"A game changer" - Football West CEO Jamie Harnwell discusses WA's new football centre
Having long lacked stature and investment, football in Western Australia has an upcoming project to pull itself into relevance and improve the quality of infrastructure available to the many players of all ages out west.
A state-of-the-art home for football at a site in Queens Park, some 15 minutes from Perth's CBD, is soon to be completed in time for the Women's World Cup. It promises to spark Western Australian football and advance the game to another level.
Front Page Football sat down with Football West CEO and Perth Glory legend Jamie Harnwell to discuss the development further.
Harnwell, who only began his reign as the top dog at Football West in October 2022, described his input into the proceedings and bidding process.
"The project has been in the works for a number of years, something Football West has worked towards for probably decades, as the game as a whole should probably have a home here in Western Australia," Harnwell said.
"We received a grant from the federal government, and the state government then matched that in 2020. From then on, that was the moment that the rubber hit the road if you like, and while I wasn't in the CEO role then, I was lucky to have a hands-on part of the project, the design, and now its delivery."
An initial artist impression of the facility. (Western Australian Government)
Regarding the intricate aspects of the design, Harnwell discussed the perceived advantages of a facility that failed to exist previously.
"Well, currently, Football West does not have a home; football itself does not. For the administration, we're in a state-run building. Across all the training programs, coaching development, education, referee programs, we have had to beg, borrow, and steal grounds from local councils all over the Perth metropolitan area," he said.
"To see a central location that contains the administration, [and] is a central point for all the talent development and coach and referee education, is a game changer, and it also allows us to host our major events, our cup finals, Grand Finals, and other events, where previously we would go out to other clubs to host them. So it is a huge opportunity for us to really stabilise everything in the one location and further grow."
Another aspect of community engagement that the facility brings is the application of five-a-side football, which will be prominent.
"There's also five-a-side pitches, three five-a-side pitches, which provide a commercial activity, and we'll be running five-a-side competitions. We'll also be able to expand our community and our charity programming, and all the like, so this will make sure the centre is a hub buzzing every weekend. We can put that revenue back into the game here in Western Australia," Harnwell added.
With many in the engaged football community being kids and teenagers, one question that springs to mind is the practicality of the location, particularly travelling to and from the ground for young players, fans, or aspiring media. Harnwell ensured that this aspect was well understood in the project's planning.
Jason Clare, the Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment at the time, was among many to speak about the facility's advantages back in 2019. (PerthNow)
"The ground is 15 minutes from the CBD, around major road networks, and there is public transport, a bus stop [at] the front of the centre, and the newer Metronet developments are a 20-minute walk away. So it is accessible; we know that transport via car is not always looked upon favourably by [the] government in this day and age, so you're always looking at ways to reduce that," he said.
"We'll work closely with local government in that area to make sure our traffic and event management meets all guidelines we need to. We certainly see it as a central point for all stakeholders in the Western Australian game to come in, see a game, train, learn, and hopefully have a great experience at the centre."
From his conversations and relationships, Harnwell expects Perth Glory's senior teams to call the facility home for certain fixtures.
"Ultimately, we want to make sure we are a home for football, and that does encompass the professional game. I've got a very strong relationship with Perth Glory, obviously from my playing days. But [also] currently with the CEO Anthony Radich, and we discussed the possibility of what it would look like to host Perth Glory at the state football centre. We'll continue to progress those discussions," Harnwell revealed.
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The main stadium, in progress, will hope to host many events throughout the football season. (Austadiums)
Harnwell was also happy to comment on the broader conversation and question of uniting the football pyramid and how Football West aims to address this issue. He described the challenge and unique benefits of Australia's current football structure.
"It's a really difficult thing to try and solve. When you have competitions that are fundamentally aligned [at] different times of the year, it's a challenge, but with that challenge comes the huge opportunity that is the fact that we have football twelve months of the year, whether professional or the NPL, and a possible second division," Harnwell said.
"The APL [is] very conscious that they need to connect back to the community. When I say community, I mean NPL and everything like that, so that's absolutely key; you need football participants and stakeholders to want to engage with the A-League; that is the only way the A-League can continue to grow."
Harnwell is positive and hopeful for a bright future, discussing how the Women's World Cup has helped what will be a time of great prosperity for the game and how the new centre will help encourage further investment.
"We've got huge investment into a site, the state football centre, that we've never had before. We've had other community and NPL facilities receive upgrades because of the Women's World Cup. There's been a strong spotlight on female football, and it's such a fast-growing piece of the game."
"They (local government) are not always looking at the top level lens, so when we look at the community level with facilities, change rooms, floodlights, the quality of the pitch, all those things can be put under pressure by increasing participation and female participation.
"It has been great and brought football to the front page off the back of a fantastic Socceroos campaign and, hopefully, to lead into the Women's World Cup. It's a pretty special time."
As Harnwell mentioned, it took decades to get to this point. So, with football at the forefront, how can infrastructure and the game more broadly benefit? Harnwell answered this critical question by referencing the Women's World Cup legacy.
"The Women's World Cup will be a great boost for that. There's much better recognition of female sports across all codes and the need to provide for the growing market of female sports. The key piece to remember is that legacy is not just about bricks and mortar. It's about providing opportunity for females in football, be it players, coaches, referees, and female leadership in clubs and associations," he said.
Football West as an organisation appears to be moving forward, with investment on a high and an exciting winter of football ahead, which Harnwell expressed can be an advantage.
But how much can this advantage be harnessed, and will the opening of a football-specific facility set the course for a prosperous future?
Only time will tell.
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