Skip to main content
Logo: Te Ara - The Online Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Print all pages now.


by Neill Atkinson, Steve Watters and Alida Shanks

Football – ‘the beautiful game’ – is known for bringing together players of many nationalities. In New Zealand its popularity has come to rival that of rugby.

Football in New Zealand

International origins

Association football, or soccer, is the world’s most popular team sport, and according to a 2019 Sport New Zealand survey it is the most popular sport for both young New Zealanders (aged 5 to 18) and adults. It is the number one team sport for males of all ages, and second behind netball for women and girls.

Football is contested between two teams of 11 players. Each team has a goalkeeper who is the only player allowed to use hands on the ball during open play. Players work together to kick or head a spherical ball into the opposing team’s goal.

It is traditionally a winter sport played on a large, rectangular grass field. However, various forms of casual, indoor or beach soccer, usually involving smaller sides, are played all year round. The game’s rules and requirements in terms of equipment and facilities are comparatively simple, which may help explain its extraordinary global appeal.

The modern game owes its rules – and names – to the Football Association founded in England in 1863. ‘Soccer’, although often dismissed as an Americanism, is a 19th-century English name derived from the word ‘association’.

New Zealand origins

From the mid-19th century British seafarers, soldiers and immigrants introduced various forms of football to New Zealand. In the absence of organised competitions, players and even clubs often switched between association football, rugby union, Victorian (Australian) rules and Gaelic football, or played hybrid forms. Early team sizes varied and it is not always clear from reports which game was being played, or even what shape the ball was.

Capital football

The Wellington Football Association was formed in 1890 and the following year ran its first championship. It was contested by four clubs and won by Petone. Facilities were primitive. English migrant Harry Power recalled an 1894 visit to ‘the old Thorndon Recreation ground to see Diamond and Thorndon in action on a hard piece of turf with a concrete pitch in the centre … every time [the ball] hit the cottages it was a throw-in.’1

First clubs

Regular men’s association football matches can be traced to the early 1880s. The Canterbury Association Football Club organised its first game in April 1882, and played under association rules against Christ’s College and local rugby teams.

Devonport’s North Shore club was founded in 1886 and is widely recognised as the country’s oldest surviving club. By mid-1887 Auckland had 13 clubs. The New Zealand Football Association (NZFA) was established in Wellington in 1891. The first women’s clubs were formed in 1921, but they were soon banned from using the same grounds as men and the women’s game languished until the 1970s. 

First international matches

New Zealand played its first men’s international matches in 1904. In 1922 it won the first ‘test’ series against Australia, beginning a long rivalry.

By the mid-1920s football boasted 460 clubs – second only to rugby’s 670. It had around 6,000 players, making it New Zealand’s third-most popular men’s team sport after rugby and cricket. However, in the middle of the century, rugby union began to dominate as the country’s leading winter sport, and the round-ball code was increasingly eclipsed. 

The NZFA joined the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in 1948, and was a founding member of the Oceania Football Confederation in 1966. In a highly professional, mass-participation sport dominated by big European and South American nations, New Zealand struggled to make an impact on the international stage.

On the rise

From the 1970s a number of factors helped raise football’s profile in New Zealand. They included the establishment of a national league, strong growth in playing numbers – especially in women’s and children’s football – and the successful 1982 World Cup qualification campaign by the national men’s team, the All Whites.

Even so, the high visibility of British migrants in the All Whites, as well as in the game’s administration and domestic club scene, attracted negative comments. That changed over the following decades as the face of football became increasingly Kiwi.

Big numbers

In 2019, football was the most popular team sport for children and young people, with 17% of those aged between 5 and 17 taking part. The adult participation rate was 2% (5% for those aged 18–24), also the highest for a team sport. 

More popular than ever

The early 21st century saw football’s popularity in New Zealand reach an all-time high. It was buoyed by the All Whites’ spirited appearance at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the presence of the Wellington Phoenix club in Australia’s A-Leagues for men and women, an increasing number of high-profile Kiwi-born professional players, and extensive live television coverage of glamorous English and European competitions.

