Sports

Sports: You Cannot Destroy the Phoenix

You can’t get rid of the Phoenix. They’re named the Phoenix, for goodness’ sake. Is the Phoenix not the ultimate symbol of regeneration and rebirth and renewal? How can the Wellington club that rose from the ashes of Auckland’s attempts on dodgy property developer cash be handed a death sentence by the FFA? Do they know what kind of mythical bird they are dealing with here?

How can a club that has given us Ben Sigmund and Manny Muscat and Leo Bertos and Kosta Barbarouses and two barely known Brazilians called Diego and Daniel be for the chop? Paul fucken Ifill ring a bell? I mean, come on! Andrew Durante is still here. If the club is good enough for Dura it should be good enough for all of Australia.

You may not have been to a Phoenix match (I sure as hell haven’t) but you must have seen them in the stands at Westpac Stadium, bouncing up and down, all reckless abandonment and terrible singing. They make me want to go there. They make me want to like football! Oh Yellow Fever! You are the prescription for New Zealand sport’s acute case of Event Style Dysfunction.

How could you not love a supporters club that organises scholarships for young players – and picks the recipients! How could you not want to sing “Merry Nixmas” and “The referee is shit” and “Manny are you OK (Are you ok Manny?)” and the instant classic, “Here’s to you, Kenny Cunnigham”? I know I want to sing them, and I have no idea who they are talking about.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I do know who they are talking about. I know them because they play for the Phoenix and I like that the Phoenix are ours. An entire generation of footballers got to have some form of national recognition because New Zealand has a professional club in the A-league. And now Football Federation Australia wants to take that away. That makes me sad, and angry and frustrated.

It makes me frustrated because New Zealand Football has missed so many opportunities to make something of the oft-quoted football youth participation numbers in this country, but has inevitably failed. Twice in my life time the All Whites have made the finals of the FIFA World Cup, yet despite all the goodwill and the attention that has generated for the game, nothing has changed at the business end of the sport: rugby and league and cricket still rule the roost.

At least the Phoenix get to be in the conversation. Without that club New Zealand football amounts to Winston Reid in the EPL and sixty thousand soccer mums on Saturdays lining up for the coffee cart.

For how much longer though? For how much longer will we get to see the Phoenix blowing two-goal leads? And Ben Sigmund turning bright red and yelling at the referee? And The Yellow Fever taking off their tops at the 80-minute mark with the ‘Nix up 1-nil and Ernie Merrick pacing the sideline like a terrier that just sniffed a lamb chop, and hear them break into that timeless ode, “Michael McGlinchey, he plays where he wants.”

The Phoenix! Rebirth, regeneration, renewal! The great Greek historian Herodotus transmitted the Phoenician myth (in his tellings the bird was indeed yellow) so, like all other records and tales of the time, it would survive for generations to come. He wrote The Histories for this very reason – “to preserve the fame of the important and remarkable achievements”.

The Wellington Phoenix gave football in New Zealand a professional face, and they are still here today. In a rugby-mad nation, that counts as an important and remarkable achievement.

The FFA needs to preserve their fame.

The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism. Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories. Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.