Hutt City Council’s announcement this week that, in conjunction with Gareth Morgan and the Phoenix, it is pursuing a 12,000 seat stadium at Petone Rec is tremendously exciting.
Wellington has repeatedly proven itself to be the home of football in this country, with two sell-out All Whites matches (one of them a dead rubber), a sell-out exhibition game against LA Galaxy, and of course the continued presence of the Wellington Phoenix.
But Wellington is also the only large metropolitan area in New Zealand without a stadium built for football.
Auckland has former Kingz base, North Harbour Stadium, and one-time home of the New Zealand Knights Mt Smart Stadium. Hamilton has Waikato Stadium. Christchurch has AMI Stadium. Dunedin has the absolutely tremendous Forsyth Barr Stadium.
Wellington has Newtown Park, which is the wrong shape anyway and has a running track around it. It’s a sad state of affairs. The Petone Arena proposal is an opportunity for Wellington to put a marker down and build a top-drawer football-first stadium.
It’s also a chance for the Phoenix to find their financial feet. An ever-present crowd of 6-8,000 is something to be proud of in a small town like Wellington. Per capita, that’s like Sydney churning out 48-64,000 every week for its two clubs. More than respectable. And it should be a crowd that can sustain the team, but the intractable monopolists running the Wellington Regional Stadium Trust are too profit focused.
Westpac Stadium is far too expensive. The Petone Arena will allow Phoenix to control their own financial destiny, and the Stadium Trust has only itself to blame for driving the Phoenix away.
All of which is both interesting and very important.
But I have a chubby over the Petone Arena for other reasons. At a much more personal level it’s bloody exciting for football fans. Just like watching a play in a school hall isn’t as good as watching it in a West End theatre, watching football on a cricket ground simply isn’t as engaging, fun, intense or pleasurable as watching football in a football ground.
Those grounds are intimate, fans get to experience the game in a way that is both visceral and addictive. The thought of watching A-League football up close and personal like that can only get your heart rate up if you’re a football fan.
Gareth Morgan and the Hutt City Council have done an amazing job in getting this proposal this far this fast. It’s quite breathtaking. Now it’s up to the rate-paying football fans of the Hutt Valley to swing in behind it and make it happen. I hope they do.