THE COMMON: HISTORIC VENUE FOR A HISTORIC FINAL
When the St. Petersburg Swans and StarfishFC take to the ground in this weekend’s 2018 Major League Footy Championship Final, it’ll mark much more than an Australian Rules Football match a world away from the sport’s origins.
It will mark a unique turn of history that befits the sport’s surging growth on Florida’s West Coast.
Nestled just two kilometers from the St. Petersburg CBD, the Common at Crescent Lake is one of the very few public grounds large enough to accommodate footy in Florida’s most densely populated county – and how it came to be is a story in early 20th Century ‘boom time’ thinking that serves to benefit footy players and supporters right to the present day.
Originally planned as a ‘tropical garden’, creating the Park demanded clearing a ‘jungle-like’ environment – including removing a considerable population of alligators, wild monkeys and the like.
In their wisdom, the civic leaders of the day decided the lake’s signature wildlife – migrating ducks, geese and swans – would remain.
While that bit of historical trivia obviously led to the city’s footy side taking the name of their South Melbourne/Sydney counterparts, it was the creation of two distinctly different sporting areas on opposite sides of the lake that would make this Saturday’s match possible.
On the southernmost end of the space, a baseball ground was constructed in the city’s ongoing effort to increase its viability as a Major League Baseball Spring Training location, and would see the historic field adjoining the lake become the Spring Home of the New York Yankees from 1925 until 1961, with breaks only for World War II.
The Yankees and New York Giants also ‘swapped’ training sites in 1951, with the Giants training in St. Petersburg, while the Yankees went west to Phoenix, Arizona for one season.
Crescent Lake Park also served as the Spring Training Home of the expansion New York Mets in 1962.
The rich sporting tradition of the park is not restricted to the South end of the ground, however.
With tennis courts nestled on the park’s southwest corner, it’s perhaps the most unusual providence that area north of the lake was deemed as a ‘Common’, large enough for ‘football, cricket or other games’ that bears significance this weekend.
Even as the Swans have used other grounds in the region for home games – most notably Largo Sports Complex north of St. Petersburg and Richard ‘Dick’ Turner Field Campbell Park (Four ‘N Twenty Field) – the club has continued to host weekly training sessions at Crescent Lake since 2014.
And, during the course of the 2018 season – one that saw 25 consecutive weeks of footy played in a schedule that begin in early April, Swans leadership saw the merit in Crescent Lake’s location and easily-adaptable configuration.
That resulted in the bulk of the Major League Footy regular season slate (with the exception of night matches) played on the big oval, albeit configured for the league’s 7-a-side game.
The journey of bringing footy to a Park built in 1925, and known for baseball – but also with at least a passing nod to cricket – and playing a Finals match a half-world away from Australia on the same day as the sport’s Grand Final is not only the culmination of the hard-work and dedication of footy players and supporters in Florida, it’s serendipity of sorts.
The St. Petersburg Swans vs Starfish FC, Saturday, 11 AM EDT
Crescent Lake Common, St. Petersburg, Florida.