- Lloyd Rothwell
Bankwest Stadium – Parramatta Eels
Photos by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.43
Bankwest Stadium 11-13 O’Connell St Parramatta, NSW 2150 Australia
Year Opened: 2019
Western Sydney Stadium is #PARRAdise
The new $300m Populous-designed Western Sydney Stadium opened in April 2019, promising to be a game-changer for sporting venues in Australia. With a capacity of 30,000 it features the steepest stands in the country, and is the first new major stadium in the harbour city since the venues for the Sydney 2000 Olympics were constructed. Bankwest Stadium is owned by the NSW state government, operated by VenuesLive, and will host rugby league, rugby union, and soccer (football).
Sport has been played on this site in Parramatta since the 1850s. The first ground here was called Cumberland Oval, and hosted a diverse range of sports including rugby union, rugby league, cricket, and even motor racing. In 1947 the Parramatta Eels were admitted to the NSWRL premiership, the forerunner of the modern-day National Rugby League (NRL), and they too called Cumberland Oval home. After the club won its maiden premiership in 1981, exuberant fans partied so hard they inadvertently burnt the grandstand down. A modern replacement venue, Parramatta Stadium, opened in 1986. The new stadium also became the home of the Western Sydney Wanderers A-League club, and at various times also hosted international rugby league and rugby union.
However, by 2015 a number of faults with the stadium were clearly evident. Located somewhat awkwardly on a portion of Parramatta Park, the stadium lacked a prominent entry plaza, and did not meet modern security and safety standards. Similarly, the alignment of the playing surface was not directly north-south and hence was not deemed FIFA compliant. Furthermore, there were only one set of dressing rooms and poor corporate and media facilities. A knockdown-rebuild was the first stage of the NSW government’s new stadium policy announced in 2015. Twenty years after being opened by Queen Elizabeth II, Parramatta Stadium was demolished in 2016. During the re-build the club based themselves down the road at ANZ Stadium in Olympic Park, a venue shared by several other Sydney clubs including Canterbury and South Sydney.
The Eels came of age in the 1980s, winning a total of four premierships from five grand final appearances over the course of the decade. However they’ve experienced turbulent times in recent history, finishing at the bottom on the NRL table in 2018. A promising start to 2019, along with the opening of Bankwest Stadium, has given fans renewed hope of once again experiencing premiership glory.
Food & Beverage 5
Pleasingly, Bankwest features a range of stadium staples priced at $5 or less including meat pies, hot dogs, hot chips, and sausage rolls. This is an excellent initiative and we hope to see more of it. Some of the more substantial (and expensive – generally around $15) items include chicken noodle stir fry, buffalo wings, salt and pepper squid, and pulled pork rolls.
Specialist food stands include Barbeque Pit (pork riblets, beef brisket, BBQ chicken ribs), The Base Pizza (various pizzas including chicken, margarita, and meat lovers), Mr. Chicken (items such as fried chicken, and chicken burger), Craving, Frank’s (hot dogs), Catch (seafood including tempura prawns, barramundi burger, and fish and chips), The Burger Place, and Nourish (healthy options).
There’s not a huge selection of alcoholic drinks with a distinct lack of craft beers. Standard beers cost around $8, pre mixed spirits $10, and wine $7. If you’re so inclined there are a couple of smallish bars (age 18+) where you can relax pre-game. Soft drinks and water are supplied by Coca-Cola. Lastly, there’s also various snacks and ice creams on sale at numerous outlets around the concourse.
The new stadium does indeed live up to expectations. The exterior is unmistakable as you approach the venue. A new entry plaza provides a site for pre-game fan activation. There’s plenty to do including small rides, ball games, animal displays, and a DJ. Local food trucks are also present to provide you with sustenance while you soak up the atmosphere. Be sure to check out the statue of Eels legend and dual international (rugby league and rugby union), Ray Price, before you enter.
Once inside you’ll find face painting and photo booths amongst the wide, open concourses. At regular intervals the playing surface is visible, and there are also television screens along the walls keeping you in touch with the game. The steepness of the stands is immediately apparent. The reported gradient is 33.94 degrees, meaning there really isn’t a bad seat in the house. All seats feel close to the action, and the cauldron-like atmosphere is both intimate and loud.
