Twenty ten is all about football. Forget rugby, we can worry about that next year.
The All Whites victory over Bahrain to get to the World Cup was the just the start of what has become a true movement. At yesterday's Phoenix game against the Newcastle Jets there were over 32,000 people, a club record. The true fanatics, the casual fans, the people who follow football but never got to many games, the people who were curious about what this was all about, the people who wanted to see what it was like being in this crowd, and the people who actually supported the Jets.
Compare that 32,000 to the 24,000 that watched the second fixture of Melbourne and Sydney, or the 4,000 that watched Newcastle play Gold Coast last week. In fact the 32,792 who watched the Phoenix beat the Jets was the biggest crowd all season by over 2,000.
Click the photos for a prettier size
The hoardings were all Australian ads, the big screen played ads to bolster support for the Socceroos, the loud speakers blasted Wolfmother and all the money went to Football Australia. What did the home ground announcers control? The volume. This was an Australian show, but a Wellington home field.
As Newcastle made their first break they ran towards the Yellow Fever corner and hit a wall of sound that clearly spooked them and they turned the ball over. Yeah man, it was loud. Newcastle scored first, causing the only moment of silence. It took three seconds before the "Fee-Nix!" chant came back.
Not long after coming Daniel screwed up a good chance. Instead of dropping his head he walked towards the Fever and pumping up the crowd. The louder the better and the better the noise the more chances the Phoenix had.
I sat next to Michael Burgess up in the press booth and consummate professionals that we were, we swore and yelled and cheered along with the crowd just outside the window. The Aussies at the other end were a bit grumblier.
I know it'll be in every media piece about the game but the crowd really was bloody loud. And there was a distinct lack of munters. On twitter after the game there was a fair amount of bah-humbugging at the supporters driving about with horns going and jerseys hanging out the windows but really it was Cuba Carnival level excitement.
And it was truly fun to be part of. From where we sat you could watch the Fever corner slowly change from yellow to the colour of sunburnt Caucasian.
How long will this excitement last? Will hordes of New Zealanders catch the football (ahem) fever and book tickets to South Africa? Will they be drawn in their hundreds down to the public big screens to watch the team? A dry-run for Party Central perhaps? I hope so, but I'm a wee bit pessimistic.
Then again the World Cup is a big event here when New Zealand isn't playing. If anything Nike can expect to sell a few more plain white shirts (we must be the easiest team to make uniforms for).
I'm not going to talk rugby, but Cory Jane and Jason Eaton attended the first Phoenix play-off game and couldn't believe how amazing the crowd atmosphere was. They marvelled at the songs and wondered why their fans weren't like this. So they put out the call for Hurricanes supporters to come along and sing and chant. The CEO of Wellington Rugby asked for the same thing during yesterday's massive win. So basically they are asking them to not be New Zealand rugby fans.
I'm not placing a value judgment on this, but New Zealand rugby fans just aren't the chanting, singing type. Maybe the Welsh and English will belt out a few tunes but New Zealanders watch the game with their arms crossed and tell you to "bloody siddown" if you get in the way. It's not all that, naturally, but in general the crowd isn't a singing/chanting one.
You can't simply change a community by telling them to be more like another one. Sorry rugby.
It should also be noted that this is the first play-off appearance in the history of New Zealand's only pro football club. And football, while popular, isn't the dominant sport in New Zealand, and is traditionally a sport we don't do all that well in. So the crowd is probably going to be a bit more raucous than they are during the opening rounds of a tournament where the team is playing fairly easy opponents.
Now the question is going to be, who is flying to Australia to help fill the stadium over there?