Flight of the Nix: Supporting The Pride of NZ Women’s Football

Denise Duffy, an admin of the Wellington Phoenix Facebook group ‘Flight of the Nix’, has been following Kiwi women’s football for quite a while despite only moving to New Zealand this year. For our latest #MidweekDub Feature, she spoke to Impetus editor Ben Gilby about how fan culture is growing for the Phoenix’s new A-League Women’s team despite them not being able to play a home game until February at the earliest (15/12/21).

Above: The Flight of the Nix Supporters Group Logo. Artwork provided by: Denise Duffy.

Whilst Denise is still relatively new to Wellington, women’s football is something she has passionately cared about for a long time. Therefore, when the Phoenix finally entered the A-League Women this season, she was keen to get onboard.

“I only moved to New Zealand in July. My passion for women’s soccer was cultivated in America. When the Phoenix made the announcement about the team, I was on it! Women’s soccer is exciting. The athletes are fascinating and approachable. I wanted to get involved right away.

Above: Denise Duffy of ‘Flight of the Nix’. Photo supplied by: Denise Duffy.

“I will say that I’ve been following and critiquing New Zealand soccer since 2015. My spouse is a Kiwi and we always knew we would move to New Zealand. This nation’s soccer is my future. I have a philosophy that we all need to grow women’s football both exactly where you are and also worldwide.

“From a distance, New Zealand was the federation I had my eye on. They went through some dark times and I wasn’t shy about letting them know that things could be better. I had posted that I wanted to start a supporters group for the women side only, because, you know, women are fabulous. Instead, I was asked to be a Facebook group admin for one already established with the men’s side. It was a real dilemma. Start a women’s supporters group from scratch or jump into a club-wide one.

“I decided that the actual challenge, the beautiful work, was to see how many men’s football supporters could become fans of women’s football. So I paired with a smaller group. It was willing to rebrand and actively think about inclusion. We became the Flight of the Nix! Yes, it’s a riff off of the TV show the Flight of the Conchords. Light, bright, and fun.

“Blake Forbes Gentle is a founder of this group, he’s wheelchair-bound. Jonathan Hagger has long-term knowledge of the Nix and women’s football. We are purposely adding extra content on the women’s game in our group. I think Nix fans are enjoying the new journey.”

Above: Blake Forbes-Gentle – founder of the Flight of the Nix. Photo supplied by: Denise Duffy.

Getting a team from New Zealand into the senior level of women’s football in Australia has been a long journey. Denise explained that she feels that the country didn’t know what it was missing out on.

“Having pro soccer here will change the country. New Zealand is such an athletic nation to begin with. There is a natural nose for sport here. Having a rhythm of women’s pro soccer in the A-League Women gives the country a regular football focus. New Zealand needs this. They will be co-hosting the world cup in 2023. It will be a richer experience if they already understand the game.

I know that as a fan, I’ve been tweeting to and at as many people as possible to make it happen for years now. It’s been excruciating to want something like this and not see it happen. The real work has been done by so many people at NZ Football and at Wellington Phoenix. I am super grateful and proud that they made it happen. High five to them.”

In terms of the standard of the competition and the opportunities, Denise sees nothing but positives. “In the past, if you were good at football in New Zealand, you had to leave the country and go to Europe or America. I find this heartbreaking. Not everyone has the financial resources or emotional support to do this.

“Having an A-League Women team here gives a path for Kiwis to play pro football in their own nation. Domestic stars can emerge here at home. As far as the league, it’s embracing itself as a discovery and developmental league. If it wants to attract top talent, then I have a long list of things they need to do.

“One factor is that in the past, the W-League and the NWSL in America were like yin and yang. Athletes could exhaust themselves and play in both leagues. The NWSL season got longer so now the players generally aren’t doing double duty or are only coming here on short-term loan deals like Lynn Williams.

Above: Jonathan Hagger – another key member of the Flight of the Nix crew! Photo supplied by: Denise Duffy.

“Also, the members of Matildas, in particular, needed a less heavy schedule. Many went to Europe. Unfortunately, we are now we are stuck watching them at 3am. Not really a way of life for me. I like live matches. What is exciting about the A-League Women is that I am learning new names and faces of so many future stars. Also, some of my favourite athletes are there, such as Rebekah Stott and Kyra Cooney-Cross. It’s a league I want to jump into and follow. Having a local team in it makes it feel like my league.”

