Football in Wellington is complicated. 3 professional and semi-professional clubs who play in black and yellow represent the Kiwi capital in competitions spread across 2 countries, while partisan fans of various Winter regional league clubs put aside their historical rivalries to support all 3 black and yellow clubs indiscriminately during the Summer months.
Of those 3 clubs, you are likely to know Wellington Phoenix FC. The ‘Nix have plied their trade in the Australian A-League for 11 years now and remain the only foreign club competing in the highest level of Australian Football. Planned expansion of the A-League by 2020 could change that, but at time of writing Wellington Phoenix remain an exotic presence in the league. The ‘Nix most celebrated fan group is known as Yellow Fever, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the club’s bold primary playing colour. The grandiose Westpac Stadium in Wellington’s dockland has been a worthy home for the young club.
Recent years have seen disappointing form and results for Wellington Phoenix to such a degree that ongoing discussions contemplate a revoke of the club’s A-League licence. The alleged reason behind the decision to establish an A-League team in New Zealand was local player development; a higher volume of Kiwi Footballers playing in a competitive league should theoretically see improvements in the national team’s ability and fortunes. But the 2016-2017 season saw the joint lowest amount of possible minutes played by Kiwi Footballers for Wellington Phoenix in the A-League, a record that would be broken only a year later in 2017-2018 when New Zealanders played for even fewer minutes in the black and yellow. With poor results and decreasing Kiwi game time, the immediate future looks admittedly bleak for Wellington Phoenix FC.
This could have tangible ramifications in the ISPS Handa Premiership (also known as the New Zealand Football Championship, or NZFC), the top level of New Zealand club Football. The league (established in 2004) runs through New Zealand’s Summer months (Europe’s Winter months), relegates no clubs and provides a platform for inter-city Football competition in New Zealand. The Wellington Phoenix Reserves compete in the NZFC, having finished 7th in the 2017/2018 season. How would the exit of Wellington Phoenix FC from the Australian A-League affect their Reserves in the NZFC? Perhaps the ‘Nix starting XI would simply take the place of their reserves in New Zealand’s top tier if they lost their A-League licence, while the regional Central league would accommodate the Phoenix Reserves.
You may be less familiar with Team Wellington FC. Established in 2004, the club is the product of collaborative efforts of a variety of longstanding local Central league Football clubs to create an NZFC team to compete against teams from other New Zealand cities. Such established names as Olympic AFC, Marist AFC, Island Bay United AFC and Miramar Rangers AFC among others built Team Wellington FC, which has become a successful force in the league, having won the Championship outright twice (2015/2016, 2016/2017), on both occasions defeating favourites Auckland City FC in the final. As both teams compete in the NZFC, Team Wellington FC regularly plays competitive league Football against the Wellington Phoenix Reserves, but this fixture sees little partisan support from local fans.
Wellingtonian Football fans tend to support Wellington Phoenix FC (A-League), the Phoenix Reserves and Team Wellington FC (NZFC) at the same time instead of picking one over another. It is not uncommon to see Phoenix jerseys at Team Wellington FC matches and visa versa. Fans of the far older Wellington clubs playing in the Central league often stick to supporting their traditional club, but Phoenix, the Reserves and Team Wellington have been successful in allowing Football fans across the capital to celebrate their city in the medium of Football. Members of Wellington’s famous Greek community for example will be inclined to support Olympic AFC during the Winter in Central league, but will happily don the black and yellow for the Summer competitions. That colour scheme is by no means arbitrary. The flag of Wellington, visible below, features the two colours prominently as well as a depiction of the Wellington ship aboard which the first Europeans made their arrival in the city. Black and yellow can be see around the entire city; much public infrastructure and amenities are also coloured black and yellow. Is the Wellingtonian culture observable in the city’s Football culture as much as its colours are?
Possibly…. and if so, only to a degree. While being the political capital, Wellington is considered the culture capital of New Zealand. The city is endowed with eclectic drinking spots, world-class musea, intimate music venues and art…. oh my, the art. Yet the whole “hipster” character, so ubiquitous throughout the city, is not visible in the fan behaviour of our three subject Football clubs. However, the conditions in which Wellington has become the city it is today have been conducive to the “large community” mentality that locals pride themselves on and that probably motivates Wellingtonian Football fans to support all 3 clubs.
Wellington’s 19th century planned settlement from Britain saw whole communities of individuals who knew each other migrate together to the fledgling city; the city’s culture was inclusive and caring from the very beginning. The same can not be said for Auckland for example, which did not see the same method of settlement. Industry, economy and population have grown since, but the surrounding mountains have obligated the Wellingtonians to learn to accommodate and tolerate each other in the geographically-confined city. Unlike in Auckland, Wellington has not simply grown suburbs to accommodate newcomers. The introspective Wellingtonians, ever in each other’s way, strongly feel a part of a city-wide culture and identity that have their roots in the early community settlement and geographical proximity. Growth, time and new arrivals have not changed this mindset. This nicely explains why the various rival Football clubs would be so ready to come together to create a shared venture to compete in the newly established NZFC (Team Wellington FC), and why fans would choose to support multiple clubs across different leagues.
In this respect, Wellington’s culture is painfully visible in its Football.
Dedicated to Jub of the Sports Travel Blog Tiki Touring Kiwi; one of the awesomest Wellingtonians out there.