Can Wellington Phoenix rise from the ashes?
Wellington Phoenix continue to surge in the A-League but have struggled for crowds (Image: AFP)
Close to two months ago I posed the question, will Wellington Phoenix flounder or flourish?
At the time the article was written, Wellington were sitting in the dreaded last place with an average attendance of 7445 and, unfortunately, experiencing one of their most troubling periods in the club’s short history.
I also asked if their off-field performances could be attributed just to their lack of on-field success.
Options such as relocation were assessed but only for the purpose of a more suitable stadium which could aid in the match day experience fans were currently paying.
The experience at Wellington home games, with no disrespect intended, does not match the atmosphere of rival clubs.
On the 28th March 2007, the new name for New Zealand’s football club was chosen from roughly 250 proposed names.
The club owner at the time, Terry Serepisos, explained the name chosen to represent the Wellington based club: “It symbolises the fresh start, the rising from the ashes, and the incredible Wellington support that has come out.”
The ‘fresh’ aspect has surely waned and the strong support continues to dwindle regardless of one mid-week fixture, form and even playing a game away from their usual home of Westpac stadium at Forsyth Barr stadium in Dunedin.
Attendances have currently dropped to 6,882, and although their past three performances have indicated a reversal in form, the trend seems harder to buck than originally thought.
To rub salt into the wound, foundation coach Ricky Herbert decided his time with the club was up and the club mutually obliged.
Ricky Herbert, although not your typical Postecoglou, Popovic or Arnold-stye coach, has served the Wellington Phoenix club to the best of his ability and prior to this season had accomplished what only three other teams had been able to accomplish – three successive finals appearances.
The only teams to have done this prior to the culminating results of this season were Sydney FC 05/06, 06/07, 07/08, Newcastle Jets 05/06, 06/07, 07/08 and Melbourne Victory from seasons 08/09, 09/10, 10/11.
After successful qualification and campaign for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, it would seem as though football in New Zealand was generating the interest required to support a New Zealand-based team and the All Whites.
Unfortunately for football, the rugby codes are the two most popular sports in terms of attendance and viewing, so trying to convert fans across to football in summer was always going to be a challenge.
With the phenomenal success of the Western Sydney Wanderers and their football journey capturing the imagination of the Australian football public, it could be viewed that the FFA have finally got it right.
With community engagement emphasised in the creation of the Wanderers, football fans must wonder if the FFA could do it again, if required.
We all know teams have their time in the doldrums.
However, with a competition so even and with four rounds to go, anything is possible for any side, thus the need for fans at Wellington to provide their support more now than ever.
Attractive, attacking and quality football are what the public and new owners are searching for but at what cost?
If these trends continue and Phoenix’s new owners are not able to connect with the Wellington community and win matches attractively, then the question should be asked as to the importance of their inclusion in the A-League and ultimately the continual development of football in Australasia?
Do they still have something to offer? Is it just a matter of time until the club is replaced? Or is it just a really bad season and they can’t wait for it to finish?
Maintaining the momentum football has gathered in the past year is vital to the continual growth of the game, not just in Australia but in New Zealand also.
With the salary cap being fully covered next season, some financial expenses may be alleviated which could aid club owners to vest their money into other aspects of football development.
But will it be enough?
Can Wellington Phoenix rise from the ashes and provide something to the continual development of the A-League?
Or can another Australian team offer what the Phoenix aren’t?