With New Zealand waiting so long for a pro women’s team, it is hugely frustrating that, due to Covid restrictions, Wellington Phoenix won’t be able to play any home games until February at the earliest. Denise highlighted the impact that this has on building a supporter base.

“Obviously we want to see live pro women’s soccer in New Zealand as soon as possible. We are ready. Let me take a step back though. There’s a spirituality to New Zealand about new beginnings that I wish the team could experience more of. The Maori culture here weaves in and through sport. It’s a bit of a bummer that the team is abroad. Nothing like a stadium experience to launch a team. We are waiting for this. It’s out of our control.

“When it does happen, there might be a few tears in the crowd. I will say that I was at a watch party with a local football club here in Taupo and it was a blast. Also, our members in the Flight of the Nix group send weekly words of support before the match to assistant coach Natalie Lawrence. It’s the closest thing we can do to cheering them on in a stadium. I am hoping we bring it as fans in Wellington as we come together for their first match in 2022.”

It took a long time for the club to gain shirt sponsorship and then it came after a direct appeal from club officials. Denise believes though that once the team is back playing in New Zealand and the corporate world can see what the team and competition have to offer, the club’s financial position will become far more positive.

Above: The Flight of the Nix group’s watch party for the club’s first-ever A-League Women game against Western Sydney Wanderers. Photo supplied by: Denise Duffy.

Women’s football is addictive. A billion people watched the last Women’s World Cup in 2019. New Zealand is just starting to understand the power of the women’s game. These women sell the game with a purer brand of football. What’s the secret? The future of the league depends on broadcast quality. Have high-definition cameras, with many angles, and knowledgeable announcers and people will watch.

“As a sponsor, I would demand this for every match. Now, there are so many opportunities that come with partnering with the Pheonix. The lead sponsor, the New Zealand Campus of Innovation and Sport is in the driver’s seat. I would use the magic of these athletes to grow with you. They are trendsetters, even at this young age. Have leadership conferences with them at your facility. Get them to understand your mission and see how they can help. Sponsors at all levels should cultivate this relationship with women athletes. It will serve them well.

“Attendance is also a big moneymaker. When they come back home, I am hoping for some marketing hype, especially in Wellington. There are plenty of football fans there. The yellow and black runs deep.”

With the club’s relatively late entry into the competition for 2021/22, head coach Gemma Lewis had a slightly uphill battle in putting together a team as some players she may otherwise have been interested in had already got fixed up with other sides, but Denise sees only positives in the team’s two games so far.

Above: Denise only sees positives for the Phoenix. Photo supplied by: Denise Duffy,

“What I have learned so far is that the Phoenix brand of football is fearless. They challenge. It is also surprisingly poised for such a young group. I want this mindset to continue. I loved it. They got a bit tentative in their second match and were outmuscled by more experienced players. They scored though. That’s big for their mentality. They can compete in this league. The biggest strength of the team is that they hired the right coaches. I’ve seen this flubbed up again and again in the NWSL. For so many reasons, Gemma Lewis and Natalie Lawrence were solid choices.”

In terms of what would be seen as a success for Wellington Phoenix’s first season in the A-League Women, Denise can see big plusses already.

“I believe in these coaches. I believe in these young women. The thing about women’s football is that anything can happen. We have a strong keeper and leader in Lily Alfeld. I’m as optimistic as they come.

“The Kiwi fanbase seems to be a patient one. Most were quite thrilled to get a draw in their opening game against Western Sydney Wanderers. They also see the long view of this season. It’s an achievement to be out on the pitch representing the Wellington Phoenix. If I am being honest, I’d like to see an accumulation of points throughout the year. I suppose it’s the American in me that always sees a winning path, even if it to others it’s unrealistic.”

Find out more about ‘The Flight of the Nix’ by visiting their Facebook page by clicking here

Impetus’ coverage of Australian Women’s Football is supported by The Chicken Salt Co. They are offering every Impetus reader 5% off all orders of Chicken Salt from their website. Go to https://www.chickensalt.co.uk/?mate=impetus and place your order – 5% will automatically be taken off of the cost. The coupon code is impetus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: