Former Wellington Phoenix star Paul Ifill has condemned moves to toss the club out of the A-League.
Ifill joined other players, past and present, is expressing outrage at Football Federation Australia's refusal to grant the club a 10-year licence extension.
At best the New Zealand outfit has another four seasons in the league – a situation the 36-year-old described as a “token gesture”.
— joel griffiths (@billygriff29) October 26, 2015
Ifill, Wellington’s top goal scorer, told the Dominion Post: "I think we were really all expecting that we would get the 10-year licence extension, I think we've done enough over the years to at least have that.
"It's my view that we should be treated the same (as the other A-League clubs) and get a 20-year licence, but for them to come back and say 'you can apply for a four-year', I think (former Phoenix striker) Jeremy Brockie put it best, it's a slap in the face.
"I think it could have been handled better and I'm not happy with it at all, obviously as a former player it's different for me, but having been there and knowing what they go through, it's going to be a tough situation for the players."
His comments come as supporters mount a campaign to keep Phoenix in the A-League. An online petition Save the Wellington Phoenix was launched on Monday night and has almost 3000 signatures as of noon Tuesday (AEDT).
Players and supporters took to Twitter to express their feelings.
Roar striker Jamie Maclaren tweeted: "After playing in Wellington on the weekend, the @ALeague needs them! A great side, stadium & fans #SaveTheNix
— Paul Ifill (@PaulIfill) October 26, 2015
— Wellington Phoenix (@WgtnPhoenixFC) October 26, 2015
— Steven McGarry (@stevenmcgarry) October 26, 2015
The Phoenix ownership group, Welnix, said it is seeking further clarification on the decision from the FFA which is reportedly keen on launching another club in Sydney.
FFA chief David Gallop said the decision was made in the best interests of Australian football and Phoenix did not meet the future growth ambitions of the league.
Ifill, who retired from professional football in December 2013 after rupturing his achilles, said Phoenix were a better proposition than some Australian clubs.
"That's the strange bit I don't really understand, the FFA are very happy to put their hand in their pocket and prop up their clubs, the Newcastle Jets over the years, Adelaide, Central Coast, no problem,” Ifill told the Dominion Post.
"But we've got the most stable club in the league, barring Melbourne Victory and maybe Sydney FC.
"So to chuck us out when all is going well and we're really trying to do the right things implementing a youth system and reserves and a women's team down the line and the Welnix have come in and moved the club forward, for the FFA to offer a four-year extension is a token gesture and gives the FFA time to get a couple of franchises ready to come into the league and we'll get chucked out after four years anyway."
Phoenix players have been hit hard by the news which presents a serious challenge to New Zealand football more widely.
"They're dealing with it as they are, they've got a game next weekend and that's what you focus on,” Ifill said who coaches Wairarapa United and runs coaching clinics in New Zealand.
"You say 'well what can we do to affect this, we can keep winning and keep putting in performances and hoping people turn up'."
He added: "Really, the way I would be looking at it, would be sticking two fingers up to the FFA.
"If I was a player that would be my message to the rest of the boys and I don't want to talk for Dura (Phoenix captain Andrew Durante), but I know he thinks a similar way to me and will say 'let this galvanise you boys, if this is our last season then let's go and win it."
— Yellow Fever (@YellowFever_NZ) October 27, 2015
Gallop said the FFA had “carefully evaluated the role and contribution of the Wellington franchise in terms of game development, player pathway, commercial factors, broadcast rights and the long-term strategic outlook.
“The application for a 10-year extension to the licence does not meet the requirements we see as fundamental to the future growth of the Hyundai A-League.”comments