Everybody loses in Sydney's turf wars

"Unacceptable. Dangerous. Deplorable"

Not the headlines football fans in Sydney wanted to wake up to following their dramatic late win over Melbourne Victory. But once again, the nomadic life of a Sydney football or rugby team had claimed a victim.

The knee injury suffered by Melbourne Victory midfielder Terry Antonis on Saturday night has brought the issue of Sydney's stadiums into laser sharp focus. The talented playmaker caught the edge of the SCG square, tumbled to the ground in pain, and was stretchered off the pitch.

On closer inspection the ground around the solid square was patchy, grassless and soft to the point of dangerous. Put bluntly, junior football should not have been played on that ground, let alone a professional game.

Concerns were raised prior to the match but a spokesperson for the SCG Trust insisted that "the field had been inspected by independent experts in the past two weeks, with satisfactory results recorded for all codes."

"No issues were raised during inspections of the field of play by match or team officials before the recent training sessions and fixtures."

So the game went ahead with disastrous consequences -- at least for Melbourne Victory -- and the repercussions will be felt for some time. The player's union, the PFA, have called for an investigation "given the deplorable state of the SCG's pitch, and the clear danger it posed to player safety" CEO John Didulica said.

"As demonstrated last night, cricket wickets present an unreasonable danger to the health and safety of footballers and it remains the view of the PFA that players are under no obligation to participate in matches when such risks are present."

In Sydney the debate for many months has been - can we build a stadium? The recent state election has resolved that question, but in reality we can't look after the ones we already have.

In the past two months, an NRL trial and an A-League match at Brookvale Oval have been moved due to a dangerous surface, and the Matildas' Tournament of Nations clash with New Zealand ended up at Leichhardt Oval at short notice, after Kogarah's pitch was deemed unacceptable following criticism of its threadbare condition during the W-League Grand Final.

Add to this constant running repairs at the Waratah's opening match at the SCG, the continual poor crowds turning up to the football codes in cavernous ovals, and the Sydney Football Stadium half demolished, and the situation looks bleak in the city.

At Sydney's premier venue, the beautiful and historic Sydney Cricket Ground, the outlook is not good. The arrival of rugby union, league and football has pushed the overstretched ground to its limit.

The SCG ground staff replaced over 3000 square metres of turf following the mauling it received in that Waratahs fixture, but the situation has worsened with Sydney's humid, autumnal storms hitting the ground -- often during matches -- making an even, consistent playing surface impossible to achieve, given the high foot traffic, and quick turnover between games.

For the time being, it appears Sydney FC are ruling out any more games at the SCG. The south and inner west will host the Sky Blues in future, with ANZ Stadium a potential Grand Final venue, should one be required.

But what of the rest? There are already whispers around the Roosters looking away from their Eastern Suburbs roots, and the Tahs NSW roadshow may become a permanent move. In NRL, there is a push to go back to the old suburban grounds, but that issue is muddied by the almost unplayable state of some venues like Brookvale on the Northern Beaches. A council owned ground, Brookvale is open to the general public and regularly has hundreds of recreational touch footy, and five-aside football matches played on its surface during the week.

Add to this the need for sufficient corporate and broadcast facilities to satisfy the paymasters in each code, and the players and fans are left wondering 'who are the real key stakeholders'?

With the issues around safety and the pitches swirling across multiple sports, the push will surely come again to implement the now familiar drop-in pitch to the SCG. Back in 2011, then SCG Trust chair Rodney Cavalier said "Even if the Sydney Cricket Ground is the last cricket ground in the world, the Sydney Cricket Ground will not have a drop-in wicket."

The push came again in early 2018 and was once again rebuffed, with Cricket NSW launching an impassioned plea to retain the original characteristics of the venue. But now with the Trust facing a public relations disaster, and also juggling the SFS rebuild, will the resolve still be as strong?

The Swans, the ground's anchor tenant for winter, are firmly in the drop-in camp.

"The Sydney Swans experience grounds like the Adelaide Oval and the MCG who manage elite sporting surfaces with a drop-in wicket, so we would support this being considered," Swans chief executive officer Tom Harley said in a statement issued by the club.

A glimmer of light comes in the west, as Parramatta get ready to throw open the doors of BankWest Stadium over Easter. The new venue has gained universal approval for its intimate design and will host the Eels, Tigers, Wanderers and some Waratahs matches over the next 12 months. But how long until we see Sydney's other clubs heading west, in desperate hope of a pitch rather than a minefield?

The challenge then becomes the fans. In Sydney sporting fans are notorious for not travelling. The swathes of empty seats at the old SFS, the SCG and ANZ Stadium attest to that. But pretty soon they may have no choice. With the new Moore Park ground still years away, Go West may become the motto for football in Australia's premier city.