Seven years of bad luck: the Wellington Phoenix story

-

It’s well established within my personal head-canon that in 2015, Wellington Phoenix chairman Rob Morrison broke a mirror.

Embed from Getty Images

While Morrison has never publicly admitted whether my alleged event occurred, the next seven years of off-field frustration and bad luck is evidence enough.

Let’s recap.

2015: Phoenix denied a ten-year license

Remember when Football Australia (then Football Federation Australia) was in charge? I prefer to forget. During those dark days, the then nine other clubs in the league got licenses – a permit to play in the league – until 2034. Wellington was left out in the cold.

With their own license expiring at the end of the 2015/16 season, the WelNix group requested a ten-year extension which was denied. Understandable panic rippled throughout everyone with a stake in the club.

The crisis would resolve in compromise with Wellington being granted a 4+3+3 license near the end of 2015/16. Technically ten years, but with three checkpoints where requisite metrics would be analysed. The Phoenix were the only team imposed with such requirements.

2015: License squatters

So why did the FFA deny the request? David Gallop simultaneously explained and became Wellington’s most wanted when he accused the WelNix group of “squatting on their license.”

It was – and remains – a ludicrous accusation to make at one of the competition’s most stable ownership groups, especially considering at the time the FFA was literally running the Newcastle Jets following poor ownership.

This is also without mentioning the ownership issues at Brisbane Roar, Perth Glory’s inability to stay under the salary cap, and Central Coast Mariners’ cash problems. Or how crowds league-wide were in decline, pointing to a problem at FFA’s marketing rather than the Phoenix in particular.

Yes, attendances were low but consider the size of Wellington’s market. Consider the increases seen under Mark Rudan and Ufuk Talay. Consider the FFA’s commitment to attendance size considering Western United’s triple-digit figures.

2016: Alex Jones transfer fiasco

It’s halfway through the 2015/16 season. The threat of expulsion hangs over a Phoenix side languishing near the bottom of the table, and to make matters worse star striker Roy Krishna has gone and gotten himself injured.

Embed from Getty Images

In an attempt to rectify, the Nix nabbed Birmingham City striker Alex Jones on loan for the remainder of the season. Business as usual, right? Well, no.

New Zealand Football needed to log a request for the loan with FIFA, but the staff member responsible did not have internet access at the time of transfer. By the time they came online, the transfer deadline lapsed. Alex Jones travelled to Wellington, trained a couple times, then flew back to Birmingham.

It was an embarrassing slip-up which did nothing to help relations between Aotearoa’s football federation and its only professional club.

2015-18: #Metrics

Football’s an emotional game. It has its good moments and its bad moments. It has its tension. It’s why we love it, but we love it because those emotions are usually confined to the pitch. Not so for the Nix.

Embed from Getty Images

For three years, every time Phoenix fans sat down at the Cake Tin they were nervously observing the crowd figure. Because even after the Nix were granted their 4+3+3 extension, the axe loomed over the club should tv and live viewership not increase. Again, a pre-req only imposed on the Phoenix when all across the league these numbers were tracking down.

Still crowd figures had to pick up but stubbornly stayed down. As the years went on and on-field performance remained poor, a hopeless dejection set in amongst the Phoenix faithful. No matter what they tried, the club’s attendance remained dismal (by Australian standards) and the future bleak.

Because it was too much to ask to go to a football game and not worry about the existential future of what you love.

If the FFA had remained in charge, then Wellington would have almost certainly been given the boot. Thankfully, the league threw off the FFA’s yolk and now the Phoenix look set to soar.

2015-presentish: #NixOut

During the panicky months when there was less than a year left on the license, there was a glorious uniting amongst the Trans-Tasman football community around Wellington. It was generally regarded on both sides that the Phoenix should stay.

But as the years wore on, positive feelings toward the Nix began to ebb away.

Debating the #NixOut brigade on Twitter became commonplace among the Phoenix faithful, and it became harder and harder to go a week without working yourself up about some amateur opinion article saying your football club shouldn’t exist.

Not that the professionals were much better – Fox’s already biased Aussie commentators launched uneducated scathing attack after uneducated scathing attack.

There is little more energy-sapping than having to justify your existence to a world which hates you for not being Australian.

Fast-forward to today and recent improvements have seen the #NixOut brigade all but vanish, thank heavens.

2018: WelNix considers merger

With diminishing returns and the metrics being nowhere near the required levels for the first extension, you can almost forgive WelNix for being ready to throw in the towel.

Reports surfaced following the conclusion of a disastrous 2017/18 season of the Nix considering a merger with a NSW-based side where perhaps half the games would be played in New Zealand, or even selling the license entirely.

