[Yellow Fever and Liverpool Football Club Wellington are celebrating ten years of the Phoenix by asking people to rank their top ten Phoenix players to raise awareness for the Wellington City Mission’s ten most needed items list. I thought it would be fun to ask Cordwainer Bull to give us his top ten as our contribution to the cause. You can donate these items, or cash if you prefer, via collection bins at the ‘Nix game vs Melbourne City at the Cake Tin on October 8.]
By Cordwainer Bull
I was very tempted to undertake a Phoenix Worst 10 – the competition was so much fiercer – but in the same way City Mission would probably prefer baked beans to anchovies, I have stuck to the script.
1. Albert Riera
That rarest of beasts – a Phoenix midfielder who could really play. Ernie Merrick’s most inspired signing, insofar as it did much to alter perceptions about the merits of the ASB Premiership, from whence he was “discovered”. I enjoyed the unassuming way Albert arrived at the Phoenix and took root – and the same low-key manner of his departure. No fuss Albie. He had the touch of a poet, and if there was an award for the most completed passes it would surely be his, though can’t recall him ever scoring a goal, or even shooting with much meaningful intent. That just wasn’t in his make-up.
2. Ben Sigmund
There’s an unwritten rule that you can’t leave Sigmund out of any Phoenix list, good or bad. Not the best technically, but along with the violin soloists you also need a few street cleaners in any well-performed team. Ben brought plenty to the table. He had such an infectious presence, and was one of the few players you could imagine up in the stands if not playing. He was one of us. Perhaps the best of us.
3. Andrew Durante
It took me a long time to warm to Durante. Another Aussie, etc. But just as you can learn to enjoy a whisky that at first try burns your throat, so can you admire a fine leader. Durante has got that captaincy shtick down to a fine art, and can play a bit as well. Every team needs someone who is in the ref’s ear from the first whistle, will take a booking for the team, and has mastered the art of fierce facial expressions for the TV cameras.
4. Tyler Boyd
Tyler played as a pre-teen, teen and first team player at my club, Melville United. So he was always going to be a bit special in a Phoenix shirt. Quick, strong for a kid, nuggetty, finisher of a clutch of important goals. Never imposed much in the personality department, but equally, was never shy about deferring all the credit for his success to God afterwards, with not a glimmer of self-consciuousness. His Phoenix shirt hangs in the Gower Park clubrooms.
5. Tim Brown
Tim had the touch of a three-legged mule, and it could be frustrating seeing him struggle with, say, a 10m square ball. But he was one of those curious players where you only truly appreciated his contribution when he wasn’t there. He had the stamina of a brewery horse, his box-to-box work was inspirational, and he certainly knew where the goal was. Even better, he was that rarity, an eloquent player for the aftermatch interview, or in print. God, how we miss that in the Winston Reid All Whites captaincy era. The sad fact is most pro footballers are thick as fresh pig droppings. Brown was a notable exception.
6. Marco Rojas
Marco’s career was born out of the scouting instincts of fans, who got him on a Phoenix scholarship, and into pro ranks. Confession: Some of us Waikato people voted twice, so desperate were we to get him recognised. The first player to rise from Melville Businesshouse 6-a-side on Wednesday evenings to pro ranks, a path less travelled. On the ball, Marco had more tricks than a horny court jester, and was a joy to watch when he broke into starting ranks.
7. Paul Ifill
The lasting memory of Ifill is of a player who could pop up anywhere, linger on the ball for an eternity, only to bump, grind, chop, jink, and then somehow net a preposterous solo goal. That’s a rare skill. Pity the Phoenix never found the Fountain of Youth for Paul, it would have been great to squeeze a couple more seasons out of him.
8. Michael Boxall
Big, strong, fast, skilful, committed. Should have been a Phoenix poster boy. Absolute shame he’s not still there.
9. Jason Hicks
A former Waikato FC skipper dropped to the bench at ASB Premiership level for being a bit “meh”, Jason then pops up at the Phoenix, pots a handful of spanking goals, and generally looks right at home. There but the grace of God go any number of journeyman Kiwi national league players. In the same way we honour the Unknown Soldier, please let’s all honour Jason Hicks.
10. Josh Brindell-South
It’s probably a symptom of my aberrant nature as a fan, but I was getting a bit thin on inspiration by No 10. You wouldn’t believe some of the dross that has got game-time at the Phoenix. Then again, if you are reading this far down a Phoenix list, you probably would. But then it struck me, some of us fans actually enjoy a nice dollop of football perversity every much as a string of home wins. In his few outings for the Phoenix Josh had all the fascination of the Bearded Lady at the Circus. Like some ginger support character from Beavis & Butthead this guy used to have me in stitches. And for fans, football is not just about torture, failure, frustration and narrowly missing out. There’s also enjoyment, right?
[Cordwainer Bull is a former Waikato United and Waikato FC columnist. His hobbies include tombstone rubbing, soap-making and standing in front of wheelchairs. His favourite player was Michael Utting.]
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.