532 Words on: Why we need fans

“The game is for the players” – Eastern Suburbs AFC

Yep, you guessed it, I plan to milk that for a good while yet to come.

Today’s starter for ten: How many kids rock up to their local club for first kicks having never seen a game of football in their lives? When you’ve answered that, let me know how many young players come to FTC and NTC without a favourite team and/or a football hero?

I would hazard a guess that somewhere between 90 and 100% of people who play football at all age groups and levels have or had a parent, an older sibling or a friend at school who fell in love with football and passed on the bug because their parent, older sibling or friend at school caught it before them. “You can’t be what you can’t see” and you can’t see what you’re not exposed to.

The catch-cry of the men’s national league is “where All Whites are made”. But how? Through player development? That would be the exception rather than the norm right now, although I accept and respect the way Eastern Suburbs are going about changing that. However I would argue that the pinnacle of the local game could play a far greater role in inspiring the next generation who, if it was done right, wouldn’t be as “all white” as the higher echelons of the game sadly tend to be right now – and have always been.

Māori and Pasifika, for example, don’t necessarily have any connection to Manchester, Liverpool or Madrid and even if they did they are less likely to have Sky TV than pakeha families. They need local heroes, preferably who look and sound like they do. And for young girls, there are almost no women in football on TV anyway so if they don’t happen to be inspired by men the local stuff is all there is.

Getting some of the games on TV has been good, but the lack of atmosphere in person and the anaemic crowds on our screens are still a big problem. How can we expect to attract new people if those of us who already love the game, and there are hundreds of thousands of us nationwide, can’t even be bothered? It’s not a great look or advertisement for the product.

How many uber talented young sportspeople are football missing out on because of the apparent indifference towards fans that the architects of the structures of our game seem to have? How much more competitive could we be at World Cups if we had the pick of the most talented kids of all ethnicities and genders across all codes?

Continuing to rely on the English game to do all our recruitment and retention (to coin an HR term, ick) for us is fine if we are comfortable in our little lilywhite male minority sport bubble. If we think where we are now is as good as it gets then by all means we should keep doing what we’re doing. But we all know what the definition of insanity is…

P.S. Personally I’d drop the All Whites name too but that’s obviously a whole other can of worms!