Westpac Stadium put on another wonderful experience as Phoenix players, staff, volunteers, sponsors and fans gathered to celebrate the highs and lows, but above all, the hard work that goes into an A-League season.
The 2016/17 campaign may not have ended in the fashion most Phoenix supporters wanted but on Tuesday night several hundred fans, sponsors, volunteers, staff and players gathered to pay tribute to the unstinting hard work that goes on both on and off the field throughout a campaign.
Young Australian defender Jacob Tratt has returned to be with his family in Dubbo, NSW, but his breakthrough season was appreciated by the Wellington fans who voted him their Revera Member’s U23 Player of the Year.
While many A-League supporters worry about the lack of young player development that happens across the league, Wellington Phoenix continued their reputation for showing faith in players from the lower leagues, as well as continuing to bring through young NZ talent like Academy graduate Sarpreet Singh who followed James McGarry, Alex Rufer, Matthew Ridenton, Tyler Boyd and Kosta Barbarouses in making their Phoenix A-League debut before their eighteenth birthday.
Striker Roy Krishna was duly rewarded for his sterling season, picking up the Adidas Golden Boot award as well as the Players’ Player of the Year award.
Krishna’s 12 goals saw him join Shane Smeltz, Paul Ifill, Jeremy Brockie and Nathan Burns as the only Phoenix players to hit a dozen goals in a season, but it was the accolade bestowed upon him by his fellow players that moved the Fijian, who edged out Vince Lia and Marco Rossi in second and third respectively.
Foundation player Lia scooped two awards as well – his wonder strike in Round 10 against the Central Coast Mariners in Hamilton was voted as the Apollo Goal of the Year, ahead of efforts from Tom Doyle, Krishna and Barbarouses.
The Phoenix vice captain was also honoured for ten years service to the club – a recognition he shared with long-serving kitman and media manager Russell Gray.
In one of the highlights of the evening the two shared open and humorous reflections with journalist and commentator Jason Pine about a decade at the club, with Gray discussing the tremendous bond between the staff and playing group and what the Phoenix meant to him, even after four decades working in sport and journalism.
Off the field, the amazing sacrifices of the Wellington Phoenix volunteer crew was acknowledged, as was the tragic passing of well-respected volunteer Helen Cross, with another long-service Phoenix stalwart Ken Allen picking up the Volunteer of the Year award for his efforts around match day.
Stephanie Evett was a surprised recipient of the Garage Project Fan of the Year but had the entire room in stitches with her impromptu comments as to why she continued to support the Nix.
Des Buckingham and Chris Greenacre were thanked by General Manager David Dome for their efforts in turning around a then foundering season after the shock resignation of Ernie Merrick, with the two reflecting on highs such as dual 3-0 wins over Melbourne Victory and lows such as a three game mid-season patch where Phoenix failed to take the game to their opposition.
A very special moment was the commemoration of the decade-long efforts of John Serepisos and Jason Pine. Serepisos has been an unswervingly loyal supporter of the club, working as a graphic designer from the very beginning, and the man responsible for the distinctive Wellington Phoenix crest.
Pine may be better known as a matchday commentator and football journalist but his unstinting professionalism and support in many ways, such as MCing events such as Vince Lia’s Testimonial Dinner earlier in the season, have contributed incrementally to the rising profile of football in New Zealand.
Football Operations Manager Shaun Gill was a humble recipient of the Lloyd Morrison Spirit of the Phoenix award, whose work along with the support of Wellington Council has been instrumental in securing and preparing new state-of-the-art training facilities at Martin Luckie Park in Berhampore to give the playing and coaching staff the best possible conditions for matchday preparation.
Finally, the Huawei Player of the Year was revealed.
As a progressive season-long points tally was unveiled Glen Moss, Rossi and Krishna appeared in strong contention for the top gong, but a fine run of performances over the last four months of the campaign saw marquee signing Barbarouses storm up the leaderboard to just pip his teammates.
With fellow marquee Gui Finkler also finding excellent form after his return from Brazil on paternity leave, it’s a promising sign for the next campaign.
The on-field campaign may not have reached the ambitions outlined pre-season, but as nights such as these testify with the continued hard work of staff and players, our dedicated volunteers and our loyal sponsors, as well as the support of our passionate supporters, better days lie yet ahead.
Thanks for your belief, see you again next season!