Male soccer players during a match at night under lights

Port Melbourne SC female footballers devastated by council decision

AFL and Essendon legend James Hird has thrown his support behind Port Melbourne Soccer Club’s female footballers after their bid for the 2023 Women’s World Cup was ripped from the bottom.

Less than six months after being selected by FIFA as one of the 13 official training sites for the tournament, Port Melbourne SC were surprised and devastated to learn that Port Phillip City Council had pulled the site.

The council approved a planned facility upgrade at the JL Murphy Football Ground as part of FIFA’s original investment in women’s football, but it was rejected this week in what Sharks player Gabrielle Vittorio described as “heartbreaking”.

The club would require upgrades to the pitch and facilities to meet FIFA training venue standards.(Getty Images: Michael Dodge)

“They signed a contract… [but] it was only a few days ago that we found out that the council had withdrawn its support. They went straight to FIFA without contacting the club, its women, its participants, anyone,” Vittori told The Ticket.

“This is heartbreaking for us.

Vittori said local community support had always been strong and following the success of the England Lionesses at the European Championship this month, there was buzz around next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.

“It’s been amazing, it’s really highlighted how amazing women’s sport is and to get the funding to turn our place into a training facility is just crazy for us,” she said.

“I speak for the girls I play with, my daughters on my team, I speak for my club and I speak for the girls and women in our community who are continually overlooked by our council as a sport and as a community that wants to develop and grow.

“I’m overwhelmed by all of this, I just don’t know what to do anymore.

The council has previously celebrated its site selection, saying on its website that FIFA’s selection of its facilities was “great recognition of the council’s focus and support for women’s participation in sport and a reward for our desire to improve facilities that can support inclusive opportunities”.

The sudden turnaround by the council led others to question whether the council’s commitment was ever real.

Hird has been part of the Port Melbourne sporting community for the past five or six years through his three sons playing there.

A man sits between two young boys with blond hair
Former Essendon coach James Hird, whose sons (pictured) play locally, criticized the council’s withdrawal of the site.(Getty Images: Scott Barbour)

He says the council’s decision is short-sighted.

“It’s a great community club. It’s 50 to 60 years old and it’s a wonderful place,” he said.

“When it was announced three years ago that Port Melbourne would be one of the training centers for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the excitement around the club was huge, especially for the women involved.

“After the Olympics, this is one of the biggest sporting events we’ve ever had in this country […] not only for the community but also for young girls and boys who can look up to these players and get some interest in the game.

“The men’s game is busy, but the opportunities for women in football are growing more and more. I think it’s a bit of a slap in the face, not just for the women really, but for everyone the board has pulled out.” their support without the club knowing about it.

“The club found out on Wednesday by accident because the council didn’t let them know. It’s a strange event and everyone in the club and the surrounding area is asking why.”

In a statement to the ABC, Port Phillip Council chief executive Peter Smith said it was expected that the upgrade on the ground would be achievable by June this year.

“FIFA said the installation of a $500,000 drainage system on Pitch 1 was necessary to keep the pitch as a training venue,” Smith said.

“FIFA also requested a $120,000 lighting upgrade and improvements to make the bathroom ‘female friendly’.

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