Friday, April 30, 2010

The wrong world cup

For a country that has qualified for the World Cup for only the second time in its history, you would have thought that it would have been a big thing. Well, at least I did and I seem to have been very wrong. Living in Dunedin for the past three months I have periodically been on the hunt for a new New Zealand football shirt (the team is known as the All Whites because of their white kit) and other national footy merchandise as souvenirs of my time here but more often than not, that hunt has proved fruitless. Whenever I did stumble across them, they were often hidden away with Manchester United and Brazil shirts on full display. Now I'm fully aware that this is rugby country and is due to host the next rugby world cup in 2011 and as such there is a tsunami of RWC and All Blacks shirts, scarves and whatever else can be branded but still, the silence is deafening. The occasional mention on the television of the Australia v NZ clash next month and some small stories on the back pages of the papers emphasise the limited impact of the game here. Wellington Phoenix's ability to fill the Westpac Stadium for their A-League preliminary final last month was arguably an errant statistic than the norm, especially considering my experience watching Otago United of the New Zealand Football Championship attract no more than 3 or 4 hundred to a 29,500 capacity Carisbrook Stadium (although the Highlanders Super 14  rugby franchise has also been struggling to fill even a third of the stadium).
 Otago Utd v Waikato FC, Carisbrook Stadium, Dunedin, 21/02/10 - Virtually deserted

It's not all bad though. The FIFA World Cup trophy was recently on display in Auckland, which got mass media coverage. However, I do wonder who thought it was a good idea for the trophy to be displayed on the same day that the Rugby World Cup trophy went on display in Wellington...

I'm sure that come kick-off, Kiwis will be avidly following the exploits of the All Whites football team in South Africa but claims that the World Cup playoff win over Bahrain last November is the beginning of a new chapter in NZ football remains to be seen. That night, goalscoring hero Rory Fallon wore a shirt saying "White is the new Black", highlighting the temporary change in national sporting focus from the All Blacks to the All Whites. I only hope that he doesn't wear it in South Africa. It could cause problems.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

That sinking feeling...

Last weekend was possibly the worst weekend of football that I've experienced, and yet I didn't experience it at the same time. For the first time since I can remember, my team got relegated on the last day of the season. Tiverton Town, once of the Southern Premier League (the 7th step on the English football pyramid), lost 2-0 away to Bedford Town in what was apparently a lacklustre performance from the boys in yellow. If I'm honest, I started supporting Tivvy as they were approaching the pinnacle of the club's existence. Three trips to Wembley in the 1990s with a return of two victories. Doesn't sound quite so glamourous when I admit it was the FA Vase and not the FA Cup, but for a semi-pro team from a small town in mid-Devon it was a major success. Reaching the FA Cup 1st round proper on multiple occasions and moving on up the pyramid were rosy days for the club. Talk of reaching the Football Conference grew and even one or two hopelessly optimistic spectators uttered those magical words - 'league football'. We would get crowds larger than numerous teams in divisions above us and for a while the outlook was bright.

Fast forward ten years and the club has hit the proverbial glass ceiling and is now falling again. Spectators are more intersted in getting the latest Premier League scores than what is happening in front of them on the pitch. Attendances have shrunk and the quality of football on show has deteriorated almost to the point that it bears more resemblance to the kick and chase game of the school playing fields than the professional game. Perhaps a tad harsh but I don't recall seeing an entertaining game at Ladysmead for years. Yet seeing as I only make it to a handful of games every I spend a long time overseas, perhaps I've just been been unlucky with the games I've managed to get to. Speaking to some of the regulars though, it doesn't seem likely. Maybe there is a silver lining, that relegation will force the club to take a long hard look at itself and consider who are the right people to take the club forward. This could be Tiverton's Steve McClaren umbrella moment, after which England's fortunes have changed. Or maybe not.

There is apparently still hope. While many Premier League clubs struggle under the ballooning debt that is slowly crippling some teams, spare a thought for Merthyr Tydfil who could still become bankrupt and thus allow Tivvy to remain in the SPL. While the problems surrounding Portsmouth are well documented, teams such as Merthyr collapse without the media batting an eyelid. Survival is survival no matter the means but if they fold, it will feel like cheating.

Much of the world's football fans are more interested in the title run-in between Manchester United and Chelsea, but there's far more to football than just Rooney and Drogba.

I wasn't at that game. I was fast asleep in bed on the other side of the world, in Dunedin, New Zealand. I had to get all my information second hand. It doesn't seem quite so real when you're so far removed from what is going on. No doubt when I'm back for next season and they're playing lower class opposition, it'll sink in then.

Hits since April 2010