By Daphne Lawless
New Zealanders, in general, do not seem to “get” active football support as it exists in other countries. Neither the British version (standing and chanting) or the European/South American version (banners, tifos, flares) have historicaly been part of our culture. A Kiwi sports fan is supposed to sit down and watch the game, not doing anything to draw attention. Occasionally, a chant of “[INSERT TEAM NAME HERE], *clap clap clap*” will break out at times of high excitement.
This culture has begun to change over the last 10 years or so, with the Yellow Fever providing a sometimes much-needed distraction from the onfield performance of Wellington Phoenix FC, the 248 Service Crew celebrating years of Auckland City dominance of the NZ Premiership at Kiwitea Street, and La Banda del Pipazo spurring Waiheke United FC to two promotions in two years. But people who aren’t expecting “audience participation” at football matches don’t seem to like it. In fact, they’re often actively hostile to it.
Although a born and bred Pākehā, I’m not a sit-and-watch kind of person, myself. Hell, I’m one of those weirdos who also used to engage on the regular in Rocky Horror Picture Show audience participation (when I was younger and looked better in fishnets). Now I’m a transplanted Wellingtonian living in Auckland with my young family, and as such, I appreciate the occasional Phoenix game in Auckland, as well as All Whites fixtures. For these, the hard core of the Yellow Fever (or “White Noise”, as they rename themselves for internationals) will come along and do their best to have a good time – and I’ll join in.
To be honest, I should have expected what happened. At previous international matches at QBE stadium, when trying to engage in active support (standing, chanting, waving banners), I and those around me have been rudely and aggressively told to “SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP” by other spectators, whose enjoyment seems to have been spoilt by our antics. It was for this reason, we hoped, that NZ Football started setting aside a “White Noise” zone at international fixtures – right in the corner of the field, far away from what might be called the “good seats”, where we oddballs might enjoy ourselves to our hearts’ content.
Probably the source of the problem which arose last Friday night, at the New Zealand / Solomon Islands World Cup qualifier, was the unexpected-to-many popularity of the game. With a turnout of more than 10,000 and only the main grandstand opened, the White Noise zone was as full as any other part of the ground. We dozen or so hardcore active supporters were thus massively outnumbered by people who were expecting a traditional Kiwi sports-spectating environment.
The trouble started almost as soon as the game kicked off. General White Noise/YF tradition is to arrive early and take up a row or two, to form a solid block of white (yellow), to concentrate the noise of the chanting and to enable the unrolling of banners. We had a rather witty one reading WE’VE GOT WOOD, to honour our captain on the night and eventual hat-trick scorer.
Soon a couple of young men arrived who were highly irritated that we were taking up their assigned seats, and insisted unsmilingly on their right to them. Although we pointed out there were empty seats elsewhere which were closer / in better viewing position for the game, we did our best to squeeze up into a tiny space so that these men could move in.
But that just drew more negative attention from spectators around us. About 10 people trying to squeeze into the space of 4 or 5 seats, and all standing up and yelling? Why weren’t we SITTING IN OUR ASSIGNED SEATS? We were BREAKING THE RULES. A large gentleman behind me was particularly upset about this. Admittedly, after pre-game refreshment, I was even less keen to put up with this kind of treatment than I usually am, so I turned around to try to explain the traditions of football fandom, and to point out that we had vacated better seats which he was welcome to sit in.
Events from this point are unclear, but I must have ended up extending an arm to protect my personal space, a mistake which could have turned very nasty. Suddenly this fellow was white with rage, bellowing “I REALLY WILL THUMP YOU!” and the people around him were supporting him, yelling to the approaching stewards that “SHE TOUCHED HIM FIRST”. At this stage White Noise as a group were shepherded away by stewards. Some of us tried to go down to the front of the spectating area to stand and watch. No dice on that from the stewards, either.
Now I didn’t hear this myself, but another fan on the day reports that a steward said to him “why don’t you just sit down and watch the game like everyone else?” Think about that for a moment. Think about what that means. This is the old cliché of New Zealand as a land of aggressively-enforced conformity and sameness, come to life.
Now, I honestly don’t blame the stewards for attempting to enforce the letter of stadium rules and regulation – nor for prioritising the complaints of the vast majority of surrounding spectators to the antics of 10 or 15 oddballs. I don’t really blame the surrounding spectators for being unnerved about other spectators behaving “oddly”, either, though the situation could have been resolved easily with a less confrontational attitude to non-standard forms of fan behaviour
No, I blame New Zealand Football, and I blame stadium management. For creating a White Noise “active support” zone, and not making it clear to ALL ticket holders what that meant. What that would mean is: standing, chanting, banners, and worst of all, active supporters clustering together and not sitting in their assigned seats. I do not believe that this was made sufficiently clear to Random Jane and Joe Blogs who just wanted to come see a “sokkah” game and saw that tickets in that corner were cheap. Because of the failure to make sure no misunderstanding was possible, people almost got punched, and people’s enjoyment was almost ruined. The stewards should have been trained in what to expect; and if necessary, they should have put up signs in the Zone explaining the different norms of behaviour.
Anyway, it all turned out for the best. After some discussion, White Noise were allowed into the previously-closed off far grandstand, where we could take up prime real estate just behind the All Whites dugout. Many of the All Whites seemed happy to see us there – even the coach, although I’m not sure he got the point of the chant “Tony Hudson’s Overweight Army”. And of course the lads performed excellently on the field, putting the tie virtually to bed on the home stretch. Since all this drama happened before the first goal, it’s not like we missed anything important – although our WE’VE GOT WOOD banner went missing somewhere in the excitement.
But we can’t ever let this happen again. New Zealand Football has an interest in promoting active support. The players appreciate it, and it offers a point of difference (superiority, IMHO) with other sports experiences.
I for one am not going to buy a ticket to an All Whites game unless I have reason to believe that active support is going to have a zone where it is explicitly allowed, and other fans in that zone will be politely advised to sit elsewhere or else to put up with it if they don’t like it. Next time someone really will get punched, and knowing my bad habits it may well be me.
Categories: All Whites
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.