining options. In this part of Sydney Olympic Park and the more trendy areas around Leichhardt will likely offer you a better experience.
The Rams generally have a good fan base including an official supporters group, known as the Horned Army. Unfortunately this wasn't really on display the game we attended with only a small crowd in attendance. Perhaps the Rams have somewhat divided up their fan base by choosing to utilise four different home grounds for 2015; Pirtek Stadium, Granville Park, Forshaw Rugby Park, and Concord Oval. Those that make the effort to turn up do a good job of supporting the Rams, although there seems to be less merchandise in the crowd than in past seasons.
Concord Oval is in the inner-west of Sydney and accessible by car, bus, or train. The nearest train station is Burwood, a short walk away. Car parking is free in surrounding streets or you can pay $5 for the convenience of utilising the car park immediately to the north of the stadium. If you arrive a little early, then avoiding the $5 should be easy enough. Once inside it's easy to access all areas of the venue. Bathrooms under the western stand are old but serviceable and probably in better condition than other areas of the ground.
Pleasingly, tickets for the Rams game at Concord are $10 cheaper than the games at Parramatta the previous season, with adults costing $15 and children under 15 getting in for free. This, along with the low price of food and free parking, makes a Rams game at Concord a cheap family day out, and well worth the total cost.
Take note of the hedges at the southern end of the ground that are trimmed to spell out "Concord Oval." It's also worth scoring an extra point for the various memorabilia located around the venue - including noting that the goalposts here were once officially the tallest in the southern hemisphere.
If you can only choose one Rams home game to attend then you'll likely have a better all-round experience at Pirtek Stadium. Having said that, Concord is still worth seeing at least once due to its unique history. A master plan was developed several years ago with plans to upgrade the stadium to international standards once again but so far this has not come to fruition. It will be interesting to see the Rams' venue strategy for 2016 and beyond.
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