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All White on the night

New Zealand 6, Solomon Islands 1
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, September 11 2012

New Zealand’s first goal

If North Harbour Stadium had been filled to the gunnels for the All Whites vs Solomon Islands match last week, Wellingtonians would have complained that Auckland should have filled two stadia. Such was the grumping, coming from a place of dogmatic hatred and anti-Auckland resentment, that the city of sails simply couldn’t win. This is evidenced by my Twitter feed. The wailing and carping that the Auckland crowd was small and the city wasn’t worthy of international football started long before any chance for armchair critics to see how big the walk-up crowd might yet be.

Growing up in the Waikato, we were instilled with a healthy disrespect for Auckland from a young age. As a result, I can slag off our nation’s biggest city with the best of them. As I’ve grown older and more mature however, I have softened my view somewhat to the point where I believe that it’s foolish to bag anything for its own sake and without good grounds for doing so.

Blame it on the rain

Tuesday night was a wild, wet and windy evening and the game was against low ranking opposition. I doubt that under the circumstances any other venue in New Zealand could have done much better than the shade under 8,000 that braved the storm. That attendance figure was around about as good as can be realistically expected, and in its defence, it’s the same as an average Wellington Phoenix crowd was in A-League season 2011/12. In my view a closely fought Phoenix game should be better attended than a World Cup qualifier that’s obviously going to be somewhat lop-sided on a positively shitty night.

This holds especially true when you compare Tuesday’s crowd to the closest thing to a corresponding fixture in New Zealand’s 2010 World Cup qualification campaign. The All Whites 4-1 victory over Vanuatu in November 2007 at Westpac Stadium in Wellington attracted the staggeringly stratospheric attendance of…………. wait for it………………… Ready? 2,500. Face it, we can dream up all the marketing ideas in the world but the harsh reality remains that these games against the island nations actually aren’t that marketable in a country that, whether we like it or not, simply doesn’t like football all that much. The CONCACAF playoff, should we qualify for it, being a completely different fox hunt altogether of course.

Having said all that though, North Harbour Stadium is not my favourite place to watch any sport. Albany is waaaaay off the beaten track for 80% of the city. People from South Auckland especially have a mental block when it comes to the Harbour Bridge, making it very difficult to turn out a significant portion of Auckland’s heartland football support. Transport was inadequate too. I caught one of the free busses from the CBD and it was packed, but instead of taking the North Shore Busway it blundered onto the motorway, inevitably ended up stuck in gridlock, and almost made us late.

Solomon Islands bench looking miserable

Then there’s the fact that the stadium itself has all the atmosphere of a mass grave. I’m sure there were people singing on Tuesday night but I was unable to hear them. The marshalling was hopeless too. Lots of people were sitting in the wrong seats leading to people with no seats standing in the aisle in front of me restricting my view of a good third of the pitch. I’m a football loyalist, but lesser beings who experienced all this may never return. Mt Smart, although not what I’d call ideal, is a much better venue and I’d urge New Zealand Football to schedule future Auckland games there or at Eden Park.

Wellington has shown time and time again that it is a true football city and the home of the beautiful game in New Zealand. It has the best stadium in the best location with the best facilities and transport hubs around it. Its central location makes it equally accessible to Aucklanders and South Islanders. It should get the vast bulk of the games now. But this shouldn’t mean other games aren’t tossed around the rest of the country from time to time. Wellington does itself a disservice by sniping at other cities and generally mirroring the sort of behaviour they quite rightly dislike Auckland for. They should stick to latte jokes and making sure they get more than 8,000 to the New Caledonia match on March 22. I’ll be watching closely for the ‘H’ word…

Categories: All Whites

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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