Wellington Phoenix 3, Central Coast Mariners 0
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, December 10 2016
Unlike my abysmal record watching Waikato teams live, my record at Phoenix games is quite good. I very rarely see them lose. So my presence on the sidelines, as New Zealand’s only professional football team played their first ever A-League fixture in my home town, was obviously just the tonic they needed to end a run of poor results and turn on a stunning performance in front of a modest Hamilton crowd…
Yes, you read that correctly, I’m taking full credit. For the result of course, not for scaring away all the punters. I’m blaming the weather for that last bit.
Hamilton is a rugby town to its very core. When I lived there, even I was seduced by the charms of the oval ball nonsense. In this very stadium I have watched the local rugby team win national championships and retain Ranfurly Shields as Mooloo Kids danced to the Mooloo Song even before the impressive Brian Perry Stand was built and there was just a low row of terraces along the ground’s western side.
And it runs deep. As I was waiting to get into the curtain raiser yesterday, I was sheltering from the rain under the canopy of the stadium entrance with some Hamilton Wanderers stalwarts. Amongst them was an old hero of mine when I was growing up, former Waikato United star National League striker Darren Fellowes. He was wearing an All Blacks jersey and when gently ribbed about his choice of attire he mumbled “I watch more rugby that soccer these days”. That’s right – “soccer”. Childhood illusions = shattered.
And no matter how many people I showed the rain radar on my phone to, and how much I explained that the light drizzle was just passing through, everybody seemed to think that the weather was going to be miserable all evening.
I was right. It had stopped by the time the main event kicked off and by half time there were even blotches of blue sky and we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever see. But the damage was already done – enough rugbyheads that would have taken any excuse not to come had been put off completely, and the crowd of just over 5,000 was probably low enough to ensure that the Phoenix won’t be back here anytime soon.
Which is a pity, because those who did brave the elements were treated to an awesome game with at least one stunning goal from an unlikely source in Vince Lia! After the shock resignation of coach Ernie Merrick, the team obviously shouldered some of the responsibility for the week’s events and lifted to well and truly dominate the Central Coast Mariners.
Apart from the Lia goal and the gorgeous sunset, my two other highlights of the day came immediately before and immediately after the game.
Before the game I got to meet the great Ben Sigmund in the media tribune where we had a brief exchange about how the other members of the fourth estate had eaten all the sandwiches and left none for us. I believe I brought a level of insight and repartee to the conversation that I can be quite proud of.
But the other big highlight was after the final whistle, when I decided to stay over by the Yellow Fever to see if there would be any nice photos to be snapped as the team came over to thank the fans for their support. It was a great decision.
I’m not sure if my pics actually did it justice, but it was a lovely moment as some truly heartfelt emotion was exchanged between fans and players after what had been a very tough week for everyone associated with the club.
One of the many very cool things about the Phoenix is while it might be a professional football club, and it feels like it in a lot of ways, it’s also small enough that it gives off a real family vibe that I haven’t felt at, for example, the Warriors where I was a season member for a long time. When you hang around the Phoenix you really get to feel like you are part of something quite close knit.
I’m very much looking forward to next week’s game at Mount Smart Stadium already! See you there.
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.