“Sports!” remit is to delve into the under-appreciated sports around Wellington. This week breaks the rule, exploring the world of New Zealand’s sole fully professional football club: the Wellington Phoenix.
Football continually plays second fiddle to the self-professed national sport—rugby. Phoenix players earn around $60,000 annually. Super Rugby players? $125,000 to $190,000. More to the point, the Phoenix—as of March this year—ranked 1288 out of 2212 clubs around the world. Football then, while not at the back of the bleachers with Ultimate Frisbee and Canoe Polo, is still very much under-appreciated in New Zealand when compared to a global scale.
The history of the Phoenix is topsy-turvy at best: from their flunked Auckland based predecessors the Kings, then the Knights, then to Wellington and the ensuing saga of Terry Serepisos’s bankruptcy-while-still-driving-Lamborghini’s-and-not-paying-child-support, and now finally to their less than enviable position of 9th on the A-League table.
Despite these trials and tribulations, along with some mediocre football throughout their seven seasons, it seems the Phoenix have found a permanent home in Wellington; being particularly enamored amongst the sweaty, topless, and beer soaked yellow fever supporters. (Let this be a fair warning—or outright endorsement—to go and watch a game in the “Yellow Fever Zone”).
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These fans are testament to the fact that sport is more about centering community than about being the best, or even very good. Better quality football is available in abundance the world over, yet the Phoenix still inspires a dedicated supporter base. One of whom recently waxed lyrical over the Stuff headline “Developing quality football Wellington Phoenix’s Goal”, declaring: “Should have worried about this 20 games ago! No good talking about quality when you are second from bottom.” This kind of passive irritation can only be a good thing for the club’s longevity.
I, for one, am glad for the endurance of the Phoenix. Tracksuit clad eye candy will continue their parade around Exodus. And, the Victoria rumour mill will continue to produce classic tales of drunken nights ending at Century City apartments; involving two or five Phoenix players, of which only one’s marital status can be confirmed.
“Sports!” track of the week: Chumbawamba—“Tubthumping”