The NZFA is now known as New Zealand Football. It represents around 500 clubs grouped in six federations, and fields national teams in various FIFA men’s, women’s, age-group, indoor and outdoor competitions.

The real strength and potential of New Zealand football lies not just in its gradually improving elite performances, but in its burgeoning grassroots following. The game’s broad appeal – among men and women, adults and children, different ethnic groups, and serious and social participants – is arguably unmatched by any other sport in New Zealand.

    • Quoted in Neill Atkinson and Tod Purser. Miramar Rangers: 100 years. Wellington: Miramar Rangers Association Football Club, 2007, p. 4. Back

Men’s club and provincial football

The New Zealand Football Association (NZFA) was founded in 1891, making it one of the country’s oldest national sporting bodies. Local club competitions emerged in the main centres early in the 1890s and in Hawke’s Bay, Southland, Taranaki and Whanganui before the First World War.

Representative games

Canterbury and Otago played the first recorded provincial match at Lancaster Park in May 1890, drawing a crowd of 5,000. From 1892 these provinces, joined by Auckland and Wellington, competed annually for the Brown Shield, a silver trophy donated to the NZFA by Robert Brown, a Scottish whisky merchant. This was decided at a tournament or, from 1909, by a challenge system.

In 1926 a new Football Association Trophy became the symbol of provincial supremacy. This was contested, mostly under a challenge system, until 1967. Meanwhile the Brown Shield became a minor association trophy, played for until the 1990s.

In addition, 15 inter-island matches were played between 1920 and 1967.

The Chatham Cup

New Zealand football’s best-known club competition is the Chatham Cup. This knockout tournament has been held every year since 1923 except 1937 and 1941–44.

The trophy – a replica of the English FA Cup – was presented to the NZFA in 1922 by the captain and crew of the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Chatham, which was ending its tour of duty in New Zealand waters. The first final was held at Wellington’s Athletic Park in October 1923, when Seacliff (Otago) defeated Wellington YMCA 4–0.

Until 1970 the competition was organised on a geographical basis, with local, regional and then North Island and South Island finals deciding the national finalists. Today the early rounds are still contested on a regional basis.

The most successful clubs in Chatham Cup history to 2022 were Auckland’s Mount Wellington (later University–Mount Wellington) with seven wins, and Christchurch United, North Shore and Auckland's Eastern Suburbs with six wins each.

Despite the dominance of big-city clubs, the cup has also found its way to Hamilton (1962 and 1988), Nelson (1977), Gisborne (1987), Napier (1985, 1993, 2000 and 2002) and Wairarapa (2011). Steve Sumner holds the individual record with six cup wins: four with Christchurch United and one each with Manurewa and Gisborne City.

Cup finalists

A feature of early Chatham Cup finals was the prominence of occupationally based clubs, including Harbour Board (Auckland), Hospital (Porirua), Tramways (Auckland) and Waterside (Wellington). Their ranks were often bolstered by British migrants. Among the more memorable finalists were 1931 winners Tramurewa (a combination of Tramways and Manurewa) and the Millerton All Blacks (Buller), runners up in 1932 and 1933. The 1934 final was played between two clubs with the same name – Thistle (from Auckland and Canterbury).

National leagues

From 1923 the Chatham Cup was New Zealand’s only national club competition for four decades. After a brief experiment in 1962–63 – when the local club champions from Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago clashed for the Rothmans Cup – an eight-club National League was launched in 1970. Auckland’s Blockhouse Bay were the first champions.

The National League flourished in the 1970s and early 1980s, expanding to 12 teams by 1977 and often drawing 5,000 to 10,000 spectators to matches. Mount Wellington and Christchurch United shared 12 of the 23 titles decided between 1970 and 1992, with Gisborne City (1983) and Napier City Rovers (1989) the only winners from outside Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

The competition struggled in the late 1980s as sponsorship difficulties and falling attendances stretched clubs’ finances. The National League’s demise in 1992 ushered in a decade of uncertainty.

A regional Superclub Championship (with national play-offs) was succeeded by a National Summer Soccer League, then North and South Island leagues (again with a play-off), and finally a new National Club Championship. Between 1993 and 2003 these competitions were dominated by Napier City Rovers and Waitakere City (each with three titles), along with Auckland’s Central United and Wellington’s Miramar Rangers (each with two).

