An overseas viewer of this blog could be forgiven for thinking, looking at the posts on local football, that New Zealand consists of, well, not very much really. A couple of shacks for football clubrooms. A few paddocks. A couple of hundred people at a stretch. But of course Association Football is very much a poor cousin here. Oh, and when I say poor cousin, I actually mean the cousin that nobody else in the family likes to mention. Never invited to weddings or Christmas dinners. The one that smells, is always picking fights, wanting to borrow money and trying to pay you back in class B narcotics.
Given that as we speak, New Zealand is hosting the third biggest sporting event in the world (yeah, right), the Rugby World Cup, perhaps some contrast is in order.
Rugby Union. Sporting wise, pretty much all anyone cares about in this country of ours. Governments go up and down in political opinion polls based on how well the All Blacks do. The black jersey with a silver fern emblem is the gift our Prime Minister gives to foreign leaders when he goes abroad. Rugby takes up at least 80% of the sports news and at least 20% of other news – often with insecure rubbish like the recent angst over the colour of the England jersey. When the All Blacks win, we look for fault in their every tackle. When they lose, we go into national mourning and it’s never the team’s fault. It’s the referee or some mysterious waitress in the team’s hotel. The game was played at the wrong time on the wrong day that caused us to be robbed of what is naturally our God given right to win every major competition we’re involved in.
All the kids want to be All Blacks. The game is well resourced in every sense of the word. Nobody cares about Auckland’s substandard public transport until a few rugby fans get stuck on a train platform. People find apartheid in South Africa abhorrent until it has the potential to interfere with their precious game. Many show contempt for Maori culture, but love for the All Black Haka.
Yes, I’m a complete hypocrite. I’ve written before about how much I admire this sort of passion for football in Rome. Football mad countries are just as unhealthily obsessive about the beautiful game. But that’s understandable. It’s beautiful. Rugby… just isn’t. It’s a brutal game that encourages violent behaviour on and off the field.
Rugby supporters wouldn’t know atmosphere if it slapped them across the face with a handbag. Rugby crowds don’t do singing or chanting. Their definition of witty is yelling “they’ve been doing it all day Ref!” When football teams lose, at least fans round on their own players and coach rather than some phantom of fate.
It goes without saying that I didn’t want to enjoy the Rugby World Cup. I wanted it over and done with as soon as humanly possible. But having said all of this, New Zealand may never host anything as big as this again in my lifetime. It would be belligerence of the worst kind not to take a peek at some of it. So I queued on a train platform and packed into the crush of downtown Auckland to watch the opening ceremony (which was fabulous) and the fireworks (stunning) at ‘Party Central’ (wonderful atmosphere).
Of course, I can’t possibly watch the All Blacks – all my street cred would be gone. But I did begrudgingly fork over $300 for two tickets to a game – Australia vs Italy. Naturally.
I returned home from the game pretty satisfied. I would have liked a win for gli azzurri. Of course, that was never really going to happen. Although at half time with the score at 6-6, it looked possible. It was also mildly disappointing not to get a reaction from the odious Australians sitting behind us when I repeatedly tried to get a chant of “Faaaabio Grosso” started. Nobody else had the faintest idea what I was talking about. Humph. Rugby fans don’t know anything.
Right! That’s enough oval ball nonsense for one lifetime. I’ve done my bit for the proudest month in our nation’s history (snort). Back to blogging about real football.
In closing, I want to leave you with this. Because regardless of how bad us real football fans think we’ve got it in New Zealand, we must always remember that there are others who have it far worse.
Categories: Off Topic
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.