Western United's plans for the 2020/21 A-League season have hit a major off-field hurdle, with the sophomore club accusing rivals Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory of blocking their COVID-enforced push to use AAMI Park as a home venue for the coming campaign.
As was the case during their inaugural season, United announced on Friday that they would stage a series of games in Geelong and Ballarat in 2020/21 as part of a "roadshow" of home games; the former's Kardinia Park earmarked for a minimum of four games and the latter's Mars Stadium tapped for at least two.
The club's remaining six home games are set to be staged in Melbourne, although the identity of the host stadium now is in a state of flux.
Western previously staged a single home game at Whitten Oval in 2019/20 -- a madcap 4-3 loss to Adelaide United on Australia Day -- and they had been linked in the offseason with Melbourne's Showgrounds and Chirnside Park in Werribee. The famous Somers Street home of Melbourne Knights has also been mooted as a potential home for the coming campaign, and the club has explored the possibility of taking a home game to Tasmania.
But with COVID-19, subsequent limits on crowds, increased safety requirements at venues, and ground availability clashes raised by the delayed start of the coming season all biting, Western says those plans were rendered financially unviable, unsafe or some combination of both.
As a temporary stop-gap, the club instead hoped to stage six home games at AAMI Park, three of which would have been derby games. However, those plans have apparently been blocked by existing tenants Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City.
Coming just weeks after the unbundling of the A-League from Football Federation Australia was confirmed, the turf war over the ground, which is operated by the Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust, and which also hosts NRL side Melbourne Storm and Super Rugby side Melbourne Rebels, has frustrated Western chief executive Chris Pehlivanis.
"We've found a solution and we're getting resistance from the two tenant clubs," Pehlivanis told ESPN.
"And we don't believe that it's good for the game of football.
"You would think in an environment where we're going independent as a competition, that the clubs would work collaboratively for the good of the game.
"It's only for the short term.
"We're building a stadium; we're going to the west, that's us. But we need a solution [for 2020/21]; the league is starting later and COVID hit.
"But they're just pushing back. The league's gone independent. You would think that, in this environment, we'd be doing decisions for the betterment of the game. But we just can't make it as a code, and we're frustrated."
Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory declined to comment when approached by ESPN.
Western entered the A-League in 2019/20, finishing their debut campaign in fifth place on the regular-season table before losing 2-1 to Melbourne City in the semifinals.
Key in the club's licence to compete in the competition -- and in overcoming City and Victory objections to a third team in Melbourne -- was the promise of a purpose-built stadium in Melbourne's west. The successful delivery of that stadium has been magnified in importance by the saga over AAMI Park.
Western also unveiled plans in the offseason to construct a training facility that will include three pitches, two of which will be available primarily for community use, and seating for up to 5000 spectators. The facility will be funded jointly by Wyndham City and the United parent group, Western Melbourne Group.