So. I’m an Auckland City FC supporter. I live within bus, bike or car distance of Kiwitea, they’re my team, I watch them play every game I can. I suppose I’m an adopted JAFA, although the term ‘Aucklander’ is about as useful as ‘Wellingtonian’ when you’re there. For the record, I’m in South Auckland. We’re not like those Westies, the posh lot in the CBD or the people who live in the far off North Shore. Just like people in Wellington are from the Hutt, the Aro Valley or other places like that, you know?
I’m only doing this because admitting I went to the Nix game yesterday may get me some criticism from some of my fellow Kiwitea attendees. But I did go. And I had a brilliant time, to be honest.
For a minute or two, forget the metrics. Forget the chaotic, stupid, incompetent FFA. There’s often a criticism of Kiwi crowds, that they don’t get behind a team. Having been to a few Blues games, the odd Warriors game and scuttered around the NRFL and ASB Premiership it’s entirely valid, crowds don’t have that identity outside of AB’s games. But that’s linked into national identity, in a way that clubs often can’t and yet the Phoenix sort of should do – after all they’re the only NZ side battling the Aussies week in, week out.
I guess what I’m talking about is club culture, that sense of belonging and ownership, the investment of time and passion and energy to escape normal life and focus on something that matters, but doesn’t matter. Perhaps in a population of 4,000,000 it’s more difficult to define rivalries within towns and cities, preferring the broader brush of JAFAs etc. Even that doesn’t really hold up to much serious scrutiny, when it comes down to it.
The Nix have it. They’re the Nix. They’re yellow and black. Or silver. That was weird. They’re the flag waving, top stripping, loud singing Yellow Fever, and they’re there to watch their team win, even when they don’t. Their supporters, including Tracey who’ll soon be writing for this site, were welcoming friendly and open, even though I support Auckland City. As it was put, we’re not in the same league as each other and NZ football is literally too small a lifeboat at times to try and drill any holes in the bloody thing.
Now let’s bring the metrics back. 10,800 people attended the game last night, smaller than the 13k that turned up to the last game at the Westpac. But like when people see Auckland as one thing, seeing the attendance as that gleaned from 1.4 million people isn’t right.. North Harbour is good if you’re that side of the bridge, not good if you’re not. Eden Park and Mt Smart are equally problematic for those north of the bridge. In fact none of the bloody teams that play in Auckland ever sell out any of those stadiums, ever. It’s a problem that needs sorting out, for the sake of the sports themselves.
The weather was good, the beer in the Merchant was cold and plentiful and the crowd was noisy, active and engaged. The pitch, however, was a green painted sandpit which hadn’t materially improved since the first Auckland City game of the season. As both teams came out in basically the same colour, there was confusion and hilarity in the stand. But even with that, there was the acceptance that this sort of stuff happens and it usually only happens here. Teams in the same kit playing on sand? Yep, that’s the A League.
The Nix fans are in a pitched battle with an opponent who holds almost all of the power and yet matches that with a maturity which makes them seem like an angry kid waving his dads gun around. All the supporters can do is continue to do what they’ve done; invite friends, wear their colours and make some noise. The team have to produce results, but that’s what they have to do anyway. And the two nil win last night showed a side which is capable of some seriously impressive attacking football.
I’ve caught a few A League games in the last month, and I haven’t seen a player as complete as Bonevacia or instinctive as Krishna in that time. The team are an effective, combative and attacking unit and, really importantly, they respond to the supporters. This isn’t TV. They can hear you at the game. And they appreciate it. As a supporter, that’s part of what it’s all about isn’t?
As we got on the bus a weird and unwelcome thing happened. Manchester United fans started to try and sing United songs, some people at the back gave them stick for it. The atmosphere got tense and weird very quickly, and was eventually defused. None of those involved were Kiwi. All of them were attempting to recreate something, given their ages, from at least twenty years in their past. It looked wrong and it felt wrong. And it was wrong. It put a sour note on the end of a good day.
Because that’s just not how it’s done here. Which means that there is a way things are done here. From the point of view that the Nix should be saved and the game and the supporter culture needs to grow in New Zealand, having the roots of tradition and guidelines already present is a very, very promising sign.
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.