[Eastern Suburbs asked me to contribute a regular match day programme column for the duration of their first season back in the national league football fray. My brief was to be “slightly controversial or provocative”. Half joking, I told them they could call the series ‘Enzo’s Rant’ and to my surprise they agreed! I will publish each one here the week after it has appeared in print. Here’s episode 3.]
Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand in so many ways, not just in terms of population and vastness of land area. I grew up in Hamilton, was taught to hate Auckland from a young age, and I still support two sports teams – Waikato and whoever is playing Auckland. But there’s a reason why I live in this place and not in my native province – it’s where most of the action is.
There are two ways to approach this topic – get all parochial or look at things logically. Here’s the logical side of the debate.
Auckland might come across as a bit arrogant at times, acting as though we’re the centre of the universe, but that’s at least partly because, on most objective criteria, even this Waikato cynic has to accept that it is. House prices are through the roof because everyone wants to live here!
Even with three Stirling Sports Premiership teams here, there is still a lot of untapped potential. And if you don’t believe me, check out all the Auckland talent streaming out of the city in the summer to bolster other teams around the country like Hamilton Wanderers in particular.
You could make up a fairly useful side out of all the formerly Auckland based players who played for franchises outside the City of Sails last season too.
And Hawkes Bay United excluded, the history of failure from Mid to Lower North Island teams isn’t pretty. Waikato and WaiBOP teams have made one semi-finals appearance in 12 years and have constantly battled the odds not to disappear completely. Manawatu at least made the playoffs three times, but were deemed less important to the powers that be than a NZ Under 20 side in 2013 and haven’t been seen in the National League since.
What value have those teams really added? How many All Whites have they provided a pathway for that those players wouldn’t have got somewhere else? How many fans have turned up to watch their games? Aren’t there good reasons why Team Wellington is the only club/franchise from outside Auckland to have won this thing?
Before we think about adding a Taranaki, Manawatu or Wairarapa, wouldn’t it be cheaper, easier and more sensible to just base another team in Auckland, cut down on travel costs for all concerned, and put the teams where the players and resources exist in the real world as opposed to utopia? You don’t have to assemble a team from far and wide that way and Auckland is a relatively cheap and convenient place to fly into and out of for the other existing teams.
Important geographical areas not currently represented like South Auckland (328,000 people) and the North Shore (229,000) have greater populations that are more highly concentrated than other likely regions can compete with.
And where is it genuinely possible to grow the pie? I would argue that South Auckland, with its massive Maori, Pacific and other multi-ethnic populations is a place of high strategic importance to the future of our game. It’s there that there are huge chunks of untapped potential who might be inspired by the success of a local team that looks and sounds like they do.
The North Shore is already a place where the game is so strong, with a base of seven clubs playing in the Northern League and the ‘Home of Football’ in Albany to be leveraged off. I don’t see anywhere near as strong a case being pushed by anyone else. In the immortal words of David Gallop in relation to the Phoenix’s place in the A-League: “You can’t expect to squat on a licence in our competition.”
Any new teams have to add genuine value not just be there for the sake of ticking a geographic box.
But while we’re at it – perhaps we could still let the Waikato team win every now and again…
Categories: NZ Men's National League
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.