City chief executive Brad Rowse said the move was being made with the future in mind.
“We thought the Team 11 location was incredibly attractive, the demographic there was perfect … there are 160-odd different nationalities there and [for many of them] football is the number one sport,” Rowse said.
“A lot of our membership base is in that region. This has been the fastest growing area for us in the last few years anyway.
“We want to own the geography. Moving there is doing what was right for us, and if someone else has done that groundwork then that’s fine by us.”
Team 11, which was backed by the Casey and Dandenong councils, licked their wounds for six months following their unsuccessful bid but then approached City Football Group (CFG) to try to reactivate the concept with City’s backing. Work has been going on to develop the initiative for the past 18 months.
A key plank in Team 11’s bid was the call for a $175 million boutique stadium to be built in the heart of Dandenong as part of a major regional regeneration program.
The state government did not back that call then but it is now sure to be put on the agenda once more, with the Andrews administration urged to use such a venture to kick start infrastructure investment in a post-COVID era, with CFG also likely to face calls to foot some of the bill.
City’s senior teams will remain at their current Bundoora base – leased from La Trobe University – until the end of this season although their W-League side will begin the pivot to the south-eastern region by playing four fixtures at Dandenong City. City’s W-League champions will make their first appearance in Dandenong on January 2 and will also play a W-League derby against Victory at the venue.
The youth teams will this season base themselves at the $18 million stage one of the Casey Fields development, which is already complete. The four full-sized floodlit pitches and single-storey building there are available for immediate use.
City’s men’s team will still play in their light blue strip and their A-League games will be played at AAMI Park.
The new set-up in the 84-hectare Casey Fields precinct will be known as the Etihad City Football Academy (CFA) and will feature an elite training pitch, four full-sized floodlit pitches, a two-storey elite performance and HQ building and space for a 4000-capacity mini-stadium, to be created as part of a future stage three construction.
The remaining stage two facilities, which will allow City’s senior A-League side to move to Casey, will be completed by early 2022 and are expected to cost around $20 million, jointly funded by the local authorities and the CFG.
City of Casey chief executive Glenn Patterson said: “This is a game-changer for the City of Casey and South East Melbourne.
“We are proud of Casey Fields as an elite sport precinct, and the addition of a second, full-time professional club adds to its status as the region’s premium sporting precinct … [It] will result in wide-ranging economic and social benefits, as will the creation of much needed construction jobs for our local community.”
City of Greater Dandenong mayor, councillor Angela Long, pointed out the importance of the previous Team 11 bid in creating an appetite for a team in the region and its key role as a driver for the development of a new stadium.
“[It] 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,” she said.
“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.
“Football is the number one participation sport in south-east Melbourne, with 115 grassroots clubs and 23,000 registered players across the wider region.”
Asked about a new stadium in Dandenong, Rowse was circumspect.
“We don’t have anything concrete on that one, if that is something that gets explored in the future we would of course have a look at it but it’s not been part of the decision making process at this point,” he said.
Michael Lynch is The Age’s chief soccer reporter and also reports on motor sport and horseracing