Hand of God

Adam Brown and Sam Buckle, founding members of Yellow Fever, love watching football's modern-day gladiators in action, almost as much as talking about the game afterwards. Between them they blog on the world’s most popular sport, both in New Zealand and overseas.

Sorry, the RWC is NOT third biggest

08:30am 04 Feb 2010 109 comments

BY SAM BUCKLE

Well, somebody has to say it, and it might as well be me. No, the Rugby World Cup is NOT the third biggest sporting event in the world. It’s a myth perpetually reinforced in this country, most recently - and the catalyst for this blasphemy - on the front page of Tuesday’s Dominion Post (para 6).

It seems to be a myth partly fostered by those various organisations with a stake in the RWC (by those selling commercial rights, by those selling tickets, by those pumping for government funds and, indeed, by the government fronting up with those funds). But it's also a myth that has built its own momentum over time, to the points it's become entrenched in the public mind. And who really wants to pause, think and challenge a good news myth that makes us feel a wee bit better about ourselves?

Luckily, I'm not alone in my sacrilege. In fact I’m in esteemed company. Before Christmas I heard an interview by Mark Watson on Radio Sport. He was talking to Fairfax Media’s (think stuff.co.nz, The Press, the Dominion Post and most of regional daily newspapers) general manager for sport, Trevor McKewen. They chatted about this very misnomer.

McKewen not only felt the RWC was a long way short of top three status, but claimed any time one of his journalists drafted this national fable into a story, it was promptly dealt to with a black line through it. Obviously, not this time. Albeit, in fairness to McKewen’s editorial team, Tuesday’s offending article was not a “sports” story.

Yes, I know, how petty of a football fan to be the one to spoil the fun. I’m probably a bit insecure about the RWC’s challenge to my game - sure, I confess. But, first of all, I am no more guilty of pettiness than those who insist on labelling it the third biggest event on earth – for the sake of some marginal PR status that will make no difference at all to the success of the RWC or interest in it.

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Time for NZ World Cup bid

10:30am 01 Feb 2010 12 comments

BY SAM BUCKLE

Football in New Zealand must aim high. It must be ambitious. And right now, we should be aiming to host a Fifa World Cup. No, this is not comic fantasy.

As we know, Australia has launched a bid to host the 2018 World Cup. Its bid was typically Australian: brash and undaunted. "We are Australians, of course we can host the World Cup. Let's just get on with it." You have to admire the audacity. However, despite creating quite a stir and making an obvious impression on Fifa with its preliminary bid, there are increasingly strong signals that the upstarts from Down Under will be not be permitted to turn global football order on its head. Last week, Fifa president Sepp Blatter suggested it was likely only European countries will be considered as candidates to host the 2018 World Cup finals. There was follow-up in the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday.

This is New Zealand's opportunity.

I suspect Football Federation Australia (FFA) always felt 2018 was a helluva long shot. Europe is due that World Cup, with 2010 going to Africa and 2014 to South America - even if Asia is an increasingly powerful football bloc. The Australians' real target will be 2022 (as should be ours). But 2018 provided a rallying point and an opportunity for Australia to establish its credentials.

2022 is Asia's World Cup. It will be 20 years and five World Cups since Japan and South Korea co-hosted the only previous Asian World Cup. That's what the FFA really wants. Yet it is not the only member of the Asian Football Confederation keen on grabbing the big prize. South Korea, Indonesia and Qatar have all applied to host in 2022 - and there's plenty of time for others to enter the fray.

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What is professional anyway?

08:30am 26 Jan 2010 9 comments

BY SAM BUCKLE

The boundary between professionals and amateurs has never been clear – to me at least. But, it’s also never, until recently, especially mattered – in New Zealand at least. They were just broad labels we applied for descriptive purposes.

Yet, the murky distinction has now assumed much significance and started to generate considerable anxiety in New Zealand footballing circles.

