The weekend ended at about half eight on Sunday night, slipping gratefully between the sheets of a freshly made bed back in Auckland. But even though I desperately needed to catch up on the sleep I had missed on Friday and Saturday, I couldn’t seem to drop off.
Closing my eyes, I heard the hundred of Peruvians in Civic Square, the laughing cheers of the White Noise zone as the tifo was raised and recognised, the anthem belted out by 38,000 Kiwis. As the man John Campbell, serenaded by a few hundred in the zone midway through the second half, would say; marvellous, simply marvellous.
It began on a Friday afternoon though, arriving in Wellington and hurriedly dragging on a tuxedo and bow tie and racing to the Westpac Stadium via J.J Murphy’s on Cuba Street. Arriving at the Westpac, a crowd of perhaps a hundred Peruvians clamoured at the gate.
When we reached the impressive Member’s Lounge, we realised why. Peru were still on the pitch, going through passing drills. Given that the attendees made up 95% of New Zealand football’s official and unofficial media, all eyes were on the pitch, even as we were asked not to take any video of our opponents.
Along with many of the other enthusiastic amateurs who report on the game in New Zealand, my entry for the NZ Football Media Awards (organised by ITBOTN capofamiglia Enzo Giordani) had been accepted.
Unfortunately I was up against reigning website champion The Journeyfan and Actual Paid Journalist (and budding podcaster) Michael Burgess. There were surprises however, as The Journeyfan took the website award out for a second year in a row and, the shock result, those reprobates Phoenix City beat Jason Pine to the audio broadcast award.
Elsewhere ITBOTN irregular, and NZ’s king of sporting satire, Bruce Holloway won community internet writer of the year and Gordon Glen Watson took out the commentator award for his work on NZ’s OFC Nations Cup tournament. All in all a worthwhile evening out, ahead of the NZ Football Charity Dinner.
The dinner was fantastic, some of the presentations went on a little bit and, despite some networking, in the end the victorious Phoenix City mob and the not at all victorious me dipped out before the end to go and watch Central Coast Mariners put two past Sydney F.C in the Four Kings. The drink flowed, we were joined by Josh Easby and others later on and the recipe for a terrible matchday hangover was formed.
Fortuitously, Bunnings on Tory Street had a sausage sizzle going the next morning. A snag with mustard later, and a restorative pint of the specially brewed Great All Whites lager and – well, actually no, I felt rubbish. But walking through Courtenay Place, dressed head to toe in white, the atmosphere was charged – if not quite electric.
Peruvian red sashes abounded, with a few thousand flying in from Australia. In the Kings, a crew of Peruvian shirted supporters paired with Australian scarves caught the eye – nervously watching a Cahill-free Socceroo’s grind out a 0 – 0 draw with Honduras.
Amusingly one of the Aussies had borrowed his mates Portsmouth top for the All Whites game, not realising it involved a Honduran blue sash design. Poor lad.
From the Kings, it was time to march. The flags were unfurled and immediately dragged their poor bearers sideways as Wellington proved it at least had the wind and the All Whites that day, the rain being preoccupied elsewhere. Heading along the waterfront we were stopped by Peruvians wanting photos, joined by joyful All Whites fans and looked upon curiously by those who didn’t seem to realise there was a game on. Your loss, folks.
To the Backbencher, for once not a site of political red v blue v black v green being awash with white. Nerves had started to kick in, discussion over whether nicking a goal would be best or parking the bus – whether Wood could do it, with Ingham injured who would play right wing-back. Scorelines polled varied from 0 – 3 to 0 – 5, with my optimistic 3 – 0 All Whites drawing derision. You’ve got to believe, you’ve just got to. I had it as a Fallon hat-trick mind. Look, belief is a funny thing.
Then Newshub’s Andrew Gourdie rocked up with news that Wood was injured.
At first we didn’t believe him. Classic wind-up mate, you know we’re rooted without Wood. But no, it wasn’t a joke.
(A brief aside here. Tony Veitch, noted bad human being, was the first to report Wood being out of contention. The rumour mill kicked in that if he’d gotten the scoop, he must have been told by Hudson or someone close to him. I really hope that’s not true. I had my white ribbon on, as NZ Football is a partner of the anti-domestic violence campaign. I don’t need to connect the dots here folks. You know ITBOTN’s opinion on that man)
Immediately the atmosphere got tense, but didn’t deflate. A few theatrical “Ah, we’re fucked now” but with an hour or so until kickoff, the sheer tension and belief coursing through the group meant that even Wood-less, there was a chance. Maybe it was Rory’s time again. Brockie could double his All Whites goal tally. Fuck it, let’s do this. We’re New Zealand, we can win this one. Maybe. Oh god. Maybe.
