You can see why the Coliseum wasn’t built in New Zealand. Aside from the obvious fact that the closest things to people living here in 70AD were flightless birds, can you imagine the fuss? There would have been neighbourhood meetings stacked with angry local NIMBYs, councils telling central government to butt out of their turf, central government telling local government they’ll have to foot the bill, circus goers complaining that it’s too far to walk from the Aventine with a vastly larger arena located much more conveniently with nicer brothels nearby… “The Circus Maximus is perfect for our national game – gladiatorial mortal combat” They’d all say. “It’s all we need. The Circus Flaminius will do for minority sports such as Christian massacre! We can live with the chariot race track hampering our ability to see every detail of the blood splattering action, thus limiting the fan experience… we are living in tough times, we have to cut our cloth accordingly. Here’s an idea! Let’s plonk a new stand on one side! That’ll keep everyone happy!”
And just like that, one of the great wonders of the world is erased from history.
The stadium situation in our three major North Island cities (where I’m most qualified to judge given I don’t spend much time South of Cook Strait) looks a bit like this:
In Auckland, until recently we had something like seven different councils who all thought they needed to have the same infrastructure. So we ended up with Mount Smart, Eden Park, Trusts Stadium, and North Harbour Stadium, all catering to roughly the same purpose. All four are half arsed compromises in one way or another. Mt Smart – mostly built on the cheap for the 1990 Commonwealth Games as an athletics venue, then upgraded for the Warriors a few years ago and soon to be turned into a speedway venue. Eden Park – our nation’s largest stadium, our national rugby venue – a hodgepodge of bits strewn around in different places at different times to look like a dog’s breakfast and function like what comes out the other end. Trusts – A good enough size for football but it carries the curse of the running track forcing you to sit so far back it’s like watching an ant fight from across the street. And North Harbour Stadium – there for no other reason than North Shore City wanted to be one of the cool kids, it’s only half built and situated miles away from 90% of Auckland’s population with terrible, terrible access. If anyone actually enjoys going there they wouldn’t admit it in civilised company.
Don’t get me started on how we could have replaced all that faff with a world class state of the art stadium on the waterfront that the government would have funded leaving no debt to Auckland ratepayers! We looked that gift horse right in the mouth and examined its halitosis the way only New Zealanders can and thus lost our chance.
Hamilton is well served by its cricket and rugby venues that tend to be relatively pretty good. But it doesn’t have the population to fill them except for big rugby and cricket games. Football gets Porritt Stadium, an athletics venue where you need a telescope more powerful than the Hubble to see the pitch.
Wellington has the Cake Tin. That’s it really, save the Basin which is only used for test cricket and Newtown Park (see Trusts Stadium, Porritt Stadium, and running tracks above). A novel idea, one stadium to fit all purposes… Cost effective and one of the few stadia in New Zealand that is designed in a way that vaguely resembles coherency, but it’s a Jack of all trades and master of none, and is only filled once or twice a year. The rest of the time it holds sporting events with an atmosphere suffering for the fact that there are only a few thousand spectators rattling around in a stadium designed for the best part of 30,000. Despite all that in my opinion it’s the best stadium in New Zealand, which in itself is a sad indictment.
Nowhere in the North Island, and to the best of my knowledge the South, do we have a boutique style stadium with a capacity of 10,000-12,000 that can be filled for football and provide a decent atmosphere for fans and players. It’s holding us back. One of the biggest barriers to scheduling a half decent game of football that you can credibly market to the public is the extreme lack of decent venues. The choices available are all either too big or too small. The closest things we have to good football grounds in New Zeland that I have experienced are Kiwitea Street in Auckland and English Park in Christchurch – both far too small for an A League club.
If the Phoenix experience was better, if the atmosphere was more like a European football atmosphere, if you were close enough to the game to have to duck out of the way of a stray pass every now and again, if you could whisper in the ear of a player taking a corner like you can at some English grounds, maybe some non-football types who come along for something different could see the point and be turned into converts.
I’ve been to the Petone Rec three times in my life. To watch a three day Plunket Shield cricket match during a school holiday over 20 years ago. I remember a flat square paddock with a little stand on one side and a bit of low scaffolding where the good folks of Sports Roundup sat in the open air. You didn’t need a radio to hear the commentary; you just needed to sit within 20 metres of them. Hardly a great loss if it gets developed a bit?
I can’t really comment on whether or not Petone is the right place for a stadium or not, I don’t have the local knowledge, although I can surmise that if I was prepared to go there on public transport for a Plunket Shield game, I’d probably do it for the Phoenix more than once! All I really know is here we have a council who might be prepared to build something like this for us, the rest of the country, that we don’t currently have anywhere else and is sorely lacking. It’s not being offered at the Hutt Rec, it’s not being offered at Newtown Park, and it’s not being offered in any other city. If they are offering to build it in Petone, then I say let’s not quibble with them too much about it! Chance will be a fine thing though…
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/