532 Words on: The men’s national league

I was once introduced by one former All White to another as “the biggest football fan in New Zealand”. I’m not sure that’s even remotely true, but I do know that if people like me can’t be arsed with our nation’s pinnacle men’s league then Houston we have a problem. And worst of all from my point of view is I simply don’t agree with most people’s recipe to rescue the stew.

To me, trying to fix the men’s national league by arguing over clubs or franchises, promotion and relegation and what time of year it’s on is about as useful as addressing New Zealand’s housing crisis by subsidising free yoga classes. We’re attacking the wrong problem. The problem isn’t the logo on the shirts or too much sun. The problem is the product is so dull it makes Sam Allardyce look like Marcelo Bielsa.

The one and only game I’ve been to this summer had me bored rigid. Like a book with one dimensional characters, I just didn’t give a tinker’s cuss who lived or died. And I have felt like that about pretty much every game I’ve watched since the demise of my dear departed WaiBOP United.

Try as I might, I just don’t really love any of the entities and it’s clearly not a franchise based league problem for me because the one team I did fall head over heels in love with was a franchise. WaiBOP was replaced with a club I like, run by great people, but it just doesn’t get me jumping up and down. It’s a chemistry thing. I can’t explain it other than to say they don’t have it.

Switching to clubs doesn’t necessarily mean people not currently engaged will magically get excited by different coloured shirts. For example switching Auckland City with Central United, Waitakere United with Waitakere City, Hawkes Bay United with Napier City Rovers and Team Wellington with Miramar wouldn’t give us anything we don’t already have.

And to me, letting Eastern Suburbs in was a wasted opportunity. Instead of the club with the biggest cheque book we needed the club that could bring in the most fans and grow the game. We need Manukau United’s ethnic support, Birkenhead United’s mobs of kids, Waiheke United’s ultras and Cambridge’s apple shortcake (and atmosphere). If a fraction of that lot can be imported into the national league you could play it at 1am on a tuesday morning with teams named after Ewok clans and I would be there with bells on. It’s about soul.

And soul is not something that promotion and relegation would necessarily give us either. All that would do is ensure more of the world’s resources are wasted by clubs competing with each other to get in. The biggest wallet would win while the also rans waste dough that could have been put to much better use.

What’s the solution then?

Dare I say it we need some A League style metrics! Tell the clubs they will be kept or chucked based at least in part on their attendances. Then we might see clubs using their members’ subs to grow the game instead of paying mercenaries to win temporary trinkets.