Viewport width =
October 1, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

NZ soccer about to rise again

It seems as though New Zealand has always had a strange relationship with the sport many call the beautiful game. Despite 100,000 or so of us playing competitive and social soccer up and down the country, the sport has attracted minimal media coverage, overshadowed, as it were, by the proverbial juggernauts of New Zealand sport, rugby and cricket.

But there is now a different whiff in the air – a hint of an uprising from down ‘ol Wellington way. In a stadium often marvelled for its cookware aesthetics, an unfamiliar beat is being served up – a fiery beat – that has scorched the curtails that have paralysed New Zealand soccer in the past, and has invigorated the game in a way that it has rendered fans with no other choice but to chant you’re not in Auuuuckland anymore! You’re not in Auuuuckland anymore! For 90 minutes on the field they may be raised, but the meteoric rise of the Wellington Phoenix has done more for New Zealand soccer than arguably anything else has since the glory days of ’82.

Phoenix defender Steven Old has certainly felt a certain energy and pizzazz emanating around. The 21-year-old All White, who has plied his craft in both the United States for St. John’s University and for Australian A-League franchise the Newcastle Jets, feels that football in New Zealand has now adopted a more professional and pragmatic approach, and that is typified by the early success of the Phoenix.

“You can see it working through all levels of the game, from age group teams upwards and that’s due in part to having a team in the A-League,” he says.

“Since moving down here the level’s switched up a gear and I think we’re doing a lot of things better and doing things right.”

Perhaps the first sign that things had “switched up” was the decision to pry the country’s A-League franchise out from the vacant stands at North Harbour Stadium and place it here in the nation’s capital. With tickets to Phoenix home games selling at a rate previously unheard of in New Zealand, Old muses that perhaps there’s an emblematic euphoria for football in Wellington that has manifested itself in the Phoenix.

“I can’t speak from any personal experience of being with the Knights, but from what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen through playing them, things weren’t clicking. Down here there’s the crowd and the culture, and Wellington’s really embraced it.”

“Even playing on the field itself, the noise level from all of those chanting echoes around the stadium, and it feels like you’re playing in Europe,” he says.

Finally, an Anfield or Highbury to call our own! And indeed, the quality of the football on display in the A-League would not go amiss on the fields of England. “I never saw the first season, but from the second season onwards the quality’s been great and it’s still improving,” Old notes, quite astutely. “It is, already, one of the top leagues in the world.”

Needless to say that as a sportsman participating in one of the top football leagues in the world, there is a raft of expectations placed on the young All White players to perform in Phoenix-black.

“I look at it more as a case of playing myself either into or out of the All Whites, but really I keep that sort of thing at the back of my mind; you can only hope that you play as well as you can, and whatever happens, happens.”

“It’s great to be playing alongside a lot of familiar faces,” he says. “It improves your game a lot. You know how they play and where you should put the ball and what they’re going to do with it. With the All Whites, and playing under Ricky [Herbert], you come to know what is expected of you almost without being told.”

Old notes that Phoenix is in the top half of the table after four or so games and people are starting to realise that they are a team that can win games. “We’re definitely a lot more respected than the old New Zealand teams; they’ve seen us win, they’ve seen us play football, and they are a little afraid of us.”

It is a recipe for success that has spurred the Phoenix to early glory in only a few short weeks since the club debuted. The team’s 2-1 win over Sydney FC on September 14 marked the first in what many suspect will be many victories for the new franchise.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestTweet about this on Twitter

About the Author ()

Kia ora, biography box, kia ora.

Comments (2)

Trackback URL / Comments RSS Feed

  1. Michael Oliver says:

    In response to the letter in this week’s Salient vis-a-vis this article; yes, I know as much about football as I do about mongball (you don’t know about mongball? Oh, dear friend, consider yourself lucky) but I think I did a decent enough job faking it.

    I was raised on a diet of New Zealand sport, and I probably deserve some flack for not branching out beyond the tried and true (rugby, cricket, league, rugby, rugby, that shotput chick, rugby) but eh, it’s a 500-word sports column in a student magazine. Whatchagonnado?

  2. Michael Oliver says:

    Actually, come to think of it, if I had to write a column this week, I’d probably write about my new-found fascination with NFL, in particular Brett Favre and the Green Bay Favres, er, Packers.

Recent posts

  1. An (im)possible dream: Living Wage for Vic Books
  2. Salient and VUW tussle over Official Information Act requests
  3. One Ocean
  4. Orphanage voluntourism a harmful exercise
  5. Interview with Grayson Gilmour
  6. Political Round Up
  7. A Town Like Alice — Nevil Shute
  8. Presidential Address
  9. Do You Ever Feel Like a Plastic Bag?
  10. Sport
1

Editor's Pick

In Which a Boy Leaves

: - SPONSORED - I’ve always been a fairly lucky kid. I essentially lucked out at birth, being born white, male, heterosexual, to a well off family. My life was never going to be particularly hard. And so my tale begins, with another stroke of sheer luck. After my girlfriend sugge