By Danika Dent

SOCCER is the fastest growing sport in Australia, particularly among girls – overtaking netball as the most popular sport earlier this year.
In South Gippsland, there are four clubs that play in the Gippsland Soccer League South Division.
All pitches are on grounds designed for either football or cricket.
With increasing participation there’s even more demand being placed on these venues and their facilities to provide for male and female soccer players as well as their traditional sports.
At Wednesday’s council meeting, the shire will vote to release a 2016 Draft Soccer Facilities Plan, which will identify opportunities to improve soccer facilities to support the sport’s continued growth.
Clubs were involved in the development of the plan, identifying opportunities and challenges.
Specifically, clubs indicated they needed better change rooms for women and referees, assistance to develop full-size, quality turf pitches, improved on-site storage and to install lighting.
There are no grand plans to develop soccer pitches on greenfield sites, nor is there any indication of funding arrangements.
Instead, the Draft Soccer Facilities Plan provides “a summary of the current structure and health of soccer in South Gippsland, and provides an overview of participation trends, club needs, consultation findings and draft facility development recommendations”.
“This report is designed to help guide council’s planning and decision making on the future provision of soccer facilities to service current and future residents.
“Findings from this report will be used to prioritise soccer facility development projects and assist council in securing external funding to improve soccer facilities,” the report reads.
However, investigation “into the need and opportunity for a synthetic soccer field to service the region” has been flagged.
The Final Draft Soccer Facilities Plan (due 2017) will include a detailed action plan and cost estimates to support facility recommendations.
The community will be asked for feedback on the plans with a second report due by December 14, 2016.

During consultation, lack of volunteers and facilities was identified as the biggest barrier to the growth of soccer in the region.

Clubs expressed hope that better facilities, especially for women, would encourage more families to join and be involved.
So what do the clubs want to see in the short to medium term?

Korumburra City
• Remove and realign the west and east sections of oval fencing to allow one full size senior and one full size junior pitch to be located outside the turf cricket pitches.
This may result in the loss of the circulatory roadway around the oval.
• Retain and upgrade three light towers and relocate the east tower to improve the spread of lighting infrastructure and provide minimum lux levels to training standards.
• Refurbish existing player change rooms and amenities to meet minimum standards and provide unisex amenities that cater for female players and officials.
• Upgrade existing cricket pavilion to accommodate away player change rooms.

Leongatha Knights
• Relocate existing cricket nets to provide a safe run-off for the training pitch. Retain size and location of existing training pitch.
• Relocate and provide new lamps to existing light towers on training pitch and provide additional towers to achieve minimum standards for training (100 lux).
• Create a safe pedestrian crossing from the clubrooms to player change rooms and amenities, and investigate the need for a DDA compliant pathway to the main oval.
• Modify the clubrooms to provide adequate referee facilities.
• Ensure the dimensions of one junior pitch and one senior pitch is retained across the main competition oval and work with the school to upgrade terraced spectator area.

Mirboo North United
• Retain and refurbish the existing home and away player change rooms and retain the separation (petition) between the rooms.
• Demolish existing home and away player amenities and construct a new amenities block to meet minimum standards for Australian Rules Football (will also meet minimum requirements for soccer).
• Demolish existing trainers/umpires portable and extend existing building to provide a new kiosk, umpires room, storage and accessible public toilets to service the needs of soccer and junior football.
• Construct new massage and storage area as an extension to the existing building to be shared by all users.
• Extend existing building canopy to provide improved spectator amenity for both ovals.
• Due to the extension of the existing building realign the pony club entrance, driveway and fencing to ensure vehicle and float access is retained.

Prom Coast Pirates
• Minor improvements to existing player amenities to meet regulatory standards and provide unsex use. Includes ambulant public toilet facility.
• Construct new accessible referee change room and amenities with access to existing multipurpose room.
• Remove existing concrete cricket wicket and provide two full size junior soccer pitches in a new north south orientation.
• Upgrade existing lighting fixtures attached to the building and provide new light towers on the east side of the oval to improve lux levels across the pitch.