I’m not a regular Phoenix watcher, and I mainly use West Ham for ‘feeder club’ jokes with the inexplicably large contingent of NZ Irons fans on Twitter. But top flight English teams visiting New Zealand happens about as often as we win Rugby World Cups, generally, so I got my credit card out for this one as soon as I was able.
Fair play to the Welnix group – the odd BAU Gareth Morgan brain explosion aside, they’re showing measured ambition and are Trying Things to get their team and football growing sustainably. The official crowd figure was 19,100 odd, which seems a pass mark in Auckland on a freezing cold Wednesday, where people generally won’t go to Eden Park unless it’s the Blues v Crusaders in the Super Rugby final with a ‘three free hot dogs’ promo on.
Auckland gets few chances to get out to support top class football, and the atmosphere was extremely convivial, with a HUGE amount of West Ham kit on display, among other clubs. There was a noisy West Ham contingent on the old terraces that stood for the duration, and a token Yellow Fever congregation at the other end of the ground (enforced separation?). I took my son for his first trip to Eden Park, and it seemed like many dads and lads were doing the same.
As for the match, from where I was sitting West Ham seemed a foot taller and a metre faster than the home team, they simply looked a level of professional athlete up. For the first ten minutes I thought the Phoenix would go down four or five nil, but after a while the locals decided to play football, which they did admirably. West Ham obviously missed Andy Carroll – they had good chances, but the Phoenix’s superior finishing was the difference, with a couple of tremendous goals. Winston Reid looked Rio Ferdinand-like to me with his anticipation and time on the ball, he’s the real deal, no doubt. The first half was more entertaining than the second, and any feeling of pre-season low-key-ness was off set by some tasty tackles. It was most entertaining.
Only grumbles – seeing tickets at half the price I’d paid appear on Grab One the day before the match. I understand they needed to reach a number, but discounting like this leaves a sour taste in the mouth for the premium-paying earlybirds. And because it was pay per view there’s no way to go back and watch a replay, save for nefarious internet means. Could this be worked out in the future?