Football: Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano doubts club can replicate NZ Warriors hype

Wellington Phoenix coach Giancarlo Italiano isn't holding his breath when it comes to replicating NZ Warriors' 'Up the Wahs' hype train.    

Phoenix general manager David Dome has urged Kiwi fans to get behind the Phoenix like they did the NRL Warriors last year, suggesting the chant 'Come on you 'Nix' could be the next 'Up the Wahs'.    

First-year head coach Italiano isn't as optimistic.  

Despite guiding Wellington through their most successful regular season in years, he blames an old foe for depriving the Phoenix the same type of hype.   

"If you take a step back and look at the overall context of where the football landscape is over the last four years, it's been severely impacted because of COVID," he said. "I remember the crowds pre-COVID, they were quite healthy.   

"I think COVID has put a massive dent in, not only fan engagement, but just people attending games and events in general."  

Giancarlo Italiano looks on during a Wellington Phoenix A-League training.
Giancarlo Italiano looks on during a Wellington Phoenix A-League training. Photo credit: Getty Images


Although that may be true, like Wellington Phoenix, the Warriors were forced to play two seasons overseas and have since been able to generate pre-pandemic numbers.  

The Warriors averaged more than 21,000 fans per home game last season, their highest since 1995 and triple Wellington’s 7000 this season.  

It’s not all doom and gloom. Wellington recently enjoyed their largest crowd in years, when 9139 fans turned up for their top-of-the-table draw with Melbourne Victory at Sky Stadium.  

"This is our second year back with a regular run of games at home and I think we are slowly clawing back fans," said Italiano. "It's going to take a bit of time."   

He insists the introduction of an Auckland-based team to the A-League next season is one of the keys to unlocking a new wave of fan engagement.   

"Success helps, but I also think, with Auckland coming in, they'll bring another dynamic. There will be more eyes glued to the TV set, which might bring a higher number of people to games."

No matter how many fans attend going forward, the club will hope they are better behaved than those who got into a scuffle with Victory fans at their recent match.

Italiano agrees with Dome's decision to dish out bans to those involved.   

"I don't agree with that behaviour," he said. "Do I like the booing of players and opposition teams?  

"Yes, I enjoy that - you go to the games to see that, that's what atmosphere is.

"Once it starts getting violent or someone's getting assaulted or you're crossing over that person's boundaries, that's unacceptable."