If you’re cynical about politicians keeping their promises, this is a story that will restore your faith in democracy.
On Saturday 22nd March I was privileged to attend the rededication of Lambert Park, Leichhardt. Discreetly positioned, Lambert Park is a football ground which could easily be overlooked, especially if you are new to the area, but it is home to our APIA Leichhardt Tigers Football Club.
First started in 1954, APIA has cemented its position in both the community and the football world, providing more players for the Australian Socceroos than any other club.
However, as with many sporting venues, time had taken its toll not only on the field but also on the facilities. By 2009 things looked pretty bleak. All the more so, as the then Labor NSW Government gave notice to the Club and Leichhardt Council that it wanted Lambert Park for its ill-fated Sydney Metro project. While we all know of the fight many had with the Metro over in Rozelle, less people knew of the dark future that the players using Lambert Park faced.
As plans for both CBD Metros crumbled, eyes were drawn to the sporting club with a simple wish list of requests. Not grandiose television rights nor an unrealistic high rise development but simply an unthreatened sporting field, with a proper playing surface.
Having fought for Rozelle against the Metro, Barry O’Farrell once again visited the area, this time inspecting the Lambert Park site. On March 15th, 2011 he made a promise that a Liberal Government would rescue and upgrade the ground. Although it was estimated it would cost over $2 million, it would be done.
On March 22nd, Mr O’Farrell returned to Lambert Park with his Sports Minister Gabrielle Upton and we saw the fruits of his 2011 promise realised, with the fully completed upgrade of Lambert Park.
Thanks to the upgrade Lambert Park has a proper surface, decent undercover stands for families to sit, hygienic change rooms, a simple but important grandstand for the club’s training officials and a space for members. You won’t find any casino here, just an no-frills club promoting what it does best, soccer for around 120 teams.
As I watched Mr O’Farrell, after his short but precise speech, team up with the players on the field, I realised I had witnessed a unique moment in Leichhardt. I not only saw a packed grandstand ready to watch the inaugural game but also a proper community celebrating to its full potential. As I walked up Marion Street later, I didn’t know who was luckiest: the community, the APIA Club or myself, for having witnessed what I had seen.
I think it was all of us. May the APIA Leichhardt Tigers continue to have good fortune and may those that assisted them also continue to prosper and be honored. Most particularly, the long time loyal APIA Leichhardt Tigers President, Mr Tony Raciti.
Words: David Hunt, Leichhardt-Rozelle.