IT IS the oldest arch-rivalry in the VFL and possibly the oldest in Australia, but it will take on a brand new look when Williamstown hosts Port Melbourne under the Downer Oval lights on Saturday night.
The league’s two remaining continuous founding clubs have met 255 times, but apart from their clash at the new North Port Oval in 2019 it is doubtful they will have played on a better ground than when the Seagulls officially open their new facility.
After unveiling their new 300-Lux state league quality lights against Borough in the opening round of 2019, Williamstown will reveal an AFL-quality surface CEO Jason Reddick can’t wait to see his players run out on.
"We had low drainage first and foremost, and the ground became unplayable on certain occasions when the weather turned foul on us and the ground was unable to drain away," he said.
"(The clay base expanding) also left undulations on the ground and the AFL wouldn’t allow us to play games at home (in certain conditions).
"In 2019 we had to move our Geelong game out to Werribee, which takes away from our local community, from our fans, from our club making revenue and it takes away from our home team performance leading into the finals in particular – and it had happened on prior occasions as well."
The Seagulls lobbied the ground’s managers Hobsons Bay City Council, which engaged leading playing surface developer Pitchcraft to undertake a full revamp.
Pitchcraft most recently revamped North Port Oval and were also responsible for a number of AFL venues including Mars Stadium in Ballarat.
They upgraded and levelled the ground surface, removing the slope towards the bay, installing new drainage, fencing around the ground and the precinct and landscaping the surrounds in a $2 million project.
"They’ve done a beautiful job … and now we’ve got a first-class AFL equivalent ground to host games on," Reddick said.
"And after the first year when it has settled, the ground will be able to host more games at a community level as well, so it’s a great outcome for everyone.
"It looks magnificent to me and I’m super excited, as are all our players and the coaches to finally get on it.
"Pitchcraft themselves are really proud of it and when they’re happy that makes me happy – they’re the experts and they know how it has gone and all along they’ve said it has been a good project to work on and they’re very happy with the outcome.
"Given the standard of venues they’ve delivered and the industry they’re in at the elite level, I’m really pleased to hear that."
Williamstown chose its clash with Port Melbourne to launch the facility as its traditional first home game for the year, honouring Seagulls legend Gerry Callahan (who wore No.1) for the Johnson-Callahan Cup, with the return match taking place in Round 11 each year to honour Borough great Frank Johnson, who wore No.11.
And Reddick is confident the blue and gold army will be there in force for the double header, which starts with the women’s team finally returning home after eight weeks on the road to play Collingwood from 2pm, before the VFL clash kicks off at 7.10pm.
It will be the 50th clash between the old rivals in the VFL era, with the head-to-head record sitting amazingly at 23 wins apiece and three draws, meaning the winner will claim modern bragging rights.
"We’ve got a sell-out crowd of 260 people for our pre-match function – we barely got a chance to make it public such was the interest and demand for tickets," he said.
"It has been 640-odd days since Williamstown played a game at Downer Oval in 2019, so the Williamstown supporter base is going to be there in force on Saturday night.
"That has been reflected in our pre-match function, which will be a chance to thank the council and celebrate what is a fantastic venue for elite football now."