They came, they conquered, but hardly anyone saw. Just under 8000 fans were at Albany a week ago to watch the All Whites beat the Solomons 6-1, less than half the numbers needed by New Zealand Football to break even on the fixture.
Low attendances are a real concern for the national body with at least two more home games to play as part of the qualification process for Brazil 2014. And, despite their pleas and protestations for bigger turnouts, fans here are continuing to ignore those very calls.
With no apparent quick-fix solution, I wonder whether NZ Football now need to find themselves a "Wembley" and commit to one national stadium in which to play all future All Whites matches.
That venue, Wellington's Cake-tin, seems as obvious as last Tuesday's freezing Southerly. Chairman Frank van Hattum tried the "blackmail" approach with the Auckland public, virtually threatening us all with abandonment if the crowd failed to materialise. Needless to say his questionable marketing approach fell flatter than the Solomons' directionless back four.
Plenty of theories abound as to why a team that set new records for domestic football attendance only two years ago now struggles to fill one good sized stand. Perhaps it is/was the opposition we were playing?
No disrespect to the SI players but hardly Beckham's LA Galaxy were they? Plus when you consider almost 15,000 were at Mt Smart for the friendly against Jamaica earlier in the year, it seems yet more evidence that the crowd is there, it's just the persuading of them to attend that appears to be the problem.
Maybe we're also just all a little "sported-out"? What with the euphoric hangover from last year's RWC still evident, cricket both domestic & international over summer, Super Rugby, the Breakers, the Warriors, the Magic's championship-winning netball run, more recently the glitteringly gold Olympics, then Test and even more domestic rugby to follow all that. Hardly surprising that a lil' ol' World Cup qualifier might slip by slightly unnoticed.
And it's not like the ITM Cup is breaking attendance records either, even the All Blacks vs Argentina was played in front of a sea of empty yellow seats, so perhaps a combination of sport-overload and harsh economic times is to blame?
Better explanation of the significance of this series of games might help too. Despite the fact that this is the Road to Brazil 2014, there's been a distinct lack of hype/hoopla about these OFC Group Stage matches and what their results might ultimately mean.
Auckland, sadly, has more than had its chance to support the All Whites. Petty cross-bridge politics put paid to any consistency of crowds following the Kingz and then Knights.
Meanwhile, as soon as the (new) team transferred to the capital, the Phoenix had no problem quickly establishing an impressive core support. (And in fact many of that crowd even made the 1200km round-trip to support the team at North Harbour last Tuesday).
Because of the World Cup place-clinching win over Bahrain three years ago, both historically and emotionally, the All Whites are right now locked into being loved in Wellington.
Make the Cake-tin our new national stadium.
Not only does it make immediate football sense, it certainly won't hurt the association in any long-term fiscal cents.