Hay: Morgan could make Auckland work at last

DANNY HAY
Last updated 05:00 02/02/2014

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OPINION: Aucklanders turning up in numbers to watch football, surely not!

Yesterday's crowd of 18,056 at Eden Park to watch the Phoenix and Adelaide United follows the 20,000 that turned out to watch A-League football last time it was in Auckland.

It's pretty impressive for a city that hasn't got a great track record for supporting ‘the beautiful game.' And, poignantly, comes at a time when football in this country is on the verge of a shake-up.

Gareth Morgan's comments in the Sunday Star-Times last week were a revelation.

The philanthropist and Phoenix co-owner said: "I'm reasonably keen even on the idea of a second New Zealand team in the A-League, obviously you would want an Auckland-based team and I'd even go as far to say that I'd be interested in investing in that."

My initial thought was, are you serious? Auckland has a horrific track record with professional football sides. Both the Kingz and Knights failed to ignite one iota of passion or fanatical following during their time in the City of Sails.

In fact, both franchises tarnished the sport's reputation, becoming a joke for their inability to perform on the pitch or at management level. It's almost inconceivable that Auckland would be granted another chance with professional league football - in a league which is going from strength to strength.

Football Federation Australia chief executive David Gallop has made no secret of his desire to expand the A-League. Wollongong, Canberra, Tasmania and even an Asian-based side have all been talked about in expansion plans.

Incredibly, so has Auckland, with a return still a possibility.

The question is: is Auckland ready?

A year ago, Ivan Vuksich, president of top local side Auckland City, indicated it would be a waste of time to consider such a proposal unless lessons had been learned from the previous attempts at bedding a professional team into the city.

Vuksich also suggested the need for a "hands on" approach from investors.

Fair observations but now we at least have a successful model in Wellington that can be replicated. Morgan and his business partners in the Welnix consortium have definitely taken on board past failings.

The key, as Vuksich alluded to, is that Morgan or an equivalent investor, personally oversees every major decision within the club.

The benefits of a second franchise are seemingly endless, so perhaps the Wellington Phoenix's recipe could work in Auckland?

Firstly, it would need to include investors of the ilk of Morgan, if not have some major involvement from the man himself, as his comments intimate.

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Having money and a willingness to invest far from guarantees success however, it requires the right type of people with the right set of skills to contribute.

The smart move would be to engage Auckland City for support, if not a form of financial buy-in from them. They would bring two crucial ingredients for a start - a fan base and an understanding of professionalism in the game.

Secondly, just because people are turning out in numbers to watch the Phoenix once every year or two, certainly does not ensure they will turn up weekly en masse.

Aucklanders are notoriously fickle supporters and the novelty factor would quickly wear thin if the quality of the product on the field was not creme de la creme.

The other key factor is the venue. Eden Park is potentially far too big while Mt Smart and North Harbour Stadium are both in the 'too hard basket' as locations.

That could change though if the city was to invest heavily in match-day transport to make the latter two options more viable. Otherwise, they would need to finance a new, purpose built stadium to bring the city into this millennium with sports arenas - and if that can't even happen for hosting a Rugby World Cup, it's not an option football can really think about.

Danny Hay is a former All Whites captain.

- Sunday Star Times

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