Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante is hoping the team’s recent history-making success on the road and a match-up against fourth-placed Melbourne Heart will bring the fans to Westpac Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Back-to-back 1-0 victories against Gold Coast United and Newcastle Jets have lifted the Phoenix to third spot on the Hyundai A-League ladder but also triggered comments from new club co-owner Gareth Morgan that fans in Wellington needed to start turning up to games at Westpac Stadium or risk losing matches to other cities in New Zealand.
Morgan and six other Wellington businessmen took over the club from cash-strapped Terry Serepisos just prior to the start of the season.
Twenty thousand fans turned out at Eden Park in Auckland for the 1-1 draw against Adelaide United last November, the biggest ‘home’ crowd of the season so far for the Phoenix by a long way.
The average crowds in Wellington have been 6600, well below the 10,000 needed for the club to break even.
While Durante said the players did not worry unduly about crowd sizes, he said: “We would definitely love more people to come.”
“I think we deserve a few more people to come. It’s been our best year so far, to date. People say there aren’t enough star players to bring crowds in but we’re playing some good football. There is no reason why we can’t get good crowds.
“This weekend is a blockbuster game. It’s third versus fourth. Melbourne Heart are a very good team. We have hit some form lately. Hopefully the crowd gets out because we’d love to play in front of a 10,000-plus crowd.
“The boys on the pitch are doing their jobs, so we kind of deserve a few more people to get out there.”
However, Durante was unsure whether Morgan’s comments would elicit the right kind of response from the Wellington public.
“Gareth’s comments were almost like a threat. It’s either going to get more people in or it’s not. We’ll see how it goes on Sunday,” he said.
The captain was also not overly keen to have more than two home games away from Wellington per season.
Aside from the obvious travel factor for the players, Westpac Stadium has become a difficult place for the Australian teams to visit thanks in part to vocal supporters group, Yellow Fever.
“I’m all for going away for a couple of games but I think if you took more than two games away it’s a little bit of a slap in the face for the diehard Wellington supporters that come out every week,” he said.
Crowd concerns aside, the Phoenix are in a buoyant mood ahead of Sunday’s game.
They have reached third place on the ladder for the first time in their history and if the Jets can cause an upset against Brisbane Roar on Saturday, a win against the Heart would lift Wellington to second.
“It’s quite dizzy up there isn’t it?,” joked Durante.
“We’ve never been up there. There is talk of a top-two finish but I don’t want to get too carried away with it all.”
“We just want to enjoy where we are at the moment and continue to play well. After we hopefully beat Melbourne we’ll see where we are sitting.”
“Do we deserve to be up there? I think we definitely deserve to be in the top four. Top two? It’s a big ask because there are some good teams playing some good football.”
Melbourne Heart head to Wellington without a victory in five games. Their last win was the 4-0 thrashing of Sydney in December.
But last weekend they were unlucky not take all three points against the Roar at AAMI Park.
“They are a good team,” said Durante. “They are very dangerous out wide and they are very organised. You’re not sitting up in fourth position if you are a bunch of mugs.”
“We have got to really go at them. We’ve got to play our really good attacking brand of football that we do at home.”