The franchise era

In 2004–5 the top level of domestic football was transformed by the introduction of a new summer competition. The New Zealand Football Championship was contested not by clubs but by eight regional or city ‘franchises’. This competition, known from 2011 as the ASB Premiership, was won eight times by Auckland City and five times by Waitakere United. In 2021 it was replaced by a club-based National League Championship.

Since 2007 the top two New Zealand teams have competed in the Oceania Champions League (or ‘O-League’), which has also been dominated by Auckland and Waitakere. Victory in that competition in turn provides entry into the lucrative Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Club World Cup. In 2014 Auckland City defied expectations by beating more-fancied African and Central American clubs to finish third in the latter tournament.

Men’s international football

By 2023 the New Zealand men’s team had played sides representing more than 70 nations, reflecting the international nature of football. It was ranked just outside the top 100 countries in the world.

New Zealand versus Australia

The first foray into international men’s football was against New South Wales at Dunedin’s Caledonian Ground on 23 July 1904. The first full internationals were played in 1922, when New Zealand defeated Australia in a three-match series before achieving another series victory on Australian soil the following winter.

This early supremacy over Australia did not last. By 2022 New Zealand had won only 13 times in 66 matches. New Zealand’s 10–0 defeat at the Basin Reserve in Wellington in 1936 remained the country’s heaviest loss in a full international.

New Zealand football’s best-known trans-Tasman success was its decisive 2–0 victory in Sydney in 1981, which effectively qualified the New Zealanders for the next round in the FIFA World Cup.

All Whites

While black is acknowledged as the main colour for New Zealand sports teams, the football team adopted an all-white playing strip during the qualification campaign for the 1982 World Cup in Spain. A play on the more famous All Blacks title saw them nicknamed the ‘All Whites’, and the name stuck.

FIFA World Cup, 1982

After failing to qualify for the previous three tournaments, New Zealand achieved its first appearance in the World Cup finals in Spain in 1982. The exploits of this team, dubbed ‘the All Whites’, earned them a place in New Zealand sporting history.

The many twists and turns during an epic qualifying schedule of 15 games at venues stretching halfway across the globe captured the hearts of Kiwi sports fans. A number of the key games were played against the backdrop of the controversial Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand, and this allowed football to outshine rugby for the first time. The All Whites qualified for the finals when they won a dramatic 2–1 victory over China in a sudden-death play-off in Singapore.

In Spain the All Whites were given little hope in a pool that included cup favourites Brazil, the Soviet Union and Scotland. The Scots got a fright when New Zealand pulled back two goals after trailing 3–0 before eventually winning 5–2. The team also performed with credit in defeats to the Soviet Union (3–0) and Brazil (4–0).

It would be 28 years before New Zealand again appeared at the World Cup finals.

FIFA World Cup, 2010

Qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was made somewhat easier by Australia’s move to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006. To grab the last qualifying spot, New Zealand had to face Bahrain (the fifth-placed team from Asia) at home and away.

Following a 0–0 draw in the away leg, New Zealand won a dramatic home match 1–0 thanks to a powerful Rory Fallon header and a penalty save by goalkeeper Mark Paston. The final whistle sparked scenes of wild jubilation among the capacity Wellington crowd, the like of which had never been seen at a football match in this country.

In South Africa a stoppage-time equaliser from Winston Reid in the first game against Slovakia set the scene for a memorable tournament. In the second game New Zealand took a shock 1–0 lead against defending world champions Italy, courtesy of a Shane Smeltz strike. The match ended in a 1–1 draw.

A 0–0 draw against Paraguay in the final pool match was not enough to see the All Whites through to the second round of the competition. However, they left South Africa as the tournament’s only undefeated team.

Record breakers

Ivan Vicelich, who played all three matches in South Africa in 2010, is New Zealand’s most-capped male player with 88 appearances. With two goals against Papua New Guinea in a World Cup qualifying tournament, Chris Wood became New Zealand’s all-time leading male football scorer in 2022. His goals – the 29th and 30th of his international career – saw the striker edge past Vaughan Coveney’s previous record of 29 goals scored between 1992 and 2006.