Each side of the stadium is named as a grandstand to honour past champions; Mick Cronin, Brett Kenny, Peter Sterling, and John Thornett. The entire eastern stand is inaccessible to the average casual fan; instead it is dedicated to media, corporate areas, and VIP seating. Therefore, if you’re attending a daytime game and prefer shade then look for seats at the northern end, or the lower bowl in the northeastern corner. The restricted access also impedes your ability to circumnavigate the stadium interior in its entirety.
Video screens are located in the northeastern and southwestern corners. The screens aren’t huge but are sufficient. Sound quality of the public address system is excellent, and the free Wi-Fi is fast with no pesky sign-up process. Aisle width in the stands is good, but the seats themselves are perhaps a little small for the larger fan. However, the stadium has a wonderful ambiance and provides an unrivalled experience in Sydney – and indeed, is in the top echelon of venues in Australia.
Parramatta is located at the geographical heart of Sydney, and has been the site of significant transformation over the last few years. A hub of multiculturalism, all the attractions of a modern city are close by.
In addition to a thriving CBD, nearby Church St is known as “Eat Street,” where any number of great restaurants and cafes await. Cruise the strip and make a decision based on what you feel like on the day – it’s difficult to go wrong here! Similarly, there are numerous bars and pubs in the area. The Rose & Crown (11 Victoria Rd) is a solid choice for a drink and a feed, and the Parramatta Leagues Club next door to the stadium will be buzzing on game days.
If you are in town for more than just the Eels, there are several hotels close to the stadium, notably the Novotel Sydney Parramatta (350 Church St) and the Parkroyal Parramatta (30 Phillip St). It may also be worth checking the schedule at the Riverside Theatre or the horse races at Rosehill Gardens. Westfield Parramatta, a short walk away, was also once famous for being the largest indoor shopping complex in the southern hemisphere.
In recent years the Eels have roughly averaged between 11,000-13,000 at their home games, including during their temporary relocation to Olympic Park while the new stadium was under construction. After experiencing the highs and lows in recent years “Parra” fans are parochial and vocal supporters of their club. Expect to see plenty of blue and gold in the stands. As the club continues its resurgence, and with the added bounce expected from the new stadium, crowds should continue to be good.
Fans are strongly advised to use mass transport to get to and from the venue, with most game tickets also including the cost of public transport. The Parramatta interchange (buses and trains) is around a 10-minute stroll from the stadium. Even then, there are often shuttle bus services for the less mobile fans. There’s not much parking in the area, and then most of it is metered. Leave the car at home for this one if you can. If you insist on driving then aim to arrive well in advance of kick off and try your luck in streets north of the stadium, potentially as far away as the lower portion of Pennant Hills Rd (1.5km from the stadium).
Inside the stadium crowds move well through the concourses, although expect some initial congestion as fans explore the new stadium. Bathrooms are plentiful, but under the same amount of stress as any other well-attended major event.
Return on Investment 4
The cheapest adult tickets for reserved seating are around $40. For this price point you’ll likely be seated at either end. To get a sideline seat will cost a minimum of $50, while “Gold” tickets set you back over $70. While there are discounts for family passes (admits 4), you will still spend close to $100 just to get in the door. Yes, this will not be a cheap family day out. However, keep in mind that this is a high-quality venue, and tickets do include free public transport to and from the stadium. Additionally, stick to the “stadium staples” to save some cash at the concession stands.
There’s plenty to like about Bankwest Stadium. There were lots of staff and we found them particularly helpful and friendly – hopefully this will continue. There are numerous environmentally sustainable features, earning the building a gold rating for LEED energy. There are quite a few nice additions to improve the experience including pram parking areas, parent rooms, a prayer room, and free Wi-Fi.
We also rate the club’s commitment to its history – before each game an Eels legend raises a flag for the fans. While the main tenants will be the Eels and Wanderers, there are aspects of the stadium which can be customized to suit the home team. Lastly, and we hope it is an ongoing trend, fans were allowed onto the field at the conclusion of the first game.
The new Bankwest Stadium is a whole new level for Sydney stadia. All fans should take the opportunity to check it out during its inaugural season of operation.