[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 7.]
The Phoenix is turning ten years old, their place in the A-League is assured for the time being and their worth has been accepted by the FFA at least for now. So now the question must surely be:
Is it time for New Zealand to get a second professional football team based in our nation’s largest city?
And the answer must surely be:
Are you out of your mind???
As a football fan I would love to have an A-League team in Auckland. I would sign up for a season pass, I would be at every game rain or shine, I would join and contribute to whatever fan groups are set up to support them, I’d travel to away games, and I bet a lot of people reading this would do all of that too.
But here’s the thing: You, me, and all the other people reading this – we’re all a bit strange. I know this because there have been two attempts at pro teams in Auckland – the Kingz and the Knights – and the support they both received was dismal. Why would it be any different now? What’s changed? I can’t think of anything.
Further, I have a confession to make. Despite everything I said above about what I would do to support a new Auckland team, the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour and I have to tell you I barely supported the Kingz and the Knights at all.
I have been to twice as many Phoenix games in Wellington as Kingz and Knights games in total when they were right on my doorstep.
Why? Because I fit the Auckland football fan stereotype – a lazy cantankerous sod who to likes to complain loudly but doesn’t actually get off my backside to support the game.
Or am I?
Actually, it was more because they seemed soulless and were getting hammered by three goals or more every week and that wasn’t interesting to me at the time.
By contrast, the Phoenix do have soul – and I think a big part of that is the fact they are based in a city that truly appreciates them. They are also getting results. They make the playoffs sometimes and they are competitive in almost every game.
But there’s another problem. A-League teams are allowed no more than five ‘foreign imports’ in each squad. For us, that means no more than five players who aren’t New Zealanders or Australians. Most of the people who say ‘just chuck Auckland City FC in the A-League and they will be great’ forget that fact. Their current squad is heavily reliant on imports to an extent that would never be allowed in the A-League.
Does New Zealand really have the player depth to have two competitive A-League teams based predominantly on New Zealand talent? I seriously have my doubts. Sure, we could bring in some Aussies to bolster things but what would be the point of that and would the Auckland public support it even if there was a point?
It’s more likely that a second New Zealand team would simply spread our talent thinner than it currently is, making both the Auckland team and the Phoenix uncompetitive and thus struggling to get the support they need to sustain them. Why would we do that?
It’s a nice ideal to have a second team, something for Auckland football lovers to call their own and a derby for both sets of fans to enjoy. But in reality it’s better to concentrate our best talent into the Nix. Wellington do it well, and it’s cool for us to support their team for a change instead of asking them to back our teams like the Breakers and Warriors every time.
And while we are displaying such generosity of spirit to the provinces, perhaps we might let the Waikato team win the odd Stirling Sports Premiership every now and again…
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/