Sportsfreak examines the extraordinary performances of the NZ Knights; arguably the world’s worst professional football club.
There was much excitement a week ago when the NZ Knights team scored not once, but twice in their “A”-League match against Adelaide FC. This trebled their goal tally for the season in the ninth match as they broke a 607 minute goal drought. However, this avalanche of goals occurred late in the second half when they were already 3-0 down, and they went on to lose 4-2; their seventh loss on the trot.
The A-League is a strange beast; a manufactured tournament where the teams compete by invitation. It was formed in 1999, and required a modification to FIFA rules by a suspiciously versatile Sepp Blatter to allow teams from 2 countries to compete in the same league. It has grown over that time both in terms of playing standards and crowd numbers. It has served as a vital stepping-stone for Australian players to showcase their wares in from of European scouts and the game has now grown in a regionally polarised country in a sporting sense to a position where it is now the second biggest national sport behind cricket.
Meanwhile, the New Zealand component of this competition has gone the other way. Originally called the Kingz (yes, that’s the correct spelling) they reinvented themselves as the Knights a couple of years ago after a series of off-field bungles which included having the power turned off at their training ground following defaulting on their power bill.
Apart from the spelling department, things have got worse. Last year, the record was one win from 21 matches, last by the small matter of 20 points, with a goal difference of -32. The mismanagement has scraped new barrels too. Just after this season started, it was breathlessly announced to the nation that the Knights had secured a major coup in obtaining the services of Ghana ex-international Hamza Mohamed for a 2 month loan period. What a shame they hadn’t thought of informing the NZ Immigration Service of this fact; he spent half of this period waiting for his work permit to come through.
However, they have consistently received a relatively high profile and easy ride in media, often at the expense of the domestic competition. Helping this is the fact that the head football correspondent on the national sports radio station is, er, the PR Agent for the Knights. Brilliant. Anyone who dares state the obvious can be fobbed off as a Rugbyhead.
A curious power battle between NZ Soccer and the various owners of the Kingz / Knights has existed since its inception. Clearly NZ Soccer needs to have a viable team in the “A” League to act as an incentive to young players to stay in the game. Football in New Zealand at the grass-roots level is surprisingly strong. Recently, player numbers have exceeded that of egg-chasing, but those numbers drop off at school-leaving age. But, understandably, NZ Soccer has increasingly distanced itself from the embarrassment.
The result of this spat is that the Knights, although infuriatingly carrying the “New Zealand” moniker are a rag-tag bunch of international rejects. There are more young New Zealand players in other “A” League teams than playing for the Knights. The are only 6 locals in the Knights squad, the rest being a diverse selection of rejects from England, Ireland, Switzerland, a Brazillian school-kid (that’ll scare them), our short-term visitor from Ghana, and …. Scot Gemmill.
And what happened last weekend? A 4-0 defeat at home to league leaders Melbourne; their eighth successive defeat. After 10 games they now have 4 points; 7 points clear at the bottom with a goal difference of -19. The highlight was at the 3-0 stage when their publicity officer, wearing his commentary hat, said “The Knights can take real heart from this score-line. It was from this position that they made their stirring come-back last week”.