By Joanne Vella
25 May 2010 - Canterbury-Bankstown Express
ROLL out the welcome mat - the Bulldogs are coming home to Belmore.
The club will resume training and administrative duties at their spiritual home of Belmore Sports Ground as early as the 2011 season after the Federal Government announced $4.9 million to upgrade the local landmark.
The funds were allocated under its regional and local community infrastructure program. Canterbury Council and the Bulldogs have also contributed an extra $1 million towards the project, which will incorporate a new gym, refurbished changerooms, football staff offices, a video conference room, a player recreation area and the conversion of the bar area into a common room. The amenities block servicing the Peter Moore Field will be extended and refurbished for community sporting groups.
Player Michael Hodgson was one of the players who welcomed the announcement on Friday.
"It's great," he said. "It's rich in history at Belmore. I know the likes of Luke Patten and Andrew Ryan are excited to be back here. Basically we're all very excited and it's a great initiative."
Sydney Olympic, which plays its NSW Premier League matches at Belmore, will also benefit with new changerooms.
The Bulldogs are expected to train there by the start of the 2011 season but there are no immediate plans for the club to host NRL first-grade matches though, though trial matches are proposed.
The first stage is part of a $45 million grand masterplan expected to rejuvenate the ground, which last hosted a first grade match in 1998.
Back to Belmore president Luke Brailey described the event as a momentous occasion.
"Many people said that we were wasting our time and that Belmore was a lost cause," he said. "I'm here to say that this is just the beginning and that Belmore Sports Ground will soon underpin all major sporting achievements in the Canterbury-Bankstown area."
Regional Development and Local Government Minister Anthony Albanese said the "vital" project was "shovel-ready" and would generate 40 short-term building jobs in an area hard hit by unemployment.
"We know that in the inner city, space is a premium," he said.
Canterbury-Bankstown Rugby League Club chairman Ray Dib said the upgrade of Belmore Sports Ground had been the focus of the board since 2008. Mr Dib and Sydney Olympic Football Club president George Giannaros described the project as a landmark approval because it showed rival codes could work in co-operation.
Federal Labor MP for Watson Tony Burke said the Bulldogs' return to Belmore made a big difference to the community.
"When the Bulldogs left it was a massive loss to our community and today the Dogs come back home and that makes a difference to morale."
The funding is conditional upon Canterbury Council formalising a contract with the government and meeting relevant conditions.