The news that Auckland City have put their name in the frame, however tentatively, as a candidate for an A-League licence in any future A-League expansion should be greeted with enthusiasm by the New Zealand football public, the Wellington Phoenix and the rest of the Stirling Sports Premiership.
Despite the initial shock of losing the premier team in the Stirling Sports Premiership, fellow teams and administrators should look upon Auckland City trying to take the next step up as an opportunity for their teams to capitalise on and become the next Auckland City.
Few football fans in New Zealand will have been unaware of Auckland City’s recent performances at the World Club Championship but if they do move to the A-League, just like the Phoenix, they will be ineligible to represent New Zealand in the Oceanic Champions League. This means that the likes of Waitakere United, Team Wellington and Canterbury United have a chance to reach the pinnacle of the world club game and would be able to benefit from the exposure and financial rewards this would offer. And for those football fans living on the South Island hopefully one of the Uniteds, Canterbury, Southern or Tasman can benefit by challenging to be one of the dominant teams in the Stirling Sports Premiership and provide the South Island the exposure its dedicated footballing community deserves.
As for the Wellington Phoenix, having another New Zealand team in the A-League will provide a domestic rivalry of the type that drives any great club. Where would Celtic be without Rangers and what about the passion when Manchester United play Liverpool, not to mention Real Madrid and Barcelona’s rivalry which transcends football.
In addition, if Auckland were to get one of the two rumoured expansion places, it would be a sign the A-League has mellowed in its views about having a team from their Trans-Tasman cousins. The issues around the Phoenix’s licence renewal have been well documented and as fans we all need to buy into the culture and the club to prove to the Australians we deserve to be in the A-League but how much easier would that be if we had the incentive of trying to get the better of our Auckland cousins.
However, the A-League’s prevarications around the Phoenix’s licence renewal last year are one of the reasons why I fear Auckland City will be down the list when it comes to preferred expansion options, put simply the Australian’s are focused on the Australian game. Whilst this may be reasonable I hope the A-League decision makers can look beyond their own shores and realise Auckland is the fifth biggest city in Australasia and as such has a potentially massive fan base.
It may seem strange I am advocating a team that didn’t even win its domestic title last year but they are the biggest team in the league and their promotion would be a massive boost for the game in New Zealand, from the increased exposure to the doubling of opportunities for young players, to potentially more All White Internationals being able to earn a living in the country that they represent. So for now I’ll cross my fingers, hope the Phoenix’s recent good form continues and of course hope anyone but Auckland City win the Stirling Sports Premiership.
They may be the brightest hope for the future of the game in this country but they are still the Manchester United of New Zealand.