I’ve been playing goalkeeper for the Wellington Phoenix for five seasons now. While I’ve had various reasons for anticipating a new season during that time, I’ve never had such a genuine sense of confidence heading into an A-League competition before now.
I know this sounds like a typical cliché from a professional athlete and — fair enough — I roll my eyes when I hear similar comments made in the media. I would try to word it differently, except that is my true feeling about the new season: “genuine confidence”.
One of my favourite quotes is from Muhammad Ali: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses — behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
I love this quote because everyone can relate to it, not just boxers or professional athletes. It’s only now at the wise old age of 31, after 14 years of professional football, that I have really embraced the meaning of these words and put them into action.
You see, like a boxer’s preparation for a fight, a football team’s pre-season is just as important. The A-League off-season lasts a seemingly endless six months. After a four-week holiday we are left with a five-month pre-season training programme. This, I will admit, is my least favourite part of my dream job, and I think most of my team-mates will agree. Five months does, however, give us plenty of time for ‘sparring’.
Thankfully we have had some pretty good ‘sparring’ partners this time round. Those that came to Westpac Stadium on 26 July will know what I’m talking about: the Football United Tour double-header. This was a rare opportunity for Kiwis to check out a couple of the English Premier League’s most prestigious clubs — West Ham United and Newcastle United.
This ambitious project from our club’s owners has given us our best pre-season to date and is a massive step towards a successful A-League campaign. If we can carry our pre-season form into game one and beyond, I’m convinced we can achieve our goal of playing finals football.
Recruitment in football is just like in any workplace, and vital to achieving an organisation’s goals. We have lost a couple of key players from last season, and our head coach, Ernie Merrick, and his staff have left no stone unturned when looking for replacements.
The club has picked up a second Spaniard, Alejandro Rodriguez Gorrin (cool name, I know), a Dutchman by the not-so-cool name of Roly Bonevacia, and an Aussie kid, Nathan Burns, who is pretty decent in front of goal. Throw this lot in with some of the best Kiwi talent around, and I can’t help but nod my head in approval.
With our best pre-season to date and a lethal mix of Kiwi and foreign talent, the final ingredient in our recipe for success is you — the fans.
We have a passionate core of supporters in the Yellow Fever and the players would love to see that group continue to grow. The atmosphere they create not only heats up the stadium on a chilly Wellington evening but they can also be heard loud and clear on the TV at home. Come and be a part of something that is special to Wellington.
It’s time for the Phoenix to rise.