FIFA Under-20 World Cup

In 2015, New Zealand hosted the FIFA Under-20 World Cup for men. Twenty-four teams played a total of 52 matches in seven host cities: Whangārei, Auckland, Hamilton, New Plymouth, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

On the field, New Zealand made it out of the group stage to the round of 16, losing to Portugal 2–1 in front of nearly 11,000 fans in Hamilton in very wet conditions. They reached the same round in the Under-20 World Cup in 2017, 2019 (losing on penalties to Colombia) and 2023.

New Zealand has reached the round of 16 three times in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup for men, in 2009, 2011 and 2015. Many of these players graduated to one of the successful under-20 teams.

Olympic appearances

Men’s football has been contested at every summer Olympics except 1896 and 1932. Most team members are aged under 23, with three older players allowed in each squad. The intention is to differentiate the Olympic tournament from FIFA competitions and to enable the participation of amateur players.

New Zealand first attempted to qualify for the Olympics in 1984 and succeeded in 2008, 2012 and 2020. The 2020 team was eliminated on penalties in the quarter-finals and was ranked sixth.


New Zealand has produced a number of FIFA-accredited referees who have officiated at international tournaments.

Matthew Conger has been a FIFA-accredited referee since 2013. He refereed at the 2015 and 2017 Under-20 World Cups, the 2016 Olympic Games, and the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups. Matthew regularly referees in the A-League Men and in New Zealand Football and Oceania Football Confederation matches.

Men's professional football

For many years football in New Zealand was an amateur, or at best semi-professional, sport. As a result, most of New Zealand’s top footballers keen to make a living from playing were forced to go overseas.

Playing in Britain

Given Britain’s historic ties with New Zealand and its status as the home of football, it was the ultimate destination for many aspiring Kiwi pros.

Goalkeeper Peter Whiting became something of a trailblazer for New Zealand football in 1967. After winning the Chatham Cup with Wellington club Miramar Rangers, he made the jump to English football with second division side Charlton Athletic.

In 1995 Lee Norfolk became the first New Zealander to play in England’s top division when he appeared for Ipswich Town in the Premier League. He was followed by Danny Hay at Leeds United in 2000.

Europe and the US

From the 1980s a handful of New Zealanders found success in other European leagues, most notably Wynton Rufer in Switzerland and Germany and Ivan Vicelich in the Netherlands. In 2023, Liberato Cacace was playing in Italy for Serie A team Empoli, Sarpreet Singh in Germany for Jahn Regensburg in the second division of the Bundesliga, and Matthew Garbett and Ryan Thomas for second-tier teams in the Netherlands. Another 20 players were spread across Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Greece, Italy and Portugal. Two New Zealanders were playing Major League Soccer in the United States: Bill Tuiloma (Charlotte) and Michael Boxall (Minnesota United).

The US college system has provided another pathway for Kiwi footballers. All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen graduated from Greensboro College to the American Major League Soccer club DC United before making what many saw as the ultimate move to the English Premier League. Joining Blackburn in 2005 Nelsen played 172 games for the Lancashire side and became club captain before moving to fellow Premier League clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Queen’s Park Rangers. After retiring as a player he returned to Major League Soccer as coach of Toronto FC in 2013–14.

Since 2005 three other New Zealanders have played in England’s top league: Simon Elliott (Fulham), who also came through the US college system, Winston Reid (West Ham United) and Chris Wood (West Bromwich Albion, Leicester City, Burnley, Newcastle United, Nottingham Forest).

Wynton Rufer

Wynton Rufer is acknowledged as New Zealand’s greatest footballer. His record of 224 goals in more than 500 club matches in New Zealand and overseas is unlikely to be matched by any other New Zealander.

Although he played only 23 times for his country, he was remembered for scoring what proved to be the winner in the play-off against China in 1982, which saw New Zealand qualify for the FIFA World Cup for the first time.

During his time with German club Werder Bremen, Rufer established himself as one of the Bundesliga’s most feared strikers. In addition to winning a German league title and two German Cups, he scored in Bremen’s victory in the final of the 1992 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup.

