The A-League's fixture list has been thrown into chaos after former NSL powers South Melbourne declared an intent to block Western United from staging fixtures at Lakeside Stadium.
The league has already been forced to shift its starting date due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions across Australia, and now Western United may have to find a new home to play some of their fixtures.
Just hours after the announcement that A-League football was headed to Lakeside, South Melbourne -- the primary existing footballing tenants of the stadium who play in the lower-tier, NPL Victoria competition -- released a statement in which they declared that it would be "exercising all rights to prevent Western United FC from playing A-League matches at Lakeside Stadium."
The Australian Professional League's (APL) fixture release -- which has seen the A-League's launch pushed back to Nov. 19 and the W-League's to Dec. 3 -- had pencilled in a Nov. 26 clash with Adelaide United as Western United's first game at Lakeside.
But South Melbourne, who took up residence in 1995 and went on to win two NSL titles at the venue, declared that executives from both Lakeside and Melbourne Sports Centres -- part of the trust that oversees the ground -- had assured them that "there is no written or signed agreement" in place that would allow the third-year A-League club to play at the stadium.
According to both league and club sources, talks between the venue and the APL, Western United, and 10 ViacomCBS -- who have been actively involved in the process to enforce new, stringent standards for broadcast -- over the use of the stadium had been held across multiple weeks, leading into an agreement and Thursday's announcement. No indication was provided that South Melbourne's lease would allow it to scupper the deal to bring the A-League to the venue.
At this stage, both Western United and the APL are of the view that the Lakeside fixtures -- which were made with the stadium's other commitments in mind -- will take place as scheduled and, in a since-deleted post, the Twitter account of Melbourne Sports Centres expressed excitement over the club's arrival.
After previously making their tenancy of Lakeside a pillar of their efforts bid to join the A-League during the 2018 expansion process -- a process that saw Western United ultimately receive a licence largely off the back of their promise to build their own stadium -- four-time national champions South have a long-held view that they retain the ability to block any rival football clubs from using the ground as part of their lease.
Though it has been used as a frequent location for W-League and Y-League games in the past, it has never hosted a Melbourne Victory, Melbourne Heart/City or Western United fixture in the A-League's existence.
"South Melbourne considers Western United to be a direct competitor in the Melbourne, Victorian and Australian football market," South Melbourne's statement read.
"Their acceptance to the A-League was based largely on the commitment to having a purpose-built football stadium constructed in Melbourne's west. It is approaching three years since the A-League expansion clubs were announced and construction works have still not commenced.
"Western United's use of Lakeside Stadium is not acceptable and South Melbourne FC will vigorously oppose any such plans."
South Melbourne referred further requests for comment back to their original statement, and said that any further information or developments would be communicated to their members and then the broader footballing community.