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.