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September 29, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Coping with the wind, the rain and the Phoenix

There was a buzz pulsing around the arteries of our fair city in early August that the nondescript sports fan would in all likelihood have ignored. After all, the country’s news media barely blurbed about it, being a measly pre-season fixture in a sport that hangs on the rung below its more prominent ‘eggchasing’ cousins. It was a mere inconsequentiality – a tiny speck on an already crowded sporting calendar.

But even if the details of this fixture slipped under you – a fixture we lost, by the way, but being a discerning sports fan who ‘keeps tabs’ on these sorts of things, you would’ve read “loss” next to “Phoenix,” in the sports brief section of the Dom Post, sniggered, and pushed your attention over to the 435th thoroughly insightful “Henry vs. Deans” diatribe published that week – the deluge of yellow tshirts flooding the streets and alleys of Wellington depicting a moustachioed man from the 80s will have almost certainly caught your eye, and perhaps your ire if you’re fashion conscious and have a limited sense of fun.

The Melbourne Victory’s victory over the Wellington Phoenix (8- 7 on penalties) in this year’s Pre Season Cup final, while still heartwrenching in and of itself, set feelings ablaze amongst the hale and hardy resplendent in pale yellow. Perhaps after a season beset with half-chances, what-ifs and maybes, and perhaps with a squad both battle-hardened and wiser for the slings and arrows they suffered during their inaugural season, the Phoenix were finally about to come of age, and cast a wing over a competition which still remembers with a teeny weeny smidge of embarrassment the New Zealand Knights and the Kingz before them. With this team, with this coach, and chorused by arguably the most loyal and vocal supporters group in New Zealand sport, this was destined to be the year that the ‘Nix would rise from the ashes of football misfortune and make a name for themselves.

But pre-season – like history – is bunk, and after dipping below the standards promised by their initial results, the Phoenix have fallen afoul of last season’s bogey men and, as of writing this, have yet to register a win after five rounds in this season’s A-League. It would seem that despite shepherding in a raft of talented imports during the off-season, particularly to fill the troublesome defensive holes often exploited last year, the Phoenix have collapsed into a pond of formless drivel, producing a raft of aimless misguided football that is not only tactically befuddling, but downright infuriating to watch.

This by no means has gone unnoticed by those members of the outstanding Yellow Fever, who’ve taken to the group’s forums to register their dismay and annoyance at their beloved ‘Nix’s shittery. While the forums are well populated and tended to, we must be conscious of the fact that they are not the official speaking pulpit of Yellow Fever or the Phoenix organisation itself – an embarrassing interpretation rendered by one Jim Kayes, noted rugby writer for The Dominion Post, who chastised the Fever Zone for their so-called self-importance and hubris.

In the ‘Sidelines’ section of the Dom Post’s Friday sports lift out, Kayes cast snide disdain upon Yellow Fever, reporting on a heated thread in which a small handful of posters registered their disgust with the decision to give away “netball-style clappers” at home fixtures, noting that their sound trounces the chants and songs emanating from aisles 21 and 22, apparently spoiling the fun for everyone. Kayes’ assertion that Yellow Fever believed themselves more important than other fans – and bizarrely, a bigger attraction than the Phoenix themselves – seemed indicative of a smarmy, ill-informed, lazy kind of journalism that spits tacks at anything that isn’t, well, rugby related. Those who have taken even a cursory glance at Yellow Fever’s website – or have attended a Phoenix home game – will be all too conscious of the fact that ‘hubris’ by no means fits the average ‘Nix fan, and that any suggestion otherwise is laughable. Loyalty and passion in the midst of some of the most lethargic and cringe-inducing football are far more accurate adjectives, and it is that which sets the Fever apart from any other supporting chorus.

As it stands, New Zealand football as a whole finds itself in a position of evolution. The All Whites are set to compete in a home-and-away series against the fifth-placed Asian qualifier for the right to compete at the 2010 World Cup next year; New Zealand will host the Under 17 Women’s World Cup starting in late October; and the Phoenix – perhaps on the back of Shane Smeltz’s razor strikes, Glenn Moss’ gutsy goal keeping and the collective voice of the mighty Yellow Fever – will, we hope, we pray, find their footing and dispense with aimless long balls and return to the short, sharp style of play that had eyebrows rising during pre-season.

There’s a song Yellow Fever are particularly fond of – and if you’re familiar with the melody of ‘Oh, My Darling Clementine’, you can hum it during FCOM and annoy the absolute shit out of everybody – succinctly summarises the hopes and feelings of everyone and anyone who’s ever been to the ‘Ring of Fire’ and asked the opposition “Who are ya?”

We’re the Phoenix, we’re the Phoenix, we’re the Phoenix FC

From the ashes, from the ashes, from the ashes are we

And as I look forlornly at a scoreboard that reads 1-0 in favour of everybody’s favourite whipping boy, Perth Glory, I can only hope that there are still some embers left to rise from.

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