Embed from Getty Images

Disillusionment reigned supreme amongst Phoenix fans – which at this point was just the die-hards. The misery was not helped by some evasive answering from Morrison; while he ruled out a full-on sale, he was non-committal on the possibility of a merger.

This story does have a happy resolution however. The FFA scuppered the deal as a sold license to a new club would undermine their own pre-existing expansion process. This marked the one and only time the FFA ever did anything helpful for the Phoenix.

2019: Mark Rudan and Western United

The 2018/19 season saw new head coach Mark Rudan pour life into a club practically catatonic on its death bed, and a revitalized Phoenix came sixth making the finals for the first time since 2014/15. Alongside Perth Glory, Wellington was one of just two clubs to raise their average attendance.

Embed from Getty Images

But with new boys Western United looking for an inaugural coach and Rudan reportedly missing family, rumours swirled about the coach leaving after just one season despite signing a contract for two.

While said scenario did eventuate and Rudan would head west, by the time of his announcement as coach, Western had already signed some 17 players: the signings of which Rudan acknowledged he had input in.

To pour salt on the wound Rudan took with him long-serving captain Andrew Durante, breakout young gun Max Burgess, and star keeper Filip Kurto. The Aussie head coach denied he ever actively tapped players to come with him, but whether they approached him was a “different story.”

2020: Quarinope

2019/20. Under Ufuk Talay’s wing the Phoenix are at last flying high, controversy-free. Then the pandemic struck.

Embed from Getty Images

With borders on both sides of the Tasman shutting and the A-League Men attempting to play on, Wellington were forced to head to Australia for quarantine.

They managed to get through all of six days before the ALM pressed pause on their futile attempt to continue, meaning it was back to New Zealand for another 14 days of quarantine.

2020: Two men and one golf buggy

Despite the mere six-day stint in quarantine, chaos was still caused.

On March 24 defender Tim Payne and reserve keeper Oli Sail breached quarantine in an alcohol-infused adventure on a golf buggy during the wee hours of a Sydney morning.

The pair were banned for four matches and fined by their club but have since gone on to become regulars within the Wellington starting XI. So maybe there’s a secret in how to become a first-teamer here.

2020/21: Quarinyes

As 2020 rolled on and New Zealand and Australia stunned the world with their then world-famous and successful (sob) elimination strategies. With such success, a trans-Tasman bubble seemed a foregone conclusion by mid-2020.

Then case numbers in NSW shot up, and all plans were scuppered. With little other option, Wellington dutifully moved to Wollongong for a season, where they stayed. Away from their fans.

2020: A-League Womens license denied

While there’s a lot of (correct) positivity surrounding Wellington’s new women’s team, they really should have been around for a year already.

Embed from Getty Images

The Phoenix looked set to join the then W-League in 2021 but plans were abandoned at the last moment because of all things, FFA wasn’t willing to let the woman’s team have the same exemption as the men. FFA ruled any Kiwi players would have to take one of the limited visa slots on the team.

A New Zealand team. Treating New Zealanders as foreigners. Yeah, that was never gonna fly. Unlike the Phoenix’s newly-established A-League Womens team, which currently is not constricted to such a degree.

2021/22: Wellingong; electric boogaloo

Once upon a time there was a Trans-Tasman bubble. It looked like the harrowing days of being trapped in oz were over. Suddenly, delta.

It’s gonna be another year of only watching the Nix on TV for the Wellington faithful. I don’t want to talk about it.

2021: Steven Taylor’s shock retirement

On Friday September 24th, Steven Taylor was named Wellington Phoenix captain.

On Saturday September 25th, Steven Taylor played in a pre-season friendly.

On Tuesday September 28th, Steven Taylor retired with instant effect.

Embed from Getty Images

This was due to the logistics involved in spending another season trapped in Australia as well as the reluctance on the Nix’s behalf to offer him a longer-term contract, but jeez. Club can’t catch a break. Especially helpful since Talay ruled out signing any more imports till January. Cheers Steve.

Feature image credit: Ngau Kai Yan

Enjoy this content? Support The Football Sack

Due in part to COVID and lack of current sponsorship we are at risk of not having the funds to continue running The Football Sack. If you enjoy our content and support our work in training talented young writers, please support us with a donation. If every reader contributed just $3, our funding would be covered for over ten years.

DONATE

Learn with us

Dan Moskovitz
Dan Moskovitz
The Football Sack's resident teen kiwi football nut. Loves everything football except defeats.

Latest Articles

Love your football?
Subscribe to our weekly football wrap. During the season we'll send you all the week's football action straight to your inbox.
* indicates required