|Former names||Western Oval|
|Location||417 Barkly Street, West Footscray, Victoria|
|Record attendance||42,354 (1955 VFL season)|
Yarraville Football Club (VFA) (1983)
Fitzroy Football Club (AFL) (1994–1996)
Whitten Oval (also known as Victoria University Whitten Oval under a naming rights agreement) is a stadium in the inner-western suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, located in Barkly Street, West Footscray. It is the training and administrative headquarters of the Western Bulldogs (formerly the Footscray Football Club), which competes in the Australian Football League (AFL). The ground is also the home of the club's women's and reserves teams which compete in the AFL Women's (AFLW), Victorian Football League (VFL), and VFL Women's (VFLW).
Formerly known as the Western Oval, the venue was renamed in honour of Ted Whitten in 1995, a former player, captain and coach for the club. A statue of Whitten is located at the entrance of the oval.
The Whitten Oval is the centrepiece of a reserve that, from 1860, was a stone quarry used by the railways. In 1866, the quarry was turned into a reserve that included botanical gardens. Other former quarries within the City of Footscray that were turned into public gardens in this era include the Yarraville Reserve, which is the site of the current Yarraville Oval, off Williamstown Road; the Yarraville Gardens, off Hyde Street; and Footscray Park, which fronts the Maribyrnong River.
In 1879, after moving from ground to ground, the local council granted the local football club permission to use the Western Reserve as their home ground. In 1883, the Footscray Football Club was formed. A year later, the club began hosting games in the botanical gardens. While the gardens became known as the David Spurling Reserve, the oval within the gardens became the Western Oval.
Footscray used Western Oval as its home ground almost continuously until 1997. It was absent from the ground only in 1942, when it was commandeered by military personnel during World War II; during that season, Footscray played its home games at the nearby Yarraville Oval, which was vacant because the VFA, in which the regular tenant Yarraville Football Club competed, was in recess. In 1943, the club returned to Western Oval.
In 1955, the ground record attendance was set for the oval when 42,354 turned out on 9 July to see then-defending premiers Footscray defeat Collingwood by six points in Round 12, 1955. In 1965, Footscray considered leaving Western Oval, and made an application to the City of Sunshine for a lease at the new football ground it was developing at Skinner Reserve, approximately 3 km west in Braybrook; the Sunshine Council ultimately rejected the application, as it would have required the breaking of an agreement it already had with the VFA's Sunshine Football Club.
In 1983, struggling VFA Division 2 club Yarraville played its home games at Western Oval on Sundays. This was the only season of the arrangement, as the club folded before the 1984 season. In 1994, the struggling Fitzroy Football Club began playing its home matches at the Western Oval, sharing the venue with Footscray, as it sought a better financial arrangement than it had received at its previous home Princes Park. During this time Whitten Oval had a crowd capacity of 25,000.
In 1995, the oval was renamed the Whitten Oval, after the death of the football club's most prominent player, Ted Whitten. The driveway leading from Barkly Street to the car park behind the oval was named Whitten Avenue.
In 1996, the Footscray Football Club attempted to get an injunction against the Fitzroy Football Club merging with any other club in the AFL, claiming such a move would break Fitzroy's 20 year lease to play their home games at Whitten Oval. The court dismissed the claim, saying damages rather than an injunction should have been sought. Following Fitzroy's merger with Brisbane after the 1996 AFL season, the Western Bulldogs moved their primary home ground for matches from Whitten Oval to Princes Park in Carlton, with the club still scheduled to play two home matches at Whitten Oval. However, prior to their Round 1 encounter with Fremantle, the ground was condemned and the Fremantle match was moved to Optus Oval. Eventually the Bulldogs announced their intention to no longer play AFL matches at Whitten Oval, instead playing home games at Princes Park, until moving to Docklands Stadium in the 2000 season. A farewell premiership match was staged at the venue in Round 21, 1997 before a crowd of 26,704; the Bulldogs 12.14 (86) defeated West Coast 10.8 (68). After moving home matches away from the venue, the Bulldogs retain a training and administrative base at the venue.
