Name: Westpac Stadium (formely Westpac Trust Stadium)
Address: Waterloo Quay, Wellington, New Zealand
Opened: 4 January 2000
Total capacity: 34500
Home teams: Wellington Phoenix (A-League)
Hurricanes (Rugby Super 14)
Wellington (Air New Zealand Cup rugby)
Westpac Stadium “The Ring of Fire”
With a population of just 4.5 million people and over 60 million sheep, one might assume that the regular tenants of New Zealand’s stadiums are organisers of agricultural field days and sheep-shearing competitions. However, in line with the country’s strong sporting tradition, the small nation at the bottom of the world boasts a surprisingly good number of top-quality, international-standard facilities. One such example is the Westpac Stadium, which despite its tender years, is fast becoming New Zealand’s most respected and popular stadium, as well as the stand-out new home of football in the rugby-dominated nation.
Located not far from the central business district on the stunning waterfront of New Zealand’s capital Wellington, the Westpac Stadium is impossible to miss. Due to its shape, the stadium is often affectionately referred to as the “Cake Tin”, although Wellington locals are more likely to call it by its correct name or simply “The Stadium”. More recently though, the stadium has acquired a new name as it has been dubbed “The Ring of Fire” by the stadium’s growing number of football fans in attendance at Wellington Phoenix matches.
The “Ring of Fire” became the new home of the country’s only professional football team in 2007 after the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) suspended the A-League license of the New Zealand Knights and the team subsequently dissolved. After hearing the club’s plight on the radio while he was at the barbers having his hair cut, future club owner and chairman Terry Serepisos stepped in with a cool million dollars to ensure the continuation of the New Zealand franchise. The FFA granted the license to New Zealand Football who then sub-let the license to Serepisos’ Wellington-based franchise, resulting in the home of football moving to the Westpac Stadium.
Football in New Zealand has not looked back since. Attendances shot up from a meagre 1,000-2,000 per game to the point where an 18,345-strong crowd (the largest ever to watch a competitive club football match in New Zealand) cheered the Wellington Phoenix against Adelaide United on 30 November 2007. The following night, all records were smashed in terms of attendance at any football match in the country when the team played a friendly match in front of 31,853 people against MLS club Los Angeles Galaxy and a certain David Beckham. After managing to attract 15,000 children to a training session earlier that week, he continued to delight live international football-starved New Zealanders by scoring a penalty and playing a full 90 minutes with a broken rib.
… ROBBIE AND THE STONES
Driving the cheering fans at the LA Galaxy game and, in fact, all Wellington Phoenix home games was a particular section of the Westpac Stadium found in the rows between aisles 21 and 22. This section is the home of “Yellow Fever”, the Wellington Phoenix supporters club that was founded the day after Wellington’s winning bid for the A-League franchise was announced. The name for the group was established on the assumption that the team would play in yellow, the provinces traditional sporting colour. The name stuck, even after the team announced its strip would be black, and the dominant outfit seen in the stadium for football fixtures is now a yellow T-shirt with a retro-photo of coach Ricki Herbert on the front. Having said that, if the Phoenix (also know as the Nix) are in front with ten minutes to go, the T-shirts disappear and all “Yellow Fever” members (well the male ones at least) follow a new tradition of going bare-chested.
As well as supporting their beloved Nix, “Yellow Fever” has lent its support to other football fixtures including Team Wellington in the national league and the All Whites (the New Zealand national men’s team) fixtures. It is also hoped that they will be in good voice for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup when it comes to town for group-stage and quarter-final fixtures in October and November 2008. In relation to the event, Will McKenzie, Regional General Manager in Wellington for the Local Organising Committee, comments: “The stadium’s relatively large capacity and multi-purpose function presents some challenges for the event of course, but we are extremely proud to offer this facility as a showpiece for the inaugural FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. It is only new and of international standard with a fantastic playing surface, but the surroundings show off New Zealand’s beautiful scenery in an ideal way. We also have the added benefit of having a hugely proactive city council and a population that continually proves that it really gets behind events in a big way.”
The enthusiasm and support that the city has consistently shown events and the user-friendly nature of the facility have meant that the Westpac Stadium has been a preferred venue for more than just football in New Zealand. Hosting everything from The Rolling Stones and Robbie Williams concerts to international rugby tests and Australian rules football exhibition matches, the “Ring of Fire” seems to be able to accommodate anything — including the recording of 30,000 fans chanting in Black Speech during a cricket match by director Peter Jackson for the sound of 10,000 chanting Urak-hai in the “Battle of Helms Deep” in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Not bad for a stadium that was built on reclaimed railway land that was surplus to requirements and was designed to replace the city’s old rugby stadium, Athletic Park, that was poorly situated for the demands of modern sport and had fallen into disrepair.