We went to a football match recently – say ‘football’ to a Kiwi and their mind settles on men playing with odd shaped balls, caring little that the sport they are thinking of was named for the school which created it. Apparently I’m ‘so English’ for constantly pointing this out. I refuse categorically to use the word soccer.
New Zealand has only one professional football team. Yes, just the one (even the national team, the All Whites, had a couple of non-professionals playing in the 2010 World Cup). The team, based in Wellington, is named Phoenix, which is a little unfortunate as they seem to have to rise from the ashes at the end of every season. Still, it gives sports reporters an easy headline.
I felt a familiar thrill as we approached the stadium, a mass of moving humanity wearing gaudy scarves all with the same objective. It brought back many happy memories of visits to Hillsborough, even if they didn’t always end happily.
I’m an Owls fan, for which I make no apology. In my opinion, the support of a particular team is forged by passion, the heart ruling the head, and it doesn’t matter if another team is more successful. Although I acknowledge my father’s mantra that any success is good for the city and, grudgingly, get behind United if they succeed.
I feel a pang of nostalgia when the English football season starts, remembering trudging along in all weathers, queuing to get through the narrow turnstile, stamping my feet on the concrete to try and warm them. It was always worth it once the ball was kicked. I don’t feel that here, it all feels like a watered-down version of the beautiful game and not very entertaining (sorry, Phoenix!)
We were only there because Wellington was hosting a couple of English Premier League teams. We expected to get stuffed (sorry, slipped into Kiwi commentator territory there…) but the ‘Nix put up a good fight, losing only by one goal to Newcastle and thumping (woah, there I go again!) West Ham by two goals, which was justice as they’d brought their fifth team.
It would be amazing to cheer my own team here. How about it, Wednesday? Or even, at a push, United. Help us to show Kiwis what football really is...