‘It was inevitable’ – Patrick Barnes writes about their experience on Saturday night

‘This feels different’. Those three words were said to me approximately 20 minutes before kickoff on Saturday night, and they summed up the experience of supporting the Phoenix that night more than anything else. It felt different. 

The word I now use to describe Saturday night is inevitable. This Phoenix Men’s team was destined for this night after the season they’d had – a match where a win could secure silverware. But it goes beyond that, at no point on Saturday did it look like anything other than a Phoenix win was on the cards. It was inevitable. 

The March to the Match we organised was a resounding success, we planned to leave the Old Bailey at 6.30pm and walk to the match. I got worried fifteen minutes beforehand when the pub started to empty, I thought people were heeding the call from the club to get to the gates early to avoid queues. It turns out everyone had just moved outside onto Lambton Quay, and a group of 100+ people were starting chants and singing, not only an hour before kickoff, but over a kilometre away from the Stadium. We walked that kilometre as a team, stopping only to adhere to pedestrian red lights. Walking down the Fran Wilde walk while singing our version of The Entertainer was a special moment.

We are the Fever, and we will follow. Follow the Phoenix to Perth, and to the ends of the earth.

The upside of the march was when we arrived, Aisle 21 was suddenly full of supporters, ready to cheer the team off the field when their warmups were complete. The Fever Zone was rowdy, there was an air of expectation alongside the nervousness. The Sky Sport Now app was opened on multiple phones around the Zone. We sang our modified lyrics to ‘Zombie’ as it blared out across the PA, and joined in on the iconic synth line from The Final Countdown before the teams walked out.

The first half passed by in a blur to me. I remember that Kosta Barbarouses and Tim Payne put the Phoenix into a commanding 2-0 lead, but I also remember the Mariners returning serve with a goal of their own. Half time was upon us all of a sudden and we started to pay more attention to what was happening in Newcastle. The Phoenix’s job was done, and we found ourselves converted into a Newcastle Jets supporters group.

The moment earlier in the second half when the Jets scored their goal was surreal. The Phoenix were setting up for an attacking free kick, and I heard the shout of ‘goal!’ from further down in front of where I was standing, before looking down at our stream on a slight delay and seeing Apostolos Stamatelopoulos bring the Jets level at 1-1. The Fever erupted as though the Phoenix had just scored a goal right in front of us, yet it happened over 2000 km away in the Hunter Valley. I’ve seen the quote from Kosta about he was avoiding knowing what was going on in the other match, yet our celebration alerted the whole team to the fact the Jets had scored – oops!

From there on out it was all eyes on Newcastle. The Phoenix had started to sit back and defend their lead, and were doing so with relative ease. A video of the Newcastle fans singing ‘Oh Wellington!’ was spotted on Twitter, and we reciprocated with songs about how much we love Newcastle. One more goal for the Jets and we’d be lifting the Premier’s Plate at the end of the night. Alas, it wasn’t to be. 

Instead of heading home mildly disappointed after a 3-0 loss, the Premier’s Plate then got completely overshadowed by the part I will remember the most about Saturday. We were all invited down onto the pitch for a club photo, and all of a sudden there were thousands of people mingling on the field. There were pockets of people crowded around players, who were obliging with selfie after selfie. Alex Paulsen, in his purple goalkeeping kit, was presented with a Tinky-Winky headpiece and wore it with pride. People were chatting, catching up with friends they hadn’t seen in the packed stands and wandering around, viewing the stadium from the angle usually reserved for players. This is what football is all about to me. Football is about coming together, standing alongside friends and people you’ve never met before, and being a part of the community that surrounds your football club. 

All of a sudden, the Premier’s Plate seemed irrelevant.

Every single person on that pitch had something to be proud of. The club we’ve supported for many years had achieved something it had never done in the past, and there was a palpable gratitude towards every person at the club who had helped achieve that. It felt different, and it felt like the inevitable conclusion to the season.

Eventually, we got shepherded off the pitch and set off back towards the pub, not thinking about the wait until Wednesday to know what the final table position would be, but instead thinking about how much this football club means to each one of us, the city of Wellington and the wider football community in New Zealand. 

And the best part? We get to do it all over again on May 18th. 

Come On You Nix! – Patrick Barnes

Photos – Cam McIntosh/Photomac