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Passion & Hostility

I think some of you will have already seen this…

Darren Kedzierski did what most football fans wish they could do when their team is playing badly, whether watching a game live or on the TV, he gave the players a piece of his mind. For his trouble he’s copped a lifetime ban from Coventry City, although given their recent travails it might be merciful.

Football provokes strong emotions and while passion is often targeted as a quantity enthused about by managers who don’t buy into the modern tacticocracy of the game, there’s no doubt that it’s what keeps players playing, volunteers volunteering and often, supporters swinging wildly between joy and despair.

Passion does take its form in many ways, at its most extreme morphing into pure hostility. I’ve seen more than a few tweets from journalists covering this weekends #ISPSHandaPrem games, highlighting the foul language dished out by players on the pitch and by supporters off it.

Tefana Supporters

Tefana supporters

I’m not going to pretend I haven’t used some seriously over-ripe language off the pitch watching New Zealand football, or back in the UK. A decade ago, during Graham Poll’s last refereeing job he disallowed a goal which would have seen Portsmouth finish in a UEFA Cup spot (look, we were good once). Within a minute or two 17,000 odd Portsmouth supporters singing ‘Oh Graham Poll, is a f**king a**ehole’ to the Andy Cole song.

In New Zealand it’s a bit different, and it’s a lot politer. That’s because of scale I guess. The football community is not big enough for the sort of collective anonymity which comes with large crowds, and the slackening of certain social expectations around politeness that comes with it. It’s difficult to dish up a steaming serve to a referee when you’ll be drinking next to him in the bar later, the same with opposition players.

Not that it stops some people, or players, mind you.

Andy Martin has called for everyone to be less friendly and more hostile when Peru visit for the first leg of the playoff, an act which has drawn derision from supporters (like most things he does, to be fair) and hostility from the previously pretty easy-going Peruvians. But that’s not how it works here, and after a fair few years in the role Martin should have known that.

phoenix fans

Kiwi crowds are notably stoic in the act of supporting their side, with the exception of the 248 at Kiwitea, Yellow Fever at the WestPac and the raucous drunken student mass of The Zoo down in Dunedin. At least one of those groups is motivated by the flush of youth and the drinkability of Speights, which is no bad thing in itself.

There’s little doubt that the crowd in Wellington will be fired up next month. Rewatching the highlights the crowds in 2009, and even 2013, seem to be a different kind of crowd than those you usually see in New Zealand. Partly, that’s because it is a massive crowd, one which is only usually assembled in expectation of another routine All Blacks victory, with all of the excitement that brings. Sigh.

With the Inter-Confederation Playoff though, there is doubt. There is uncertainty. There is an air of the underdog, of being able to pull something off. It stops being just a game, it becomes an occasion. As a motivator, it pushes people in feeling like they have to make it special – the unflappable dare themselves to have a flap. Multiply that by a thousand, by thirty thousand, and suddenly you’ve got an atmosphere.

NZLvFIJI jpgs-28

Maybe it’ll all go wrong and there’ll be thirty-eight thousand people wishing they could follow Darren Kedzierski’s lead and let Tony Hudson and his team know exactly what they think.

But maybe, just maybe, there’ll be an electrification of support in New Zealand that hasn’t been seen for, oh, about eight years.


Categories: All Whites

John Palethorpe

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