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Spontaneous combustion

Wellington Phoenix 0, Melbourne City 2
Westpac Stadium, Wellington, May 3 2015

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Obviously that was suboptimal.

At one end of the scale of importance was my own disappointment. I only tend to see the Phoenix play at the Cake Tin once per year. For that occasion in season 2014/15 to be such a limp finals series exit from the competition is mildly irritating. At the opposite end of the tragedy scale was the heartbreak of the diehard lovers of the Nix, who have stayed loyal through much with little reward by way of things to celebrate over the years. Especially considering this had really felt like it was going to be their year.

Expectations were high after an amazing run of form the team were going through for a while there, culminating in a brief stint on top of the league. They were playing exciting football that thrilled the crowds and, as someone who doesn’t really follow them as much as I should, they really won me over and had me yelling at my TV in a way that few other teams do.

Then the Asian Cup break came along at what seemed like the worst possible time and all of a sudden the team that looked like they were on such a roll suddenly seemed to lose all momentum. They haven’t played particularly well since.

And now there is the Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of the franchise, as a new license beyond next season is apparently in real doubt. There is no question that the powers that be were watching last night very closely. What a missed opportunity.

You can make a multitude of excuses for the anaemic size of the finals crowd. Nix fans quite rightly point out that none of the Aussie alternatives to a New Zealand franchise, such as Canberra, could do much if any better. But in the final wash, 10,000 warm bodies at a semi-final isn’t good enough for a club with a whole country to itself and whose licence hangs in the balance. This is not the fault of the club or the core of fans who come every week no matter what. It’s the fickleness of the New Zealand public who will find any excuse to stay at home. The people who work so hard to make this club what it is deserve better.

When the FFA looks at the case for a license renewal, the question some seem to be suggesting is on their lips is “what do the Phoenix bring to the competition?”

The answer is surely that they bring a unique identity and spirit.

The club was famously formed when a man by the name of Terry Serepisos heard a news story about the expected death of New Zealand professional football on the radio while getting his hair cut. He decided to act, and gave his newly formed club the name ‘Phoenix’ because it was rising from the ashes. And that’s what this club’s identity is all about. But the thing about Phoenixes is they don’t just spontaneously combust once. They regenerate in this way over and over again. In order to rise, a Phoenix first needs to burn.

This is a team that by its very name is not meant to give fans an easy ride. It’s meant to test your loyalty and make you suffer first in order to earn every moment of triumph. Would we have it any other way?

No. Because a shiny, happy, wealthy, ever successful football club is quite simply not how we roll in the realm of New Zealand football. The Australian franchises are much more formulaic, more vanilla, less gritty and less soulful. You could see that last night. 10,000 fans trudged out of Westpac stadium all looking like they had just received the news that their favourite aunt had died. A good few hundred of them were both sad for their team and disappointed that they wouldn’t be travelling to Sydney or Melbourne or Adelaide to watch their beloved club play next week. Meanwhile, the couple or three Melbourne City fans who had made the trans-Tasman trip to Wellington left with an air of smug satisfaction with what their team had achieved – potentially the final nail in the very protracted construction of the coffin of New Zealand professional football.

The Phoenix bring heart and soul to the A-League. The problem is you can’t bank that.

Categories: A-League

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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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