Because the Phoenix's first ever game, their league opener against the defending champions Melbourne Victory, attracted 14,421 lively fans to the Westpac Stadium (nicknamed the Cake Tin and no doubt familiar to those of you who follow rugby), setting a New Zealand attendance record for a football game. Keep in mind, Wellington has a population of around 400,000, and this game outsold the Wellington vs Tasman Air New Zealand Cup rugby clash which happened earlier in the same stadium by about 3000. Very, very impressive.
But all this would have been for nothing if the Phoenix turned out to be rubbish on the pitch like the Knights. 60 minutes in, they were 2-0 down, Brazilian playmaker Daniel having missed a penalty and things looked grim. But they mounted a stirring two goal comeback with Daniel making up for his error by scoring a header from a corner and New Zealand international Shane Smeltz getting the second, also a header but this time from open play. There were even a few chances to win the game late on, but it wasn't to be, and a point is a fine result from this game.
All the reports said great things about the fans, who drove the team on and made quite a lot of noise with their songs and chants. Hopefully the positive experiences of the first game will keep fans coming back in as the season goes on. Early signs look pretty good. Incidentally, the Phoenix's supporters group are called Yellow Fever (so named because of the club colours) and seem to be a hard-working bunch. Good for them.
Lastly, it was heartening to see a great op-ed in the New Zealand Herald (our national daily) praising the Phoenix and being optimistic about the future of football (or as it's called here, soccer) in this country. It makes a point that I think is very important to get across in countries where football is merely trying to gain acceptance rather than being the national sport:
The great news is that sport lovers in New Zealand have a choice.It's not that one has to come before the other. Having variety merely means that everyone is happier. I write hundreds of thousands of words about football every month, but that doesn't stop me from cheering for the All Blacks.
(Your regularly scheduled posting about European football will resume shortly with a couple of Barca-related posts.)