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Guest Post! *clap clap clap*

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

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

11 replies

  1. They just don’t get it Enzo.
    If that was 3,000 away Chelsea, West Ham or Millwall there would be no QBE Stadium left standing.

  2. What’s the bet next weeks Chatham Cup final will also ensure that everyone is heralded into the main stand with the sun directly in your eyes so you cannot see a damn thing and the stewards will not let you go round the other side of the pitch to watch the game.NZF sure know how to turn you off attending.

  3. Top stuff Daphne. All power to you and every other active supporter.

    The following links are for scans of an article covering my dodgy experiences as a football fan at Albany way back in September 2000…

  4. Maybe next time u want to be so actively supporting your won’t aggressively mock people who try and take the seat you have taken. Maybe next time u would encourage or even explain to the people surrounding what is going to happen rather than ask ” is this your 1st football game.” The action of some of your band were probably more detrimental to your support. We had turned up to join in with the white noise as seasoned football supporters but only to be confronted with calls of “you should have turned up early” ” this is how real supporters support” ” is this your first game.” I feel NzF actions may not have helped but your groups partisan actions towards anyway else in the zone were also a shambles. Also we have your banner. unlucky

  5. Well said Daphne and the other repliers. Active support is an important part of the atmosphere at football games and is one reason why countless away fans travel to away games and internationals all over the world. I have fond memories of clever funny calls and observations at cricket, rugby, football and other sports events, from such hard cases as Ian “Donners” Donnelly, Mike “Bucket Man” and the Sumich brothers. The Chatham Cup semi final at Kiwitea St, between Central United and Bay Olympic was a great occasion, being amplified by the numerous away Bay supporters. Part of the magic of a home ACFC Premiership game is the rouwdy 248 Crew. NZ is slowly catching up with the rest of the football world in active support and it seems like we are going through a transition from the traditional mute rugby and tennis style of clapping and cheering when something happens. Some years ago at Kiwitea St, a noise control officer was called out to investigate a game between Kuwait, who had arranged a warming up game before their Asia Confederation qualifier against Australia. A big crowd of local expat fans attended, which included a group of very good drummers and chanters on the day, making it a genuine happy and exciting match. The officer went all the way into the grandstand to tell the drummers to turn it down. This put a damper on the whole scene and I haven’t seen these supporters to any games there since. This is a big turn off for football fans from overseas countries who like to be active in the way they normally do. NZ needs more supporters at games and we should be encouraging more active support to tap into the many football folk who don’t attend games here. NZF could mediate this issue by creating fan zones at the ends of stands, communicating more clearly to ticket agents that these zones are for active noisy supporters and training the security contractors in better ways to patrol football fan zones. This is not rugby or tennis and some football fans like to chant and jump up and down. If you want a quieter watch then don’t buy a seat in a fan zone.

  6. Happy to see the other side of the coin in Mike’s comment above. A couple of points:

    1) I’m surprised that “seasoned football supporters” would be so surprised and grumpy by active supporters clustering together rather than staying in their assigned seats. It’s common practice at the Phoenix, at ACFC, etc. Where did such people support football before? You can’t have it both ways – if you are a seasoned supporter, you know this is how it works. If you don’t know how it works, “is this your first game?” is not an unreasonable question.

    2) the argument that the active supporters were at fault for not, I don’t know, handing out a flyer to every new supporter turning up explaining what was going to happen, and then for being smart-alecky to the people threatening us, is pure victim blaming. If you threaten us and shove us aside for standing in “your seat”, you are not signalling that you’ll listen to sweet reason.

    3) Gloating about stealing a banner is something that kids would do.

    1. ” 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.” Is this the part where you shoved the man standing behind you then yelled that he had assaulted you?

  7. I saw a single Uruguay fan with a single drum removed from QBE during the Women’s U-17 World Cup. Also a guy with a vuvuzela during an Auckland City game there a couple of years back, probably less than 100 people there!

    On Friday some kids close to me managed to get a paper plane on to the pitch, the security response was akin to reacting to an assassination attempt!

    For a Friday night game, great performance and great result for the local crowd there was a hell of a lot of uptight people at QBE, seems like Wellington games have a better atmosphere??

    1. Top comment Ceri. Stadium managers and security staff need to be more flexible and understand the difference between active supporters and dangerous hooligans. Classing anyone that is being active and loud as potentially dangerous, is overkill and is killing the live game buzz in NZ. Too many full on supporters don’t go to big games in NZ because of this. Let them bring in their horns and drums to make live football the big fun occasion they should be. Fan zones are a great initiative, so long as it is clear to all what a fan zone actually is. The paper gliders were a real hoot, didn’t hurt anyone and are no different to mexican waves, where fans throw stuff in the air. You could be right about uptight Aucklanders. Get over yourselves and choose a seat away from fan zones, especially as in the last NZ game where there were plenty of empty seats. I remember being at the 2010 WC qualifier v Bahrain in Wellington, where my seat was taken by ACFC and Central United fans that wanted to sit with our tour group and had moved from other parts of the Cake Tin. Stadium ushers found a few empty sets by our block of seats and everyone was happy in the end.

  8. I don’t get the angst from the people who didn’t like the White Noise antics. When I bought my ticket online it was quite clear where the white noise zone was. I wanted to watch the game less actively and purchased elsewhere. NZF and NHS deserve a swift upper cut and if they don’t sort it out then no further games. I assume Bucket man will be ejected on Sunday ?

    1. Bang on Graham. NZF, QBE Stadium and their security contractors need to wake up and recognize what active support is and the difference between that and criminal or dangerous hooligan actions. QBE is not 1980’s Hillsborough Stadium and no one is going to be injured over a few boisterous supporters. Suggest to upset patrons that they could move to empty seats with a better view and still enjoy the banter, unless the game is actually full. I would have loved to be be in the White Noise Zone to be part of the action, but due to the low slope angle in that section of QBE and the state of my buggered knee, I can’t stand for long periods so I chose to buy online in a central block near halfway. Football supporters are in a transition stage in NZ and some are not ready for the full on active support that you see overseas. Active supporters want to stand, chant, wave stuff about, make a lot of noise and because they are amped up for the match, may say things that offend others. Best not to buy a seat there if that is not for you. The live game experience is not helped by NZ stadiums having low angle slopes on the open grandstand sections, making it hard to see around standing patrons. NZ needs to attract all types of football supporters and some degree of flexibility in H & S is needed. As with motor racing entry legal waivers on safety, attendance in fan zones may involve standing and being subjected to loud active actions. On my weekly chat with Bucket Man, he said he probably wouldn’t go to QBE Stadium, until he can be his normal active self and to be able to bring in some noise making stuff. I am sure this applies to a lot more football fans that have moved here from other football mad countries. A big loss to the live game buzz in NZ.

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