The Wellington Phoenix have proved the doubters wrong.
When Wellington businessman Terry Serepisos famously decided to buy a football club while having a haircut four years ago, there were sceptics galore predicting that here was another New Zealand football venture doomed to a short-lived future.
Just how wrong those doomsayers were will be in evidence on Saturday when the Wellington Phoenix play Adelaide United at Hindmarsh Stadium.
The game will be the Phoenix-s 100th Hyundai A-League fixture, and while more than satisfied with what has been achieved so far Serepisos is planning a bigger, more successful future.
Twice during the club-s short history Wespac Stadium has been sold out – for the hugely successful visit of David Beckham and his LA Galaxy team-mates in season one, and last season-s playoff game against Newcastle Jets.
On the playing side Wellngton Phoenix exceeded most people-s expectations by reaching the preliminary final last season.
“Those were fantastic experiences,” Serepisos said. “Now I want to build on it.
“I want the club to win the competition, next season if not this, and my other ambition is to bring an English Premier League side to Westpac Stadium.
“It is definitely possible if we work with clubs such as Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC to keep the costs down.”
Reflecting on the journey so far, Serepisos is justifiably proud of what has been achieved in what is a short time in the football world.
“From the start I said I was in it for the long haul and I have always believed in what we were doing,” he said.
“Wellington is like a miniature Melbourne in that people love their sport and the majority got behind what we were trying to create.
“I think we should all be proud of how far the club has come. I always said the Phoenix wasn-t just my team. It belongs to New Zealand football lovers, and especially Wellingtonians.
“The fans have played a major part in the way the club has grown. Whatever the size of the crowd those fans – the Yellow Fever in particular – have created a fantastic atmosphere for our home games.”
Creating the Phoenix not only gave Wellingtonians a team to follow. In many ways it threw a lifeline to New Zealand football as a whole, something that Phoenix and All Whites coach Ricki Herbert is quick to acknowledge.
“The Phoenix have been a massive help to New Zealand football. The club has probably been one of, if not the biggest, reason for our success in reaching, and performing well at, the World Cup finals,” Herbert said.
“Previously there had been little investment in New Zealand players and consequently they had to look overseas.
“The Phoenix gave home-grown players an opportunity to play a good standard of football without having to go into a new environment or play a poorer standard of football.
“At one point we had seven or eight New Zealand players in the Phoenix squad.”
Besides providing a platform for Tim Brown, Ben Sigmund, Leo Bertos, Mark Paston, Tony Lochhead, David Mulligan, Jeremy Christie and Shane Smeltz to realise their World Cup dreams, promising young Kiwis such as Kosta Barbarouses and Marco Rojas have got their professional grounding on the club-s Newtown Park training ground.
Through the ups and downs Serepisos and Herbert have been a formidable partnership that appears set to continue in the future.
“I wouldn-t have gone into this without Ricki and we have been loyal to each other,” Serepisos said.
“It is has been a remarkable journey for both of us and we have developed a great friendship.”
Herbert concurred, saying it had been a good partnership.
“You have to have that if you are going to develop a club,” he said.
“It was especially important at the start because it was tough putting everything together in such a short time frame.
“Other new clubs coming into the competition have had 12 months or more to get their act together. We had just over three months.
“There are always things you want to improve on and Terry and myself will continue to look to do that.”