The AFL Broken Hill season is six rounds in already, and there have been a high number of injuries, with one ground in particular raising concerns with players and some officials.
Jubilee Oval with its unevenness, patchy holes, and harder areas scattered across the ground, appears to be the reason some clubs are experiencing a large volume of knee, ankle, and soft tissue injuries in recent weeks.
It’s not a new issue – both players and coaches have talked to the Truth about what they say is a poor surface which is often complained about to AFL Broken Hill.
“The surface is pretty uneven. And considering we’ve been on it for a long period of time now, we have actually sustained a fair few ankle injuries, as well as knee injuries. I’d like to think that it’s not the ground, but I think it has contributed a little bit unfortunately,” Mark Pitt, North Bulldogs A-Grade coach, us.
“Even when I set out the drills throughout the week, we’ve got to work around those uneven areas because there are a considerable amount of uneven areas throughout that playing grass, which unfortunately can be dangerous to the players.
“These areas need to be addressed, and we need to fix them up for player wellbeing, it’s something we’ve got to look at heavily.”
Craig Thomas, South Roos A-Grade coach, agrees, “The Jube’s been like that for a while now. We know it’s a little bit harder in the middle there, but overall, we just play on the surface we’re given. [It’s] up to the [groundspeople] to decide whether it’s unsafe or not. I hope that everyone does their due diligence and makes sure that it’s playable, safe for all the players out there. If not, we’ve got other ovals we can play on.”
AFL Broken Hill Chairman Andrew Schmidt says he is unaware of any correlation to Jubilee Oval’s surface and players sustaining injuries, telling us that he’s received no official reports, documentation, emails, or feedback from any of the clubs relating to the issue.
“Is it in the best condition, the playing surface? No, it’s not. We all know that, we all agree with that,” Mr Schmidt told us.
“If clubs have issues with the surface, then all they’ve got to do is raise it with us. We’re more than happy to sit down, but we’ve received nothing officially from any club about the state of the oval and we’ve received nothing officially regarding injuries on the oval.
“Prior to every game that’s played there, it’s the club’s responsibility to conduct the inspection of the oval and fill out the reports. And we haven’t had a negative report all year, so what do we do?”
Playing into the conversation is the increased use of Jubilee Oval, and that due to being a shared oval of both North and West and the main venue for some junior grades during the week, it’s seemingly natural that the foot traffic would contribute to the condition of the surface.
Overall, roughly 30 games will be played at each of the Alma and Memorial Oval where one club trains twice per week, whereas some 165 games will be played at Jubilee Oval where two clubs train multiple times each week.
“The oval usage, in terms of comparing, it’s like apples and oranges. You don’t have to be Einstein to work that out, but if you’re going to have more traffic on an oval then it’s going to get more wear and tear,” Mr Schmidt says.
“90 per cent of the football we’ve played this year has been at Jubilee Oval, so if you’re going to get injuries, it’s going to be where you’re playing. But the last round I was at Memorial Oval and a player went down, did his ACL, so I don’t think where you play has any direct correlation.”
Jubilee Oval – unlike Alma and Memorial Oval which are both owned and managed by Council – is a Crown Reserve facility, limiting in some respects what AFLBH and its volunteers can do. However, Mr Schmidt said that whenever AFLBH has asked for Council’s assistance, “they’ve only been too happy to help us”. He also confirmed Council has never expressed an interest in running or managing Jubilee Oval, adding “that’s a myth that gets out I think amongst some football followers”.
Mr Schmidt assures that, following a callout to the AFL to source a local curator – Glen Cumming, who helped renovate the new Mildura Sporting Precinct – who was invited to Broken Hill prior to the 2022 season, a comprehensive report quoted a sum of $1.6 million to resurface the oval and put in a new irrigation system.
While Mr Schmidt said to try and get this that sum “isn’t feasible”, he said AFLBH has been maintaining the oval in accordance with a works program, devised off recommendations from Mr Cumming, carried out by part-time curator Peter Johnston, which includes the planting of new grass, the fertilisation and scarification of loam on the field, and the watering.
Mr Cumming’s report “told us that there’s nothing wrong with the grass on the oval [and] the style of grass we’re using is fine”, says Mr Schmidt, adding “he just stated that basically, the oval itself, gets too much use on it and that’s it”.
“As far as the off-field facilities go, they’re the equal of anything in regional Australia. But we all agree that the surface continually needs care and maintenance because of the traffic on there. The thing is nobody wants to get off there, they all want to train there.
“We’ve always got open lines of communication with the clubs. That said, if [clubs] aren’t happy with the surface and training there, they don’t have to train there. That’s their call, that’s their decision. There are another two ovals in town they can go and train at, but they don’t.”