In 1999 Rufer was voted Oceania Footballer of the Century and returned home to lead the Auckland-based Football Kingz club in the Australian National Soccer League as player-coach.

The A-League

The Football Kingz represented New Zealand football’s first foray into an Australian national club competition. It also provided local talent with a career path closer to home. In 2004 the Football Kingz were restructured into the New Zealand Knights as a franchise taking part in Australia's new fully professional A-League.

The Knights performed dismally on and off the field before being replaced by Wellington Phoenix in 2007. Despite financial difficulties in 2011 the Phoenix achieved a degree of on-field success in the competition, with three play-off appearances in its first five seasons and a total of eight by 2022–23.


The rise in professional football teams and competitions locally and internationally increased opportunities for careers in coaching.

Ricki Herbert is one of New Zealand’s most high-profile coaches. After a successful playing career he began coaching Auckland club teams. Herbert coached the New Zealand team at the 2000 Olympics and the under-17 team in 2003. He was All Whites coach from 2005 to 2013, combining this role with head coach of the Wellington Phoenix from 2007. He has subsequently coached in the Indian Super League and Papua New Guinea, and been head coach of the Maldives.

Women’s club and provincial football

Women played football in Britain from at least 1881, and there are reports of women playing ‘carnival’ games in New Zealand as early as 1915. As with many female sports, however, its participants struggled to gain recognition, media coverage or equal access to facilities. New Zealand women’s football has made enormous strides in recent decades.

‘Properly garbed’

In 1921 Christchurch doctor Maud Frere considered ‘the fact of women taking up football one of the most hopeful signs of the times.’ She ‘knew of no game more calculated to restore the wasted vital muscles … provided, of course, the player is properly garbed’ – meaning ‘no constricting bands around the waist, as in the ordinary skirt bands’ and ‘no pressure on the soft abdominal muscles, as is always induced by a corset busk’.1

Club and provincial competition

Organised football for women emerged after the First World War, with clubs formed in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in 1921. In the capital the Aotea Ladies’ Club reportedly made good progress in its first season, despite being banned from using city council grounds. The following year the club travelled to Masterton and beat a local side 3-0.

Auckland’s Birkenhead and Classic clubs competed in 1921 and the first interprovincial match was played in Christchurch in September that year, Canterbury beating Wellington 1–0.

In December 1921 the English Football Association banned women’s football on grounds used by its member clubs. The adoption of a similar policy in New Zealand saw the sport struggle to maintain its early momentum, and it largely faded into obscurity over the next half-century.

The 1970s saw an upsurge in women’s football. In Wellington, official competition for the Royal Oak Cup (a league competition) and the Kelly Cup (a knockout competition) began in 1973. Auckland also launched a regional league that year. Player numbers boomed: in 1978 Wellington’s Miramar club, for example, fielded seven women’s teams.

By 1991 there were 8,000 women playing football in New Zealand, from school to national competition level. In 2018 nearly 30,000 of the 117,000 adults playing football were women, and around 8,500 of the 50,000 junior footballers were girls.

A national tournament was held annually from 1976, with Wellington and Auckland (later Auckland Manukau) sharing 23 of the 26 titles.

In 2002 the tournament was succeeded by a federation-based National Women’s Soccer League which was dominated by Auckland. In 2010 New Zealand Football decided to focus on youth development, replacing the national league with the ASB Women’s Youth League, an under-20 competition with five over-age players per squad. Age restrictions were removed in 2015. In 2023 a 10-team National League Championship was launched, with four Auckland clubs competing alongside federation teams and the Wellington Phoenix reserve team. The long-term goal was an entirely club-based league.

A national club knockout cup was launched in 1994, with Auckland’s Lynn-Avon United winning nine times by 2009.

    • Auckland Star, 12 August 1921, p. 8. Back

Women's international football

In February 1974, women’s teams from Sydney clubs played their counterparts in Auckland. The following month, an Auckland representative team toured Australia. The national women’s team first visited Australia in 1979 and then hosted Australia in 1980 in a return series for the Trans-Tasman Cup. New Zealand won the inaugural Oceania Cup tournament in New Caledonia in 1983, beating Australia in the final.

