Yellow Fever more than noise

JIM CHIPP
Last updated 12:28 13/01/2011
Marco Rojas
DEAN PEMBERTON
VALUABLE FIND: Marco Rojas' Phoenix team-mates hoisted him high after he scored against Melbourne Victory at Westpac Stadium last week.

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The Wellingtonian

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Yellow Fever does everything a supporters' club should and a good deal more besides.

The Phoenix supporters club members remind visiting football teams where they are with a deafening row from Wellington Stadium's southeast corner.

The racket no doubt contributed to the Phoenix's two-year unbeaten run at its home ground.

Members follow the team to Christchurch, Palmerston North and even Australia.

They rebranded themselves as White Noise to help propel the All Whites through their unbeaten run in the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa.

But Yellow Fever provides the Phoenix with more than just moral support.

This season it has helped put the ball in the net and points on the board in a very practical way.

The football scholarship programme it has run for three years has produced a young star in 19-year-old Marco Rojas.

Yellow Fever held its first meeting on June 1, 2007, at the Thistle Inn to celebrate signing 1000 members, two months before the Phoenix kicked a ball in anger.

Using money raised by T-shirt sales, the Fever flies young players to Wellington, and provides hotel accommodation while they train with Phoenix coaches and players.

Members nominate young players for the scholarships, and then a short list is drawn up by a vote on their website.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert makes the final selection.

At Christchurch's AMI Stadium, Rojas delivered a corner for Ben Sigmund to head in the winner against Adelaide last month.

A fortnight later, when Paul Ifill was carried off against Newcastle Jets, Rojas stepped up and filled the playmaker role with aplomb.

He provided passes which Tim Brown and Chris Greenacre scored from, and added a goal himself, his first for the Phoenix.

In Wellington last week against Melbourne Victory, Rojas set up Dylan Macallister for one goal, then scored a second.

Yellow Fever member Mike Greene said Rojas was given a scholarship in 2009. Greene said he had noticed Rojas before, at an age-grade tournament.

"I was with the Karori under 19 team at the Napier tournament.

"We had just played in the second-tier tournament and there was this young chap who seemed to be carving us up and doing behind-the-heel crosses and so on. He was only in the sixth form.

"When it came to doing the scholarship short-list his name came up."

Phoenix assistant coaches Luciano Trani and Jonathon Gould liked what they saw.

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"They ended up wanting him to come for another week, and then another one so Ricki could finally see him," Greene said.

Just as Rojas has broken into the regular run-on team, his two-year contract is coming to an end, and there is certain to be interest in him from other football clubs.

How would Greene feel about a Yellow Fever protege leaving for the big-time?

"I guess we wouldn't mind if it was a big-name club," said Greene. "We wouldn't be pleased if it was Brisbane Roar."

Rojas isn't giving much away about offers he might have had.

"There's been a few bites here and there, but I've left that to my dad, who represents me.

"I've tried to concentrate on the football. The Phoenix have been great to me," he said.

"I know I've still got stuff to learn because I'm only young football-wise, but I don't expect any of them [big-name clubs] to be coming any time soon.

"It's a bit of a jump. I'm just in it to learn at the moment and improve my football."

"Five years from now, hopefully, I would be in one of the bigger clubs in Europe somewhere, plying my trade over there.

"Europe, South America... anywhere as long as I'm still playing football and in a big club, that would be nice."

Rojas was equally non-committal about whether he would play for the All Whites if given the chance, or hold out in the hope of playing for his father's native Chile.

"At the moment nothing has come up, and I guess I can't make that decision until something comes up," he said.

"[New Zealand] is the country where I was born and raised up. Of course I affiliate with New Zealand."

New Zealand Football chief executive Michael Glading said supporters clubs have given similar support to their teams overseas.

Some had even pooled resources to buy players in Britain, particularly in the lower leagues.

Yellow Fever was showing some of the same passion for football, he said. "Arguably that is unique in New Zealand."

The Fever had certainly helped make Wellington "the stronghold of New Zealand football".

- The Wellingtonian

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