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Pitched Battle

A-League Rd 17 - Phoenix v Adelaide

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.

Auckland City v Wellington Phoenix - Friendly

Auckland City v Wellington Phoenix – Friendly

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.

Phoenix time!

What’s this though? Have a word mate.

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.

Categories: A-League

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John Palethorpe

4 replies

  1. I’ve attended Kiwitea Street off and on over the past 8 or so years (except for one season when I was living in South Sudan), despite being a former Lilywhite! On any given matchday I rub shoulders with people who have regularly attended Phoenix games in the past, people who currently regularly attend Phoenix games, and people who don’t attend Phoenix games at all. In this regard Kiwitea is no different to any football ground in New Zealand. Accordingly I dont see why John needed to give so much prominence to this issue in the article – it’s just peculiar, especially when he’s supposed to be writing an article about a Phoenix match. Maybe John needs to step back and gain a better understanding of NZ football before embarking on his NZ football writing crusade. I would suggest that 6 seconds as a New Zealand football supporter ain’t sufficient. I too was at Albany on the weekend. I didn’t know you could buy green sand.

    1. If you’d like a match report, I’d check the news Pete. My tongue in cheek beginning was based on my obvious pro City bias and the recent history of antagonism between some supporters – who also read this blog.

      As me ‘supposed to be writing about the Phoenix’, I did. I talked about their supporters, the problems they face and some of the weird issues surrounding spectating in Auckland, particularly the oversized grounds. But when it comes to me writing, there’s no supposed to involved, what I write about is what I write.

      Thanks for your feedback though!

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