[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 5.]
The only thing that’s consistent throughout the history of National League football in New Zealand over the last 35 years has been the constant change. Just when you start to get used to a particular format, the whole thing is turned on its head.
We’ve tried everything – summer, winter, full club based leagues, ‘superclub’ championships, four points for a win and penalty shootouts at the end of regular season draws. We’ve scrapped the whole thing altogether and declared it would never be viable ever again, tried separate North and South Island leagues, then gone back to the start again with Rolls Royce fully club based national leagues. There has been promotion and relegation purely on results at various times, then at other times clubs were excluded and included in various forms from one season to the next, with shifting criteria and little or no transparency.
Most recently we have had a purely franchise based league by invitation only. But after 12 years of relative stability, the game is changing again – and a lot of people will tell you it’s not a moment too soon!
People take a long time to build up loyalty and passion for a team. Whether it’s clubs or franchises, teams need a weight of history behind them before you can really judge their success or failure and some Stirling Sports Premiership franchises are only now starting to get to that stage of life. Others are still a long ways off.
Fans are emotionally attached to their winter clubs, and convincing them to divide their loyalties between first loves and summer flings has proved a bridge too far for a lot of people. The difficulty is that those passionate loyalties are both a strength and a weakness in moving solely to clubs.
Take the Waikato for example. WaiBOP United was working the way a franchise should – drawing people in from clubs all over the region to provide a vehicle that all fans felt they could get behind. They were drawing big crowds in Cambridge, and getting some good results too even though the semi-finals fell just outside their reach.
Best of all, costs were ‘socialised’ across the region with all clubs paying through to the federation, who in turn ran the franchise rather than all the responsibility falling on the shoulders of one club. Now they are back to a club situation, and I have been told by many people that they are reluctant to support it “because it’s Wanderers”. Time will tell how it works out.
There have been rumours that Team Wellington could go the same way soon and be replaced by Miramar. Is that really wise? Would Miramar get support from other club fans across the region like Team Wellington does? Meanwhile, one of the franchises that is establishing that sense of history that all national league entities need is Auckland City – it would surely be folly to disband them now and replace them with Central United. Is that really the utopia club advocates want to be heading towards?
On the other hand, having Eastern Suburbs involved is already proving that the club side of the argument has a lot of merit. Drawing on a long and rich history, playing at the historic old place that is Bill McKinlay Park, and managing to involve some of the other clubs in their catchment area. This is a real advertisement for what clubs can offer that franchises never can – soul.
Maybe it doesn’t need to be an either/or. Having a mixture this year, we are possibly getting the best of both worlds. Why wouldn’t we let each region or sub region do whatever works best for them?
And while you’re at it – 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.