Princes Park in 2007
|Full name||Carlton Recreation Ground/Princes Park|
|Former names||Princes Park (1897-1994)|
Optus Oval (1994-2006)
MC Labour Park (2007-2008)
Visy Park (2009-2015)
Ikon Park (2015-present)
|Location||Princes Park, Carlton North, Victoria|
|Owner||City of Melbourne|
|Operator||Carlton Football Club|
|Record attendance||62,986 (1945 VFL Grand Final)|
Northern Blues (VFL) (2012-2019)
Balmain Tigers (NSWRL) (1994)
Melbourne Storm (Administration & Training) (2006-2010)
Melbourne Rebels (Administration & Training) (2011-2015)
Princes Park (or Carlton Recreation Ground, currently officially known by its sponsored name Ikon Park) is an Australian rules football ground located at Princes Park in the inner Melbourne suburb of Carlton North. It is a historic venue, having been the home ground of the Carlton Football Club since 1897.
Prior to a partial redevelopment the ground had a nominal capacity of 35,000, making it the third largest Australian rules football venue in Melbourne after the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Docklands Stadium. Princes Park hosted three grand finals during World War II, with a record attendance of 62,986 at the 1945 VFL Grand Final between Carlton and South Melbourne. After 2005, when the ground hosted its last Australian Football League (AFL) game, two stands were removed and replaced with an indoor training facility and administration building, reducing the capacity. Austadiums lists the current capacity of the stadium at around 22,000.
Princes Park was first used in 1897 by the Carlton Football Club, during the inaugural season of the AFL/VFL. The club went on to win 673 of its 962 VFL/AFL games at the venue. The Alderman Gardiner Stand was designed in 1903 and completed in stages between 1909 and 1913, as a mostly iron stand with original cast iron columns still in place. The Robert Heatley Stand was officially opened by Alderman Sir William Brunton on Saturday, 7 May 1932.
During World War II, Princes Park hosted three VFL grand finals - in 1942, 1943, and 1945. (The 1944 match was played at the Junction Oval.) The 1945 grand final, between Carlton and South Melbourne, attracted a record crowd of 62,986. Three weeks earlier, the semi-final between Carlton and North Melbourne had attracted 54,846 people. Those were the only two crowds of over 50,000 in the venue's history. The record home-and-away (i.e., non-finals) crowd was set in 1963, when 47,514 attended a match between Carlton and Geelong.
In 1952, Princes Park was originally selected to be the main stadium for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, which would have resulted in a major redevelopment to accommodate up to 100,000 spectators. It was also expected that VFL finals would be transferred to the ground after the upgrade. However, in early 1953, the Olympic Organising Committee changed its decision, instead redeveloping the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Olympics.
Princes Park was the venue for the second Ashes test of the 1992 Great Britain Lions tour, in which the visitors defeated Australia 33-10. The ground became known as Optus Oval in November 1993 due to a naming rights deal with telecommunications company Optus. In 1994, the Balmain Tigers played two New South Wales Rugby League premiership games at Princes Park. Work on the Legends Stand began in 1995 and was completed for opening on 25 April 1997. The roof, with its curved modern structure, ensured that the oval was now enclosed with a roof all the way around its circumference. The first naming rights deal lapsed at the end of the 2005 season, and Optus declined to renew, citing the ground's lower profile now that AFL matches were no longer played there. In April 2006, it was announced that the naming rights for the stadium had once again been awarded, this time for a two-year term, during which the stadium was known as MC Labour Park.
In 2005, it was decided to discontinue the use of the ground for AFL home and away games. A farewell AFL game was played at Princes Park on Saturday 21 May 2005. The game was contested between Carlton and Melbourne. It was the last of the suburban grounds in Melbourne to be used in the AFL. The result was an 18-point win to Melbourne. Also in the same year, the ground hosted matches from the Australian Football Multicultural Cup as well as finals for the 2005 Australian Football International Cup.
In January 2006, Graham Smorgon, ex-president of the Carlton Football Club, prepared a A$67 million redevelopment proposal involving the demolition of most of the stands, returning much of the ground to parkland and the establishment of club training facilities and community centre. On 7 June 2006 it was announced that Visy Park would receive a A$15.7m redevelopment to provide the Carlton Football Club with elite training and administration facilities. The proposed redevelopment will provide state-of-the-art facilities exclusively for Carlton, including:
From the 2015 season, the ground is known as Ikon Park.
The inaugural match of the AFL Women's competition was held at the ground in February 2017. The game, featuring Carlton and Collingwood, attracted a capacity crowd of 24,568. The venue hosted the 2018 AFL Women's Grand Final. The success of the AFL Women's competition resulted in both state and federal governments allocating funding towards enhancement of the stadium's facilities, to enable it to become the home of women's football in Victoria. The Victorian Government committed $20 million in April 2018 to cater for the growth of women's football, which was followed the next year by $15 million from the Federal Government. The joint funding allows the venue to become a high performance women's training facility, with an upgraded oval, women's coaching education hub, sports injury prevention and research centre and allied health centre.
Public transport to the venue is primarily by tram along Royal Parade directly adjoining the ground, or along Lygon St 700m east of the ground. It was served by North Carlton railway station, 700m north of the ground, until that station's closure in 1948; and by Royal Park railway station 1.1 km to the west thereafter.
Tenants of the ground for VFL/AFL home matches have been:
The ground has hosted VFA/VFL grand finals on and off from 1990 to 2007 and again from 2019. Until 2010, it was the home ground of the newly created VFL reserves side of the Collingwood Football Club, which is ironic considering that Collingwood and Carlton are bitter rivals in the AFL. From 2012 until the dissolution of their affiliation in 2020, the Northern Blues, Carlton's VFL-affiliate, split their home games between Princes Park and Preston City Oval; and Carlton has continued to play some pre-season and practice matches at the ground since it stopped playing premiership matches there.
Carlton's AFL Women's (AFLW) team plays its matches at the venue, as have some other clubs for specific matches.
The venue's most notable alternative use was as a cricket ground. The ground has hosted seven first-class cricket matches, including three Sheffield Shield games, and two List A matches. Until 2000, the ground was the home of the Carlton Cricket Club in the Victorian Premier/District Cricket competition; in 2000, the club moved to the No. 1 Oval in the wider Princes Park area to enable the football club unlimited access to the venue for year-round training.
The Balmain Tigers took two games away from their traditional home Leichhardt Oval to Princes Park in the 1994 Winfield Cup. The highest crowd Balmain got was 14,762 turning up to see the Brisbane Broncos beat Balmain 36-14 in round 7 with Steve Renouf scoring 4 tries.
From the 2006 NRL season onwards, Visy Park was also the administrative headquarters for the Melbourne Storm rugby league club. The club relocated to the temporary home while plans were being made for the construction of a new purpose-built rectangular stadium next to the then-current Melbourne Storm home ground, Olympic Park Stadium.