CHURCHILL United Soccer Club might need a new nickname for their home ground.

The Rams are getting prepared for Round 1 of the Latrobe Valley Soccer League season, and are almost ready to unveil their new upgrades to the league.

With the addition of new changes rooms and new drainage and surface for the pitch, the surface colloquially known as ‘The Paddock’ will be somewhat unrecognisable.

Churchill United Vice President, Stephen Breheny is pleased with the upgrade, and is keen to see them put to use.

“We lobbied for a long time to get changerooms, it went on for years and years, and eventually we were able to secure a grant … and the build has taken place and there was some dollars left over,” he said.

With the leftover funds made available, the club opted to improve the drainage and surface of the pitch.

“Latrobe City applied to have that money used for the (Hazelwood South) Reserve, which allowed for the groundworks to occur,” Breheny said.

“On the main pitch (the drainage) is every five metres, there is also a 200 millimetre rebuild of the surface with sand, so its evened out. When the grass beds in it’s going to be a really top-end soccer facility in the Latrobe Valley.

In progress: The main pitch at ‘The Paddock’ is expected to be completed before the start of the 2024 season. Photograph: Tom Hayes

On the secondary pitch at Hazelwood South Reserve, the drainage runs every 10 metres, essentially improving the drainage issue two-fold.

The new changerooms were completed a while ago, and have only been used minimally, but for the 2024 season, the Rams are ready to put those to use.

“The previous rooms were not fit for purpose – they were built in the late 60s. They were not conducive to female participation,” Breheny said.

“So these new rooms, there’s four separate change rooms, in pairs basically they’re interconnected – you can pull a barrier between the two.

“What that means is once we’re up and running, you can actually have two games going at the same time, doesn’t matter if it’s male or female, everyone can be catered for without compromise.”

With the upgrades comes the additional plus that the changerooms will be pitch-side, rather than further back from the field, allowing for easier access to and from the pitch.

Along with the player’s changerooms comes the new referee’s changerooms, which again have a dividing door for males and females to use separately.

Neat: The new changerooms offer more availability, with the addition of sliding doors to allow more teams to use the space at once. Photograph: Tom Hayes

To complete the block, the Rams will have all-access toilets, a first aid room and a new storage shed.

This development wasn’t built in a day, in fact its a culmination of work put in since 2008, finally 16 years down the line.

“This was actually first recommended in the soccer plan of 2008, and then in the southern town’s plan of 2009 … we have been lobbying that long,” Breheny said.

“We got there in the end which is very pleasing.

“To now have it all pitch-side, it’s really just a great little boutique facility.”

Despite major upgrades all over the Hazelwood South Reserve, more plans are in the pipleline to secure Hazelwood South Reserve as a premier venue.

Car parking was identified as an issue, with plans to improve traffic flow, and add some formal car parking behind the complex to avoid people getting muddy.

Churchill United and Breheny couldn’t be more complimentary of the Latrobe City Council for getting the ball rolling, and Breheny appreciates what it potentially could mean for the Rams going forward.

“We’re a unique club – we represent Churchill and District – so it’s not just the town,” he said.

Players and members of the Rams come from as far as Hazelwood North, Hazelwood South, the Jeeralangs, Yinnar and Boolarra.

“As anyone who is involved in community sport at a club level (would say) it doesn’t take much to lose focus and to lose organisation, so it is a continual requirement just to continue to push up from the bottom,” he continued.

“We lost the plot back in the mid-2000s we really had a drop-off. You lose your key parts of your club it can snowball.

“And it’s the same story that if you can get the right people involved and you focus on all of the different points, the momentum just builds back up. So we’re on an upward trajectory at the moment.”

Moving on the pitch, Brehemy said this season would be about Churchill United “earning back a little bit of respect” following a disappointing 2023 LVSL campaign.

“We’ve had a bit of a gap between junior development and that translating to senior talent – coming from juniors to seniors … we’re certainly seeing lots of good kids come through, but it’s probably five years away before we’ll be in a position where we can say we have really sustained future,” he said.

“The great news is that we’ve got a lot of players that we’ve had success with for a really long time, that have gone away from the game, that are actually engaged and come back to the club this year.”

The arrival of new senior coach, Jayden Unmack, has boosted morale at the club, with his plans already being put to use during preseason.

“(Unmack) has had a storied career with Dandenong City in the NPL, and he’s a local, knows it well,” Breheny said.

“We’ve been really impressed by his commitment and understanding that we’re a club that has been down and he’s pragmatic about where we can get to this year.

“Our goal for this year is just to earn back a little bit of respect. If we could move up the ladder, we’re realistic about where we could get to, and if we were landing mid-table and pushed a few up the top, we would see this year as a success.”

Unmack has already begun to leave an imprint on the look of the Rams, giving the place a whole new feeling.

“You go into the club rooms and you can feel a vibe just walking into the rooms,” Breheny said.

“At training there’s a few new faces and old faces, and you get that energy and it puts pressure on players.

“You put pressure on senior spots, which puts pressure on reserve spots, everyone’s gotta show up.

“He’s really driving the expectation, his mantra is to build from the back … and then you work it through.”

Football Victoria has taken over administration of the LVSL for season 2024.

The completion of the 2024 LVSL fixture is still pending, with clubs expecting to know in early-March.