domenica 20 novembre 2011

Aucklands footballing passion returns

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The Phoenix players thank the Eden Park crowd at the conclusion of the match. - Source: Photosport

The organisers said they'd be happy with 15,000 for thePhoenix's match at Eden Park yesterday.

Many scoffed at that figure, most said they'd be lucky to get10,000-tops through the turnstiles.

But Auckland's weather turned on a treat and the city'ssports-loving folk responded resoundingly, with a Phoenixattendance record smashed at 20,071 - what a success it was.

Even though the Phoenix put on a fairly.... no, a very averageperformance, and were lucky to come away with a point fromtheir 1-1 draw with Adelaide United, the real story isoff-field.

There's been no professional football in Auckland for threeyears, except the All Whites' friendly against Honduras lastyear.

Going back to 2008 there was massive hype and fanfare aroundbringing David Beckham and his LA Galaxy teammates to Auckland's MtSmart in an exhibition match against an invitational OceaniaXI.

In short that event was a disaster - the ground wasbarely half full and city and event organisers took the brunt ofthe blame for poor organisation, particularly around exorbitantticket prices.

Auckland's scars with football go right back to the doomed NewZealand Kingz, formed in 1999 (later becoming the Knights) whoplayed in the A-League and were based at North Harbour Stadium onAuckland's North Shore.

After five years of poor performances and awful crowd numbers,New Zealand's only professional football team left Auckland, andbecame what we know today as the Wellington Phoenix, based in thecapital.  

Since losing football, Auckland has been under the pump in othercodes, with media and others asking why crowd numbers continue todwindle at Super 15 and All Blacks' Tests in the country's biggestmetropolis, where over half the nations population reside.

It's puzzled city and event organisers for the past few years asthey battle to get Auckland's sport's-crazy out to liveevents. 

Take the recent Rugby World Cup out of the equation; it would beunfair to compare the attendance numbers to other sports.

The Blues have struggled to lure in more than 15,000 to theirhome games for the past three years, a trend which has gottensteadily worse and is most alarming, not just to the Blues boardand New Zealand Rugby Union.

As NZ's biggest city sport needs to be, should be, supportedvigorously.

But with yesterday's resounding success off the pitch at EdenPark, Auckland City struck a mighty blow, certainly in terms ofprofessional football, after the dark era of 2001-2004 with theKingz/Knights.

The 20-thousand plus crowd was nearly four times the amount ofpeople that showed up to Westpac Stadium two weeks ago.

The Phoenix will also be playing the Brisbane Roar at Dunedin'snew Forsyth Barr Stadium on December 14, after they attracted inexcess on 15,000 to a pre-season game in August at the venue.

Result aside, the Phoenix turnout yesterday was essential toshow that Auckland still has the desire for football.

They'll be back in 2012. Baby steps Auckland.

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