Football: All Whites back after 25-year absence

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 March 22.

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,'' McKavanagh said.

''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 friendly.

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 the team.''

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 October.

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 pleased.

''New Zealand Football want to take the game around the country and that is as important a message as anything,'' Chisholm said.

''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 game
• March 22: All Whites v New Caledonia, World Cup qualifier
• April 6: Paul Simon concert
• October 19: All Blacks v Australia, Bledisloe Cup match


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