The New Zealand Herald recently published an article suggesting that expansion of the New Zealand Football Championship could be on the near horizon. If not in time for this season coming, perhaps by 2013/14, South Auckland and Nelson look set to be the most likely locations for two new franchises. This is the best local football news I have heard in years, particularly in light of a recent online discussion on the location of a third Auckland team that got me quite riled up. Many from the North Shore felt that as they are such a strong football area, they should be rewarded with a franchise of their own ahead of anywhere else.
Auckland is a town of haves and have-nots in football as in many other aspects of life. The financially affluent and predominantly white North Shore has seven clubs in the NRFL, all but two in division 1. Low income multi ethnic South Auckland, with its vastly larger population base, also has 7, mostly poorly resourced clubs and all but two are in division 2. It’s tempting to send a new franchise to where the game is stronger and the amenities are more comfortable. But that to me would be a terrible waste when instead of the conservative approach of consolidating the game, we could be building and growing the sport amongst new communities outside New Zealand football’s traditional white middle class support.
If we can get football pumping in South Auckland, the implications for the game from club level to the All Whites is massive. Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world and with a bit of Pacific uniqueness to our play, utilising the strength and flair that Samoans, Tongans and Fijians bring to rugby, by luring them away from the national game we could transform football for the better.
A handful of diehard supporters get very passionate about their clubs and franchises, treating them as though winning the Northern League or the NZFC is as important as if it was the English Premier League. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that support for our game in this country is miniscule and players who are good enough to represent our country at World Cup level almost all ply their trade overseas. Our local clubs and franchises must have bigger priorities than being the biggest fish in their tiny puddles. As Dwayne Barlow so eloquently pointed out recently, the be-all and end-all of our local game should be the development of players in terms of both the quality and size of the talent pool, and to have at least two clubs capable of winning the Oceania Champions League every season. I encourage you to read Dwayne’s article, it fleshes those points out very well.
The potential in South Auckland is huge. The Polynesian community is grossly underrepresented in football and it’s partly because there is little about the structure of the game that appeals to them. We remain stuck in England mode. Stuffy and gloomy, the style of play is uninspiring and names like Waitakere United and Auckland City FC are as uncool as they are vanilla.
Marketing will be the key to success of any new venture. This is what the Kansas City Wizards discovered when they transformed their dull, sterile and poorly supported club into one of the most vibrant atmospheres in MLS. They changed their name, culture and identity to a more continental European inspired approach. The newly branded ‘Sporting Kansas City’ improved their supporter base out of sight overnight. I’m not advocating a European style here, but a uniquely Polynesian one. A name like ‘Southside FC’ and a logo that will look good on a baseball cap would be a great start. The club could be promoted by running football clinics in schools with free tickets and rap music.
Centre Park in Mangere was mentioned by the Herald as a likely home ground, an excellent choice. Close to the South Western Motorway it features good parking, covered seating and a nice atmosphere with spectators able to sit close to the pitch. Along with Kiwitea Street and Napier’s Park Island it would easily qualify as one of the three best NZFC venues in the country. With former New Zealand Football CEO Noel Robinson at the helm, the franchise will have an experienced and safe pair of hands to get the ball rolling.
This is an opportunity New Zealand Football should be taking with both hands.
Categories: NZ Men's National League
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.