At the heart of the drama is our national league, the NZFC, and the vexed matter of player payments. Under an Armageddon scenario, it is believed such payments could sink the Phoenix, the NZFC itself as well as a key pathway for young Kiwi footballers. Ouch.

First, it is a common belief that Fifa’s allowance for the Phoenix to compete in an Australian competition is based on the absence of a professional competition in this country. I’m not aware if this is actually a formal condition or ever explicitly stated, but I expect Fifa would exercise considerable discretion in deciding, based on all factors, pros and cons, whether or how to enforce such a condition, if indeed it actually exists.

If this condition was strictly applied across the globe then how are the allowances for Cardiff, Wrexham or Swansea playing in England explained (I’m sure there must be payments somewhere in the Welsh league) or how could Celtic and Rangers even begin to contemplate the possibility of a move to the Premier League? (For the pedants out there, however you want to draw their political boundaries and define “country”, England, Scotland and Wales have their own international football teams, and that’s what should matter to Fifa.)

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Weddings, World Cups and family building

07:25am 20 Jan 2010 10 comments

BY SAM BUCKLE

I get married on Friday. And it clashes with the Phoenix’s match in Perth. Such are the sacrifices one makes.

One friend of mine, a Wellington football personality (to remain anonymous), actually emailed me to point out the venue doesn’t get Sky Sports 3 and suggest we take a laptop and a T3G card (to watch via the internet).  Somehow, I deemed it wise not to forward this idea to Penny.

Since she’s probably going to discover I’ve found the time to write two blog posts within four days of our wedding, I thought it prudent to work Pen, the kids and our big day into one of them. Hopefully, it softens the discovery.

She does tolerate a ridiculous amount of football. Through autumn-winter I’m AWOL every Saturday from midday until six, plus at least one, often two nights a week at training. Come spring-summer we’ve got an endless flood of A-League and Premiership football to watch, the Phoenix at home every second weekend, Team Wellington, not to forget hours buried on my laptop each night writing blogs, checking results from the UK, to Denmark to the US or mindlessly wasting my life on football forums, most prolifically Yellow Fever.

In between times, I need to squeeze in a job, study (which, mercifully, I just submitted) and the small matter of a family of five. She is one helluva trouper to put up with all that and only very, very, very occasionally melt down in quite understandable frustration.

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What was the crowd?

08:01am 18 Jan 2010 13 comments

BY SAM BUCKLE

A-League football fans are very precious, even tending obsessive, when it comes to crowd figures (I reckon the Australians are even more seriously afflicted than we are). 

We ritually speculate about the likely crowd before home games and it’s often our leading curiosity when consuming match reports or delving into post-match discussion forums.

We find ourselves disputing the official “count”, bemoaning poor turnouts and pouring scorn upon those clubs whose crowd performances are a stain on the credibility and reputation of the competition – Gold Coast United being the current villain. In the UK, a club suffering crowd failure is its own problem. In the A-League it is everybody’s.

My theory is that football, as the underdog and less established professional code down under, suffers from a high degree of insecurity. The fans feel their sport has to constantly prove itself or fend off the doubts of a historically sceptical public and media. The relative youth of the A-League and its franchises and the perceived financial fragility of some clubs are also quite reasonable reasons for our crowd consciousness. Though the signs are very positive, it is still too early to take the viability and future of the A-League or, for that matter, the Phoenix, for granted. We like to be reassured.

This year, a fall in crowd numbers across the A-League has heightened that consciousness. And while Phoenix crowd numbers are down against the highs of its debut season, I think the club is doing admirably on that front (although Terry Serepisos may not share my threshold for “admirable”). Twenty-seven games plus playoffs is a very long season by the standards of New Zealand professional sports competitions. In between the anticipation of the season’s opening and the drama of the final run to the playoffs, it’s not easy to sustain the competition’s hype, media and public interest (the occasional Eugene Dadi bicycle does help). Seven thousand eight hundred in the rain, for the second of two successive home fixtures, for the 10th of 11 games at the stadium, was a decent turnout.

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