Record goal scorer

Amber Hearn represented New Zealand 125 times during her career with the Football Ferns between 2004 and 2018, including playing at two FIFA Women’s World Cups and three Olympics. Her 54 international goals are the most scored by any New Zealand footballer – male or female.

A New Zealand Women’s Football Association had been formed in 1975, when a national side was invited to compete in the Asian Ladies’ Football Confederation Cup in Hong Kong. Remarkably the untried Kiwis defeated Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia and Thailand to claim an international trophy at the first attempt.

In the 1980s the national team finished second (1981), fourth (1984) and second-equal (1987) at World Invitational Tournaments in Taiwan, unofficial forerunners of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The 1987 team which achieved New Zealand’s only victory over the US included the first mother–daughter combination to appear together in an international match, defenders Barbara and Michele Cox. The New Zealand team – then known as the Swanz – appeared in the first FIFA World Cup tournament in China in 1991, but fell behind Australia and failed to qualify for the next three events.

The New Zealand Women’s Football Association was declared to have ‘merged’ with Soccer New Zealand in 1999 and formally dissolved in 2004, the year Michele Cox was appointed Head of Women’s Football.

By 2007 the national team was known as the Football Ferns. They returned to the World Cup stage that year and in 2011 earned their first point in the tournament. The Football Ferns achieved two draws in pool play in 2015 but lost all three matches in 2019. New Zealand and Australia jointly hosted the 2023 World Cup, with 29 of the 64 matches played in New Zealand. The Football Ferns beat Norway 1–0 in the first match of the tournament, but failed to qualify for the knockout stage. In the early 2020s the Football Ferns were ranked between 20th and 30th in the world.

Record number of caps

English-born defender Ria Percival retired from international football in 2024 after playing 166 international matches for the Football Ferns since 2007, more than any other male or female New Zealand footballer. Percival played at four Olympic Games and five FIFA World Cups.

Women’s football was first played at the Summer Olympics in 1996. The Football Ferns have qualified for every Olympic Games since Australia moved from Oceania to the Asian confederation in 2006. In London in 2012 they recorded their first win (3–1 over Cameroon) and reached the quarter-finals, losing 2–0 to USA.

At the 2013 Valais Cup in Switzerland the Football Ferns became the first New Zealand football team to beat powerhouse Brazil with a 1–0 win. The Football Ferns went on to defeat China 4–0 in the final to claim their first trophy outside their home confederation since winning the 1975 Asian Cup.

New Zealand also had success in the annual Cyprus Women’s Cup tournament, reaching the final in 2010 (losing to Canada 1–0), and placing third in 2013 and fourth in 2009.

Under-17 and Under-20 Women's World Cups

The first major FIFA tournament to be hosted in New Zealand was the Under-17 Women’s World Cup, in October and November 2008. Sixteen teams competed in matches played in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch. New Zealand beat Colombia 3–0 thanks to a Rosie White hat-trick, but did not progress out of its group.

New Zealand under-17 and under-20 teams performed increasingly well in the 21st century, beating Colombia, Chile and Switzerland at FIFA World Cup tournaments. In 2018 the under-17 team finished third at the FIFA World Cup, the best result by a New Zealand national team at a FIFA tournament. The under-20 team reached the quarter-finals in 2014.

Coaches and officials

The first head coach of the national women’s team was Wellington-based Dave Farrington, who held the role from 1975 to 1979. Roy Cox was team manager and then head coach from 1983 to 1987. In 2021, Czech-born Jitka Klimková became the first female head coach of the Football Ferns.

Campaigner for the cup

Johanna Wood became the president of New Zealand Football in 2019, the first woman to reach the top of the administration of New Zealand football. In the same year she was elected to the FIFA Council, representing the Oceania Football Confederation. She led the successful campaign for New Zealand and Australia to jointly host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the most-attended standalone women’s sporting event ever staged.

In 2016, New Zealander Sarai Bareman became the most powerful figure in women's football when she was appointed as FIFA's first Chief Women's Football Officer.

