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Jan 30, 2007

Victory weighs up stadium options

Melbourne's new rectangular sports stadium looms as a summer white elephant, with A-League club Melbourne Victory considering turning its back on a venue now vastly undersized for its needs.

The stadium, to be built at the city's Olympic Park precinct, was planned to house soccer's Victory, National Rugby League club Melbourne Storm, and AFL club Melbourne's training and administrative headquarters.

The Victory has been agitating to raise the capacity from a planned 20,000 to 30,000, much to the chagrin of the Victorian Government which is funding the stadium, and the Storm.

But Premier Steve Bracks declared on Tuesday the stadium would be built at 20,000 capacity with or without the Victory's support.

And while the Storm has publicly fought to keep the capacity at 20,000 - the absolute maximum it would require - the Victory's public support has boomed this season.

It has attracted crowds of between 30,000 and 50,000 for its home matches at Telstra Dome, and looks set to draw another 50,000-plus crowd for its major semi-final there on Sunday night.

While the Victory is refusing to say anything publicly in the wake of Bracks' comments, the club may find itself with the whip hand by simply deciding not to play home matches at the new ground.

It is understood the Victory has not signed any contract committing to play at the new stadium once it is completed.

Telstra Dome, for so long a summer white elephant itself, desperately wants the Victory to stay on.

That means the club could find itself at the centre of a bidding war for its tenancy.

Victory coach Ernie Merrick said the discussion about where the club would play in subsequent seasons had had no effect on its build-up for Sunday night's crucial major semi-final second leg against Adelaide United.

"It's absolutely fantastic that somebody's worried about whether we're going to play at a $200 million dollar stadium or this stadium which is worth about $400 million," Merrick said after training at Telstra Dome.

"It's very positive (for the Victory and Australian soccer).

"It's not a distraction for me or the players and whatever the board decides will be the right thing for the club in the long-term."

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