News / Sport

Clifton Park synthetic surface is safe, soccer clubs told

Hundreds of players attend a rally amid fears surface could be ripped up

Junior players from six clubs attended the rally at Clifton Park.

Mark Phillips
Sunday, September 4, 2022

A TRUCE has been declared in a simmering row over the future of the synthetic soccer pitch at Clifton Park in Brunswick which was shaping up as a hot issue ahead of this year’s state election.

Soccer clubs that use the field have accepted assurances from Moreland Greens councillors that there are no imminent plans to replace the artificial grass with real turf, and a $650,000 upgrade will go ahead.

But soccer clubs and the council remain on a collision course elsewhere, with the clubs demanding more all-weather synthetic surfaces be laid around the city to cope with the sport’s growing numbers of junior players while environmentalists seek the removal of artificial grass.

The truce comes after a rally attended by up to 200 junior soccer players and their parents at Clifton Park last Wednesday night under the banner of a new campaign called ‘Save Clifton Park: This Is Our Turf’. Those promoting the rally included prominent Labor Party figures Deputy Mayor Lambros Tapinos and former Brunswick MP Carlo Carli.

The row was sparked by a motion passed by Moreland Council last month to conduct a $30,000 review of the future of all surfaces on sports grounds amid growing concern about the adverse climate and environmental impacts of artificial turf.

Subsequent to that resolution on August 10 – which was moved by Mayor Mark Riley – photos emerged of two Moreland Greens Councillors James Conlan and Adam Pulford attending the recent launch at Clifton Park of a statewide campaign to end the use of synthetic turf. A third Greens councillor, Angelica Panopoulos shared the photos on her official Facebook account with a supportive message.

The backlash from soccer clubs was fast and furious and within days the Moreland Greens were scrambling to defuse what was threatening to be a well-organised and highly visible campaign to harness the anger over the issue ahead of the November 26 state election.

 The issue came to a head on Wednesday night when up 200 junior soccer players – a portion of an estimated 1500 junior players registered in Brunswick alone – descended on Clifton Park for a rally in support of their synthetic surface.

Climate debate heats up over synthetic turf

Mr Carli, who is the president of the Brunswick Zebras Football Club, said there was genuine concern that the council resolution could set the ball rolling to rip up the Clifton Park synthetic surface.

The artificial grass soccer pitch opened in 2013 but is already showing signs of wear and tear from being used for up to 60 hours a week for junior soccer training. The ground is shared by Brunswick Zebras, Brunswick Juventus and Brunswick City, and the council has earmarked $650,000 in its 2023-4 budget to upgrade Clifton Park, including laying a new synthetic surface.

Mr Carli said Clifton Park was the only soccer pitch in Brunswick that could be used for that many hours a week in all kinds of weather. Other pitches with natural grass are limited to about 15 hours a week, but are often unplayable for less than that in winter due to adverse weather which turns them into mud baths.

Soccer clubs also have to share the other grounds with passive recreational use, including people exercising their dogs.

“This [Clifton Park] needs to be retained as a synthetic surface,” Mr Carli said. “The clubs cannot survive without this facility.”

The success of Clifton Park’s artificial surface has other soccer clubs lobbying for more grounds to be relaid with synthetic grass.

Peter Kyriopoulos, president of Brunswick City, said his club had 440 registered players and desperately needed artificial turf at its home ground at Dunstan Park in Brunswick West.

He said with the population growing, demand for the ground was high but the soccer club was restricted to just 15 hours of use each week.

Even after a $450,000 upgrade in 2017, the grass surface was often almost unfit to use, he said.

“The biggest thing holding us back is the ability to train on the ground,” he said. “In the last few weeks, we’ve had to cancel sessions every week because the grounds are not being maintained and are not good enough. People are paying for services we can’t provide and they are disgruntled.”

Moreland councillor Oscar Yildiz, a former soccer player himself, believes there needs to be six synthetic soccer pitches in the city to cope with demand.

“This is a part of the sporting infrastructure in Moreland and no-one as far as I’m aware, have said that it’s going to be getting ripped up.”
– Cr James Conlan

The rally at Clifton Park was organised as a show of strength by the soccer community that they are a political force not to be ignored.

Cr Tapinos told the rally that he would fight to defend the synthetic turf at Clifton Park.

“This pitch is very important for our community, it’s important for our sports clubs,” he said.

“I understand that … and will do whatever it takes to make sure that it’s protected into the future, that in a couple of years time, we actually get to renew this pitch.”

Cr Conlan also attended the rally to reiterate there were no plans to remove the synthetic pitch, engaging in heated debate with several soccer club representatives.

“I personally, and my colleagues on the council, have never made any comments to say that this is going to be ripped up,” he said.

“That’s not true. This is here and it’s going to stay. Council’s actually committed $650,000 in the budget to replacing the synthetic turf, which needs to be replaced soon. So this is a part of the sporting infrastructure in Moreland and no-one as far as I’m aware, have said that it’s going to be getting ripped up.”

In a statement provided to Brunswick Voice, Moreland Mayor Mark Riley confirmed the budget allocation for the Clifton Park upgrade in 2023-4.

“This recent Council decision is about developing a policy to look at how we manage local sports surfaces and the scope there might be to improve environmental and community wellbeing outcomes through better practices,” he said. “We’ll do this in close consultation with the community and key stakeholders including sports clubs.”

Mr Carli said he was more concerned about securing Clifton Park’s future than dragging it out as an election issue and took Cr Conlan’s comments at face value.

 “We’re really pleased with James Conlan’s comment and we will take part in a nuanced debate and accept in good faith the Greens will support this to be relaid as a synthetic.”

But Mr Carli said soccer clubs would feel more reassured if there was a council resolution to confirm the future of Clifton Park’s synthetic surface was safe.