Dunedin - football city.
It has been 25 long years since the All Whites last played in
Dunedin but that drought will end next month.
Football New Zealand chief executive Grant McKavanagh
yesterday confirmed the national team will play its World Cup
qualifier against New Caledonia at Forsyth Barr Stadium on
The famine has become a feast with the Wellington Phoenix
playing the Melbourne Heart in an A-League game at the venue
on March 3.
McKavanagh described it as a win-win situation. It was great
news for the region's football fans and an excellent
opportunity to give the game exposure in the deep south.
''One of the key things I've wanted to do since I've been
here is to take the game around the country and give as many
people a chance to see the All Whites as possible,''
''It is important for young people to see their stars in the
flesh. That's a big part of it and I think the support from
Otago will be quite large. I'm sure the students will get out
and support the team, as well as the rest of the region.
''It has been a long time since there has been games down
there, so we certainly think it is time we put a match on
down there for the supporters.''
McKavanagh knows first-hand how passionate the community can
be about football, having worked in the city for a ''few
years'' and having played for both Mosgiel and Northern.
New Zealand's first international was a friendly against
Australia at Carisbrook in June 1922 and the last time the
All Whites played in the city was in October 1988. That was a
2-1 loss to Australia in the Trans-Tasman Cup.
McKavanagh said Forsyth Barr Stadium was a ''world-class
stadium'' and he expected the atmosphere inside the venue
would lift the home team.
There is plenty at stake. A win or a draw against New
Caledonia will see the Ricki Herbert-coached side secure
Oceania's place in the intercontinental playoff against a
Concacaf (North and Central American) nation in November
2013. That would mean the fixture against the Solomon Islands
in Honiara on March 26 would effectively be a glorified
McKavanagh was reluctant to be drawn on how many people would
buy tickets for the game.
''You go into every game hoping to fill the stadium. It has
been that long between drinks we certainly hope the wider
Otago, Southland and South Canterbury community get behind
McKavanagh was not aware of criticism of the venue's surface.
Otago coach Richard Murray and Hawkes Bay coach Chris
Greatholder were both critical of the playing surface
following their sides' league match earlier this month.
The game was held two days after an equestrian event and both
agreed the ground was below par for a match of that standard.
Dunedin Venues Management Ltd (DVML) chief executive Darren
Burden said he was thrilled to help bring international
football back to city.
''From my perspective, I really hope the crowd come out and
support this,'' Burden said.
''It would be really good to send a really positive message
to New Zealand Football that we can get the crowds here for
those football matches ... and to keep those events coming
back to the city.''
Forsyth Barr Stadium has had some vocal critics but the team
at DVML has secured some good events.
Paul Simon will play a concert in April. The Warriors play
the Broncos in an NRL warm-up match later this month and the
All Blacks and Australia are playing a Bledisloe Cup game in
Rumours grow louder about several other high-profile bands
heading Dunedin's way.
''I've said for some time now we are going to have a really
busy first six months in 2013. We've probably got the busiest
events schedule of any stadium just right now.
''That's good for Dunedin and good for the stadium.''
Football South general manager Bill Chisholm was equally
''New Zealand Football want to take the game around the
country and that is as important a message as anything,''
''It gives us a chance to get along and support them in a
game that really matters.
''Hopefully, this will be the first of more regular visit
down here. It is really what the stadium is there for. Now
we've just got to support it.''
Forsyth Barr Stadium
Upcoming major events
• Seven Highlanders games
• Five Otago ITM Cup games
• February 17: Winery Tour 2013, Kiwi music
• February 23: Warriors v Broncos, NRL warm-up match
• March 3: Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Heart, A League
• March 22: All Whites v New Caledonia, World Cup
• April 6: Paul Simon concert
• October 19: All Blacks v Australia, Bledisloe Cup match