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A glass half full

Beachlands Maraetai

[This piece first appeared in the Hamilton Wanderers match day programme ‘Sidelined’ on the 24th of February 2018]

New Zealand is the best place in the world to be a football fan. Trust me, it is. Yet crowds at our national league games continue to be insanely low. Why?

In my opinion it’s not, as many believe, because our game is poorly run or on at the wrong time of year or organised into franchises instead of clubs. Nor is it, as others might tell you, because football fans are lazy or tight with their money.

I believe it’s because we don’t understand how lucky we are and we don’t do a very good job (or we don’t ever try) selling an attractive vision of our sport to Joe and Josephine Public. In short, we are a bunch of miserable complainers – that’s our real problem.

As fans of the game, we get 50 weeks of football per year with our winter clubs and summer national leagues. How many football mad countries would kill for a football year that long? I’ll tell you how many – 191. 194 if you recognise Taiwan and count Palestine and the Holy See as countries.

New Zealand football fans are (I’m sorry to generalise) the only people in the world who can look at that feast of football and still find something to be miserable about. “Football is a winter sport, if I’m not ankle deep in mud and taking horizontal rain in the face I’m not interested!” or worse: “If it’s not the English Premier League I’m not interested.”

Onehunga Mangere

There is so much to rave about when it comes to the round ball code in this country.

We have idyllic settings. You can watch football on top of an extinct volcano at Onehunga Mangere United. You can watch it surrounded by vineyards, flares, drumming and Latin American singing at Waiheke United. You can stand on a balcony overlooking the islands of the Hauraki Gulf at Beachlands Maraetai. Or you might prefer to be serenaded by the sound of mooing cattle at Tokoroa. Or appreciate the uniquely New Zealand suburban environment of Kiwitea Street – and the steak sandwiches aren’t bad there either!

And never mind the so-called standard of football. Grassroots or ‘Lower League Football’ is all the rage internationally. A huge number of people are turning their backs on glittery leagues where the almighty dollar dominates, fans are treated like cash cows and players are bought and sold like slabs of meat for the GDP of small countries.

Paul Scholes’ summed it up nicely in his autobiography:

“I probably do enjoy watching Salford more. I don’t know if it’s as much that I don’t like the hassle of going to the game, getting in, sitting in traffic. Going to Salford, I park up behind the goal and get out of my car. But I genuinely get more enjoyment from watching even my son’s team, Royter Town. …I went to watch him once, it was 5-4. It’s just entertainment. …It’s all about money and sponsorship in England these days rather than football, rather than entertainment.”

Kiwitea Street

In New Zealand it’s all Salfords and Royter Towns. The only difference is parking up behind the goal might be slightly more likely to get your car dinged by a wayward shot.

But if you want to remain someone who insists on seeing nothing but the best players in the world, then we can cater for that too! You should learn to appreciate the women’s game.

Our national women’s team, the Football Ferns, is ranked in the world’s top 20 and they are capable of beating anyone on their day. A couple of years ago they defeated Brazil in Brazil. And a number of their top players play week in week out in New Zealand club football.

Last winter you could have watched Katie Rood play in the Northern League for Glenfield Rovers – fast forward six months and she’s now at Juventus. Many of the female players we can rock up to a suburban park and watch play from behind a little bit of yellow rope would set you back $50 to see play in a 50,000 seat European stadium if they were men of the same international standing.


Talking to ourselves about this stuff isn’t enough though. We have to believe it, we have to crave sharing it and we have to get out and promote it any way we can.

As you probably know, because you are at a New Zealand National League game and let’s face it you must be a die hard, when Manchester United started out they weren’t Manchester United. They were called Newton Heath and they played on a little paddock that was part of a railway yard. They didn’t grow into the most recognisable brand in world football by aspiring to be something they weren’t. They celebrated what they were.

And it wasn’t a hell of a lot different to what we have now.

If they can do it, so can we!

Waiheke United

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 1 NZ Northern Men's Division 2 NZ Northern Men's Premier NZ Northern Women's Premier

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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.

5 replies

  1. Great article and on the button.
    I’ve been following NZ football since 1968 and now I don’t even live in New Zealand but still follow the NZ game. Definitely people in kiwiland don’t realise how lucky they are. I believe that with some special marketing, tours of New Zealand via the football could be sold to people overseas who would most definitely fall in love with a club like Queenstown Rovers and the spectacular views on offer while watching football.(this angle is already being used to lure people to places like Iceland and the Faroe Islands). Or imagine watching football from a balcony while eating kiwi cuisine like kiwifruit and pavlova etc.
    Really like your blog Enzo.

  2. Well said Enzo and Richard in comments. I would also urge more recent immigrant folk than I, who are football fans, to get out and attend some local football. For less money than a Sky Sport TV package or a premium online streaming service, you can see future professional players and experienced former pro’s in this country. I’m not saying ditch your tv or online deals. Just get out and support local football like you did in your birth country, as fans like Paul Scholes and Phil Graham do…I know I am preaching to the converted here, as followers of this great blog are already doing it. I don’t have marketing skills or the financial might to get folk to our games. But I, and thousands of volunteers in this country, are working at our clubs for all to enjoy some football and to get into a bit of sideline banter if you want.

  3. Spot on Enzo, the constant barraging of our mens National league in particular bemuses me. Enjoy it for what it is, skilled amateurs who train 3-4 times a week to put on what can be terrifically entertaining football.

  4. NZers don’t show “passion” as spectators because we know its just a game – and we’ve all got lives that have far more going on than football in them. I’m not “Phoenix till I die”, or “Suburbs through and through”, and not many are. I’ve played for 4-5 clubs over 40 years, and all of them seemed to be full of good blokes at the time I was part of their clubs.

    As far as the National league goes – it’s 90 minutes on a Saturday afternoon (usually) where we’d like to be entertained by a good goal or two. It’s not do or die, it’s not what defines us, and generally it’s two groups of amateur players who are pretty much the same level (imports apart).

    These days I watch a regional league game most weekends (various local clubs) during the winter, and some of the National League on TV (but the closest NL games are usually 2 hours drive each way these days) and while I “support” the local sides – I can still appreciate skills from the opposition.

    Perhaps that’s the difference between Kiwi fans and offshore … most spectators have played/are still playing … and the result of “the firsts” has NEVER seemed to be all important to belonging to a club or watching a good game.

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