In the early hours of Sunday morning (UK time), the final whistle sounded in the ISPS Handa Premiership Grand Final, Team Wellington securing a 4 – 2 win over their old rivals Auckland City to lift the trophy.
The Grand Final usually marks the end of the New Zealand domestic top flight, but on this occasion, the sound of referee Matt Conger’s whistle ringing out at Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium marked the end of an era.
The New Zealand Football Championship has represented the pinnacle of the domestic game in Aotearoa New Zealand since it was formed in 2004, but back in December New Zealand Football that the leagues 17th season would be its last.
It will be replaced by the newly formed National League as part of a huge restructuring of the domestic men’s and women’s game, designed to prioritise the development of young footballers and the sustainability of football within the country.
New Zealand’s domestic clubs will now compete in three regional conferences (Northern, Central and Southern) throughout the summer, with the best of those sides qualifying for a National Championship in the winter.
The end of the New Zealand Football Championship has also seen a number of clubs depart, with Hawke’s Bay United, Canterbury United and, perhaps most shockingly of all, Waitekere United, (whos storied history includes a Club World Cup appearance and a trophy cabinet overflowing with two OFC Champions League trophies and a combined 10 Premiership and Grand Final Championships) all bowing out at the end of the final Premiership season.
The teams now enjoy the shortest off-season in history, with the first games of the new league structure kicking off next weekend.
12 teams will compete in 132 games within the Northern League, 10 teams will face each other in the 90 game Central League while 8 teams will do battle across just 28 games in the Southern League to decide who will join the Wellington Phoenix development side in the first ever National League Championship.