Wellington Phoenix FC 3, Sydney FC 2
Westpac Stadium, Wellington, March 30 2012
Last night I was extremely fortunate to be in our nation’s capital for the first match of the Wellington Phoenix’s third straight A-League finals series appearance.
It was a fairly typical finals encounter in the first half, as you would expect, with both sides taking a cautious approach and feeling each other out. But things opened up big time in the second stanza and it turned into a high-octane white knuckle ride. The Phoenix took a 1-0 lead in the 46th minute through midfielder Tim Brown, a player who announced his imminent retirement from all football earlier in the week, having been accepted to study for a Master of Business Administration at the London School of Economics. After much end-to-end action, the home side, who had been having the better of the opportunities, doubled their lead in the 79th minute only to see Sydney FC hit straight back from the kick-off to make it 2-1. But that didn’t stop the home fans from indulging in their favourite tradition.
Whenever the ‘Nix lead with ten minutes remaining, the crowd take their shirts off and wave them around in the air – showing their Australian opponents, used to a warmer climate, that Wellington’s chilly weather is no obstacle to madness. But this time Sydney were able to gain the satisfaction of watching them hurriedly put them back on again as the visitors levelled the scores at 2-2 with a gentle lob over All Whites Keeper Mark Paston. However their satisfaction was shot lived. The Phoenix were awarded a penalty and Paul Ifill made no mistake from the spot. Off came the shirts once again! This time for good. Anyone who thinks football is dour should try following the Phoenix. They seem to specialise in these heart attack inducing finishes…
My only slight grump is I thought it was a disappointing crowd for a playoff – only a smidgen over 10,000. The owners’ threat to take the team for more games around the country if crowds don’t improve might well raise its head again. Might I suggest that this doesn’t necessarily mean members should miss out? Why not do a deal with the Warriors? They play a game in Wellington, the Phoenix play a game in Auckland. Members of both clubs gain free entry to each other’s one-off games played in their respective cities. I would be happy to lose a game off my season membership to the rugby league side if it was replaced with a football match! And it would do some of my fellow league supporters no end of good to be exposed to a vastly superior product…
But if ‘Nix owner Gareth Morgan was upset with the crowd numbers, he wasn’t showing it. As the game went down to the wire he could be observed dancing with the Yellow Fever supporters. Like the rest of us, he will be cheering on the Melbourne Heart when they take on the Perth Glory on Sunday. If the Heart win, they will play the Phoenix in Wellington next week, avoiding the need for a tricky trip to Western Australia and giving the Wellington public a second chance to see their awesome football club for the last time this season. Here’s hoping.
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.