Is the Wellington Phoenix considering establishing a W-League squad and basing it on the New South Wales south coast at Wollongong? It is looking entirely possible.
- Wellington Phoenix sees the successful 2023 FIFA World Cup bid as an unparalleled opportunity to develop a professional women’s side
- COVID-19 restrictions and travel costs have the club looking for an Australian base
- Wollongong City Council and local club Illawarra Stingrays have been in talks with Phoenix
In June, off the back of New Zealand’s successful joint bid with Australia to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Phoenix said there was an unparalleled opportunity to develop a professional women’s side.
Barriers remain, mostly financial, but it seems the club is considering a way to save on costs and is considering basing a team in Australia to save on travel.
Behind the scenes the club has already had a look around Wollongong, with the local council confirming a visit in January.
“The chance to work around existing use schedules and highlight the quality of our city’s council-owned or managed sports fields, grounds, and facilities by hiring them out to professional sporting codes from outside our area is a welcome opportunity.”
Real desire for women’s team
Jason Pine, a sportscaster and commentator with Sky Sports New Zealand, said if COVID-19 and travel costs rule out the squad staying in Wellington, Wollongong is emerging as the frontrunner for the base.
“There is a real desire at the Phoenix to make a women’s team happen, to be part of the W-League,” he said.
“We’ve got the A-League team, a W-League squad would complete the set.
The Wollongong-based Illawarra Stingrays Football Club has also confirmed it is in talks to host the side.
Head coach Bruce Tilt said it would be an extraordinary opportunity for the Stingrays to be a feeder club.
“What we are looking at is an absolute pathway for local girls to be able to say ‘I can play football here, I can move into rep football with the Stingrays and on to the W-League’,” he said.
Matildas mega-fan and Wollongong councillor Mithra Cox is incredibly excited by the potential.
“Having women’s football, high-quality women’s football, right in the heart of our city also means there would be opportunities to upgrade our women’s football facilities — enabling our girls and women to play at the highest level.”
There is a strong history of NZ players in the W-League.
In the 2019/20 season, Annalie Longo played for Melbourne Victory and Rebekah Stott was with Melbourne City FC.
Since the start of the W-League in 2008 many NZ players have featured in the competition including Hannah Bromley, Aroon Clansey, Abby Erceg, Anna Green, Katie Hoyle, Emma Kete, Annalie Longo, Sarah McLaughlin, Elizabeth Milne, Marlies Oostdam, Briar Palmer, Holly Patterson, Emma Rolston, Rebecca Smith, Rebekah Stott, Rebecca Tegg, Kirsty Yallop.
The W-League has not publicly announced any details regarding the 2020/21 season and how it plans to respond to pandemic restrictions and border closures.
On the possibility of a new W-League side based in Wollongong, the FFA said it respectfully declined to comment at this stage.
Wellington Phoenix also said it did not have any comment to make around this at this time.