In re-organising the structure of the game, there needs to be a reappraisal of how NZF and the clubs/franchises generate support, engage with support, build support from beyond the actively participating football community. At the Chatham Cup final this season, one supporter I spoke to dismissed his local franchise as that, a franchise. He’d supported his club since he was a kid and he wasn’t going to divide his loyalties. Now, is that someone stuck in their ways or is it the product of something that the NZF review can’t generate, a genuine loyalty and allegiance to a side? Because that’s something that cannot be forced, cannot be demanded, cannot be artificially created. It is organic. But, like with growing anything, you can create the right conditions. I believe it’s a combination of four things.
The first is locality, community. People need to know that their local club is there. Those already playing, participating, know. But other people, who might go to a game if they know it’s there, need to know. The community has to feel ownership in the club, as an asset to the community. The fact that most communities have their local clubs competing in the winter leagues means that it’s up to the ASB franchise to work with clubs, as well as to work independently of them. The ASB Premiership isn’t competing with rugby or any other football league for spectators, it’s up against cricket. That’s a huge strength that needs to be exploited, not only on TV, but in the local area where the club plays. Parents bringing their kids is the start, for some of those kids, of regular attendance.
The second is time. One game may hook some. For others it will take two, or three. Many will come and not come back. Some will dip in and out over years. But if the club is there, it’ll be there for them. They’ll bring their kids. Tradition gets established. There’s a reason why Wellington Phoenix want a ten year contract, it allows you to put down proper roots. For regional teams, it’s absolutely right that the club shifts around the region (like WaiBOP do), but others need a place to live. It’s the difference between owning an house or being on a twelve month rental contract, the latter doesn’t encourage you to decorate or make the place your own. Like I said before, eleven years is almost nothing in terms of establishing a football club. Time matters.
The third is ease. Getting to the game needs to be easy, either by public transport, car or on foot. If you’re working with your local community, then getting to the game on foot is an option which means you don’t have to check you’ve got enough fuel, can find a parking space, won’t get stuck in traffic (and you can have a pint at the bar!) Those things may sound minor but if going to a match becomes laborious, people won’t go. In Auckland, particularly, the Harbour Bridge is a bridge too far for most people on the peninsula or further south. The horror that the Warriors may move to the QBE is palpable in South Auckland, because getting to the game would be a nightmare.
The fourth? Football! It’s got to be worth watching. If it isn’t, then people won’t watch. Simple. Speaking again as a Blues season ticket holder, watching the crowds diminish week on week in the cavernous Eden Park was, well, expected. They were bad last season. But having been along to Auckland City’s games last season and caught a fair few NRFL games over the winter, domestic football in New Zealand is bloody good to watch. Beating the myth that because we don’t have Ronaldo or Messi, our football isn’t good, is going to be tough but it’s doable. Every country in the world who isn’t Spain don’t have those two, but most of them have football.
“The league also encouraged the clubs to promote football or non-football related sports and health activities, to acquire local sponsorships, and to build good relationship with their hometowns at the grass-root level. The league believed that this will allow the clubs to bond with their respective cities and towns and get support from local government, companies, and citizens. In other words, clubs will be able to rely on the locals, rather than major national sponsors.”
That isn’t a bad starting point for the NZF and the franchises. Getting the league structure right, getting it consistent and joined up is essential to establishing stability in the game. That stability, the relative certainty of a next season and a next season and a season after that, allows clubs to look beyond the short term and reach out further, to become more ambitious and raise their profile. Building the relationships between the franchise clubs and their potential support base, be that in the suburbs surrounding their home ground or in the region they come from, is vitally important to growing the game as more than a sporting activity. When football becomes more than an activity, when it becomes something embedded as an event, a live event, a part of the culture of football, the game will grow.
The great Jock Stein put it very simply.
“Without fans who pay at the turnstile, football is nothing. Sometimes we are inclined to forget that. The only chance of bringing them into stadiums is if they are entertained by what happens on the football field.”
Not a bad point to end on. Thanks for reading.
You can find me on Twitter @mrduttonpeabody. Today’s post title comes from this song…
Categories: NZ Men's National League
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.