Missed opportunity still stings inaugural Diggers GM

DISAPPOINTED: Inaugural Bendigo Diggers general manager Ken Yates with the QEO plans presented to councll in 1999. Picture: JIM ALDERSEY

DISAPPOINTED: Inaugural Bendigo Diggers general manager Ken Yates with the QEO plans presented to councll in 1999. Picture: JIM ALDERSEY

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INAUGURAL Bendigo Diggers general manager Ken Yates is adamant a VFL club could have prospered in Bendigo had a $1.5 million facility proposed at the QEO in 1999 been built.

Bendigo's 17-year involvement in the VFL will finish at the end of this season after the Bendigo Gold announced it won't be renewing its licence.

Throughout its time as the Diggers, Bombers and Gold, Bendigo has constantly fought an off-field financial battle with no home base to generate regular income like most football clubs take for granted. 

Mr Yates said he was saddened when told of the impending demise of the Bendigo Gold, but remains steadfast in his belief that the Diggers' QEO plans presented to council in 1999 would have been a much-needed lifeline for the club.

"Once Bendigo ended the alignment with Essendon in 2012, finances were always going to be the biggest concern for the club," Mr Yates said on Thursday.

"When I was with the Diggers, the financial side of things was the hardest to cope with, because to raise sufficient funds to run a VFL club in Bendigo was a very daunting task."

Which is why the Diggers worked on plans for a two-storey facility at the QEO in the Aquatic Centre pocket.

The plans for the multi-user facility featured changerooms and a gymnasium on the lower floor, plus a gaming lounge, including TAB, bistro, function room, boardroom, media facilities and office space on the upper level.

The Diggers had $300,000 pledged from Football Victoria to the $1.5 million project, plus Mr Yates had begun the process of securing gaming machines for the facility.

"One thing that still irks me is when we met with council with our proposal," Mr Yates said.

"We had $300,000 up front from Football Victoria, and there was other funding sources through federal, state and local government.

"We had the plans in place, but were devastated when it didn't get through council and knew from then it was going to be a long, hard haul to try to be financially viable.

"Still to this day, I often think how we could have survived had that proposal been built. 

"I've got no doubt the Bendigo Football Club today would have been a viable and successful operation in the VFL had it been built."

While the City of Greater Bendigo didn't approve the Diggers' QEO facility proposal in 1999, the council later contributed significantly to a major $2.2 million surface upgrade of the ground in 2011.

City of Greater Bendigo chief executive officer Craig Niemann acknowledges the lack of a home base has long been a detriment to Bendigo's VFL club.

"When something concludes, we can all look back and say what could we have done differently," Mr Niemann said.

"The council has scrutinised, debated and analysed this for many years trying to work out how best to deliver it (a home for the VFL team).

"Investing in new facilities and a new ground for a stand-alone purpose is millions of dollars, and we determined we were better to put money into the main oval, the QEO, and make it a surface that can sustain more use. It's getting 90 to 100 games per year, plus training sessions, and we do a great job to sustain the surface.

"I agree the lack of a home base and a facility where they can hang their memorabilia and supporters are able to call home has been a challenge all the way through.

"We worked hard to try to make sure we could get them on the QEO, along with Sandhurst and South Bendigo as co-tenants, but it hasn't been perfect.

"Unfortunately, we haven't had the major capital investment to build something new for them, and that was always a challenge as to whether that was the right thing to do or not. We tried to manage it best with the resources we had."

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