After the appointment of Campbell Rose as Chief Executive of the football club in 2002, discussions commenced on a redevelopment of Whitten Oval. In September 2004, the club secured a deal for a $19.5 million redevelopment, with contributions from the Federal Government ($8.0m), Western Bulldogs Forever Foundation ($5.5m), Victorian Government ($3.0m), Australian Football League ($1.5m) and the City of Maribyrnong ($1.0m). Construction commenced in 2005, and was completed in 2009. The renovated facility included a 120 place childcare centre, a conference and convention centre and a professional sports, medical, and health care centre for the Western Bulldogs.
In 2014, the ground started hosting home matches for the Western Bulldogs men's reserves team, known as Footscray, which competes in the Victorian Football League. Since the Bulldogs received a license to field a team in the inaugural season of the AFL Women's (AFLW) competition in 2017, the club has played home matches for its women's teams at Whitten Oval.
A-League soccer team Western United held a home match at the venue against Adelaide United on 26 January 2020. Adelaide won the match 4–3 in front of a crowd of 5,988.
In May 2019 the Western Bulldogs unveiled a $150 million redevelopment plan to upgrade spectator facilities at Whitten Oval. The proposal would boost the capacity to 18,000 and result in the reconstruction of the EJ Whitten Stand, add seating around the ground, install permanent broadcast-quality lighting, and construct an indoor training field and convention centre. The following year the club confirmed that $58 million would be spent to proceed with the EJ Whitten Stand reconstruction and permanent lighting, as well as the re-size the oval, install terracing on the eastern and southern side of the ground and make other alterations. This is referred to as the "Stage 2 redevelopment". As of January 2021 $36.8 million has been secured (from the Victorian Government), with the sources for the remaining amount unspecified. Council approval was granted in late 2020. In mid-2022 the club confirmed that construction would soon proceed over an 18-month period and include the rebuilding of the Whitten Grandstand, construction of a high-performance centre and indoor sports field, realignment of the oval surface, improvement in spectator amenities, and facilities for the club's foundation and women's health programs. The demolition and replacement of the EJ Whitten Stand commenced in July 2022.
During its VFL/AFL playing days, Whitten Oval was known for being particularly long and narrow with deep squarish pockets, and for the wild wind which often bellowed over the ground, particularly at the Geelong Road end. These reasons, most specifically the wind, meant that the oval was the site of many abnormally low scoring games, inaccurate scoring tallies and games in which more than 80% of all scoring was kicked to one end. The ground developed a demographic of the "ground visiting sides hated to play at", with passionate Bulldog supporters and its distinctive playing conditions making it an arduous task to leave with a win.
In a game illustrating the worst that the Western Oval wind could offer, Footscray defeated Fitzroy in a close game, 14.9 (93) to 13.7 (85), in Round 10, 1964 – of the total of 178 points scored in the game, only 7 were scored against the wind. When Footscray played Fitzroy in Round 17, 1927, only 6 of 173 points were kicked against the wind. In 1948's Footscray versus Geelong game, only 2 of the 58 scoring shots were made into the wind. The wind was so fierce that when the Geelong full-back, Bruce Morrison, kicked the ball off after Footscray had scored a behind, the ball floated back over his head and went through the goals. The goal umpire signalled a "forced behind". While these are extreme examples, it was common to see no more than two or three goals kicked into the wind, while 14 or 15 would be scored at the other end.
Post-use as a VFL/AFL stadium, the Whitten Oval is now primarily used as the training ground for the Western Bulldogs.
A number of local community groups, schools and sporting organisations utilise the ground; particularly because of its close proximity to the Melbourne CBD and local transport. The ground also plays host to a variety of commercially-oriented tenancies, including retail (The Western Bulldogs merchandise shop, Bulldogs Central) and health (Physioplus Footscray). It also headquarters the WMR (Western Metropolitan Region) division of DEECD, which oversees all government schools in Melbourne's West.
The Victorian Women's Football League (VWFL) utilised the ground for games and finals until its demise as a competition in 2015. Other local groups have utilised the facility on numerous occasions, including the Rec Footy competition and the Bulldogs Family Day.
The ground ceased to be a used as a regular cricket venue at the end of 1996. From 1893 until December 1996, it was the home of the Footscray Cricket Club, which played in the Victorian district/premier cricket competition. From 1997, the club moved to the Mervyn G. Hughes Oval in northern Footscray.
Whitten Oval is serviced by West Footscray railway station and local bus lines.
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