Football in New Zealand

New Zealand’s footballers are known as the All Whites, and football is the third most popular sport in the country behind rugby and cricket. It is, in fact, the most participated sport in boys from the age 5 to 17. In domestic football, the Wellington Phoenix play in the Australian A-League and their home ground is the Westpac stadium which holds 34,500 people. This multi-purpose stadium also hosts many of the All Whites major home games.

Wellington Phoenix FC who play in the Australian A-league

The national football league in New Zealand is the Stirling Sports Premiership which runs in the summer months and has a mixture of professional and semi-professional players. There are 10 sides in the league and two sides each year qualify for the OFC Champions League. The National team was qualified for two World Cup finals competition in 1982 and 2010. In South Africa, 2010, three draws in the group stages resulted in the side being knocked out of the competition, but they were the only side in the tournament who remained unbeaten.

The lack of revenue in the domestic league means that many players are attracted overseas to earn higher salaries and play for a higher standard of football. Winston Reid plays for West Ham United and he earns an estimated 6 million US dollars per annum, and many of New Zealand’s players are tempted overseas in search of such riches. The average salary in the Wellington Phoenix is 120,000 US dollars, and although the conditions of playing in the A league are amongst the best in the world, it is understandable why so many players have travelled to Europe and America – to make the most of a very short career.

In August 2017, the All Whites vice-captain Chris Woods moved from the Leeds United for 25 million US dollars, and he has been given a salary of 4 million US dollars per annum. The rewards for getting into the premiership are vast, but it is not an easy route, and the story of Chris Woods journey makes interesting reading.

Winston Reid (1st left) and Chris Woods (3rd left) sing the national anthem

Born in Auckland, Woods played domestic football for the Cambridge FC, Waikato FC and Hamilton Wanderers before moving to play in the UK with The West Bromwich Albion. Whilst at WBA, he was loaned out to seven different clubs until he eventually joined the Leeds United where he scored 40 goals in two seasons that secured his big money move to the Burnley FC.

Winston Reid’s story is slightly different. He was born on the North Shore, Auckland to Maori parents, and moved to Denmark when he was 10 when his mother remarried a Dane. He came through the youth system at the FC Midtjylland before signing for the West Ham in 2009. He first played representative football for Denmark under 19s, but in 2010, he opted to commit to the New Zealand senior side, and is now the captain.

There can be no doubt about the enthusiasm for football in New Zealand. The Wellington Phoenix playoff game against the Newcastle Jets in 2010 at the West Pac stadium attracted 32,000 spectators. There is a national youth league, and 250 out of 450 secondary schools in New Zealand play competitive football. The structure is already in place for players to continue developing and helping the national team improve its performances on the international stage.

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