The march to the Westpac, drums rolling, flags flying. Red and white everywhere but white and more white everywhere else. Queues stretched across the concourse, Peruvian media were trying to find Spanish conversant All Whites fans to interview. In through the gates, a swift and searchless procedure, and there we were. Finally. After weeks of waiting, we were in the zone.
(Another aside. The night before in J.J Murphy’s the Peruvian fans had a massive bombo style drum, trumpets and all sorts. The refusal to allow them to bring them into the Westpac was not made by the Westpac, but by someone at the highest level of New Zealand Football, apparently so as not to give Peru any advantage. That’s logical, but only if you don’t think 35,000 Kiwis can’t outsing 3,000 Peruvians. It certainly kept popping up when we talked to Peru fans across the weekend)
The Peruvians were already a red smear which far exceeded their allocation. Reports afterwards from friends elsewhere were Peru fans had bought tickets in the home section but decamped en masse to their compatriots.
At our feet was the tifo, black rolled and stretched along an entire row. Patrick refused to tell us what it was ahead of time. The team announcement confirmed Wood’s absence. At pitch side, John Campbell scooted around in his blue suit. The Maori challenge was laid down and a roar went up as the teams made the pitch. Then the ropes strained and the tifo was raised.
It’s difficult to describe the reaction as we were suddenly loomed over by a giant Kiwi firing a laser beam from its eye. Shock, laughter and the absolute certainty that the Peruvians would be absolutely baffled by our choice. It was intensely Kiwi, intensely New Zealand football culture, intensely weird. We were ready to fire the lazer.
The All Whites didn’t start well. Peru held the ball, knocked it about and initial fears were we would get passed of the park. A collision between Reid and Smith sent the ball spinning past Marinovic and the intake of breath from the White Noise zone did nothing to stop it heading goalwards. Fortunately super Stefan palmed it away and that seemed, somehow, to give the side confidence.
Kosta up front was chasing after the balls that Wood would usually control in the air, but the supposed height advantage New Zealand had was ultimately at the wrong end of the pitch for it to matter. Our wing backs had the unerring habit of putting the ball out on the full.
And yet….and yet… Peru weren’t good. For a tenth ranked side they played some good stuff but it seemed both teams had precisely the same problem – the striker the team was built around, for them Guerrero and for us Wood, was absent and the replacement was an entirely different kind of player. Jefferson Farfan is a fine striker, but he doesn’t have the hold up play of his absent captain. You could say the same about Kosta.
Peru weren’t good and we weren’t brilliant, but the 100 or so places in the FIFA rankings weren’t immediately obvious. By half time we’d kept a clean sheet, but so had they – Barbarouses’ shot that went out for a throw in was our most obvious chances, theirs our defensive error early on.
What do you reckon? What do you reckon? Wood can come on. How about Brockie. The buzz of conversation at half time was hopeful, nervous and hopeful some more. The Peruvians, jubilant before the game and certain of a few goals were subdued by Peruvian standards which meant they still out-sang, bounced and passioned a fair number of All Whites supporters who spent the game sat in their yellow seats, occasionally clapping. Come on folks, this isn’t rugby.
Second half. Tense. Very Tense. Marinovic wonder save. Swearing.
Wood comes on. Wood free kick. Retake. Confusion. Hits the wall. Argh.
Last ten minutes. Ryan Thomas. Bangs it. Rocket. Drifts. Wide. AARGH.
There’s been some criticism, from the usual sources, that football is boring. Hur hur you’re celebrating a 0 – 0, what kind of stupid sport means you can act like you’ve won when there’s no score, ha ha footballers fall over all the time.
I don’t know mates, but maybe after years of your sport being so dominant you expect a win as standard and a blowout win is something special, maybe having never had to qualify for a tournament means you’ll never get it, maybe you’ve forgotten the years of when the All Blacks were rubbish, maybe you’re never going to be the underdog so you don’t get what that’s like, maybe your opinion is valid – I guess.
All I know is 37,000 people flooded out of Westpac Stadium with enthusiasm, deep in conversation with opposition supporters about the game in midweek and cheering on a job well done, discussing away goals and whether Wood would be fit and Guerrero’s appeal and what a game we’ll see, and what a game that was and we’re heading to to Backbencher, you guys should come for a pint.
I know I’ve been to the Black Caps v Australia, All Blacks v British & Irish Lions and the Kiwis v Samoa and Saturday was the best atmosphere I’ve seen created by New Zealand supporters yet.
I know that something special happened in Wellington this weekend, and thousands of people were a part of it. Regardless of what happens in Peru on Thursday afternoon New Zealand time, in four years time we might get another shot at that, possibly for the last time ever.
But bring on Thursday. Because we’re still in this. Game. On.
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.