Melbourne City finally have a geographical location to call their own, with the club set to conduct a staged relocation to Melbourne's South East over the coming years.
Set to be formally announced on Tuesday morning, an agreement between the club and local governments City of Casey and City of Greater Dandenong will see City's A-League and W-League sides, as well as their youth academy, relocated to a purpose-built, elite sporting complex at Casey Fields.
Earmarked as the "Etihad City Football Academy," the new facility will feature an elite training pitch, four full-sized floodlit pitches, a facility to house the club's performance and administrative staff. As part of the plans, space has also been earmarked for the possible construction of a 4,000 seat "mini-stadium."
The four floodlit pitches and suitably facilities already in place as part of "stage one" plans, City's academy sides will move into their new home in February 2021 and will seek to stage NPL fixtures in the region during the coming NPL season, while their A- and W-League sides will complete stage an interim occupation following the completion of their seasons ahead of a full move in early 2022.
City will continue to play A-League fixtures at AAMI Park in coming seasons. However, as part of their integration efforts, City's W-League side will play a number of games at Frank Holohan Soccer Complex -- the home of NPL Victoria side Dandenong City -- during the upcoming season, including a derby match against Melbourne Victory on Jan. 28.
"Our infrastructure strategy is fundamental to the success of Melbourne City and City Football Group, creating the foundation for our long-term and sustainable growth," Melbourne City CEO Brad Rowse said.
"The opportunity presented at Casey Fields is clear -- a brand-new purpose-built facility with bigger capacity, more pitches and right in the heart of a diverse and growing community with a deep footballing tradition. Today's announcement marks the end of an extensive process and the beginning of an exciting journey -- we are delighted to call South East Melbourne our new home."
Basing themselves at La Trobe University in Bundoora and playing their games at AAMI Park, City has struggled to provide a clear point of differentiation from Victory during their years in the competition. Though emphasising that they would still seek to partner with La Trobe and maintain some sort of presence in Melbourne's north, City officials see the move to Casey as the first step in their efforts to begin to emulate the success of Western Sydney Wanderers in "owning" a region and differentiating themselves from their city's established power.
With Western United planning on building their own stadium in the outer western suburb of Tarneit, City's move suddenly gives Melbourne its own, much-needed geographic separation between its three teams -- allowing for the proper fostering of regional rivalries and identity building.
South East Melbourne's initial efforts to securing A-League representation -- as well as a boutique rectangular stadium in the heart of Dandenong that would have also served as a major events centre -- had been centred on the Team 11 bid to secure one of two A-League licences on offer during the last round of expansion, only for the bid to miss out to Western United and Macarthur FC.
Still seeking to bring an A-League and W-League presence to the region the Team 11 bid then approached City -- whose members disproportionately live in the South East -- 18 months ago about securing a partnership which has culminated in Tuesday's announcement.
"Today's announcement is an incredible reward for four years of hard work by many people across the City of Greater Dandenong, the City of Casey and Cardinia Shire," City of Greater Dandenong mayor Angela Long said.
"Our previous South East Melbourne A-League bid set out to foster grassroots football development with professional pathways, to connect with and grow our burgeoning business community, to market the region to national and international audiences and to provide a platform for community outreach programs.
"The proposed Dandenong Sports and Events Centre was an important part of that bid and today's announcement marks a step forward in bringing that idea to life.
"In Melbourne City, we have found an established and well-loved partner with the same long-term and sustainable approach to development, a deep-rooted passion for community and a global network through its owners City Football Group.
"To be able to welcome Melbourne City's extraordinary W-League team within a matter of weeks makes today's announcement all the more exciting and will serve as a huge inspiration to young girls across Greater Dandenong and the region."