Anna-Marie Keighley began refereeing in 2008 and has been a FIFA-accredited referee since 2010. She refereed at the 2014 Under-17 Women's World Cup and the 2018 and 2022 Under-20 Women’s World Cups. She has also been called up to men’s tournaments, including 2016 Oceania Football Confederation Champions League, and played a supporting role at the 2017 Under-17 Men’s World Cup. She officiated in five matches at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the first person to do so at a tournament. Anna-Marie regularly referees New Zealand Football and Oceania Football Confederation matches, as well as officiating in the A-League Women.

Women's professional football

A-League Women

The A-League Women, an Australian-based semi-professional football competition, was established in 2008. In September 2021, the Wellington Phoenix announced that they were forming a women's team which would enter the competition in December. This move came after pressure to improve playing opportunities for women, especially as New Zealand was to co-host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The establishment of the team was made possible by significant funding from Sport NZ.

The first head coach, Welsh-born Gemma Lewis, was assisted by English-born Natalie Lawrence – one of only two all-female coaching teams in the competition that season. In late 2022, Lawrence became head coach, assisted by New Zealand-born Callum Holmes.

In its first season the team was based in Wollongong, New South Wales because of New Zealand’s COVID-19 travel restrictions. The team finished last in its first two seasons before finishing eighth of 12 teams in 2023/24.

While the establishment of a professional women’s team was a significant step forward for New Zealand football, many of the players needed outside employment to augment their Phoenix salaries, and the squad was under-resourced in comparison with the men’s team.

Professional players overseas

An increasing number of New Zealand women play in overseas leagues, which are often fully or semi-professional. Maureen Jacobson and Michele Cox were the first to play in Europe, in the late 1980s, for Millwall Lionesses and TSV Siegen respectively.

The 21-woman Football Ferns squad for the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup included five players from the strong German league, three from England and two from Sweden, while another two played university soccer in the United States.

In 2023, four New Zealand women were playing in the English Women’s Super League (the equivalent of the English Premier League): C. J. Bott (Leicester City), Anna Leat (Aston Villa), Ria Percival (Tottenham Hotspur) and Rebekah Stott (Brighton & Hove Albion). Another four turned out for top-tier Scottish teams: Olivia Chance (Celtic), Victoria Esson (Rangers), Meikeyla Moore (Glasgow City) and Katie Rood (Heart of Midlothian). Six more were playing professionally in Europe. In the US, two Football Ferns captains played for National Women’s Soccer League teams: Abby Erceg (Racing Louisville) and Ali Riley (Angel City). Ten New Zealanders played for teams other than the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League Women.

Abby Erceg

Abby Erceg was the first New Zealand player, male or female, to play 100 international matches. In 2013 she signed with German club Jena, which competed in the Bundesliga, the top league. In 2014 she joined the Chicago Red Stars in the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States. Moving to Western New York Flash in 2015, she captained the side to a league championship. Erceg played for the North Carolina Courage from 2017 until 2023, when she was traded to Racing Louisville FC.


Futsal is a five-a-side version of football normally played indoors. It is played with a smaller, lower-bouncing ball on a netball-sized court with no rebound walls or nets. Futsal is the only five-a-side football that is officially approved by FIFA and New Zealand Football.

There were nearly 30,000 futsal players in New Zealand in 2018, a huge jump from just 5,000 players in 2011.


Futsal originated in the 1930s in Uruguay and Brazil, where two versions of limited-numbers games were played. The International Federation for Futebol de Sala (‘indoor football’) was founded in Brazil in 1971. In 1989 FIFA took over as the governing body and abbreviated Futebol de Sala to Futsal. The first FIFA Futsal World Championship was held in the Netherlands the same year.


Futsal helps develop players for the 11-a-side game, with the necessary ball skills, large number of touches and pace forcing players to utilise fast reflexes and make quick decisions. The energetic, end-to-end, non-stop nature of futsal makes it an attractive spectator sport. There are professional leagues in Russia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Argentina.

National teams

The Futsal Whites were formed in 1988 and in 2023 were ranked 56th in the world. The women’s Futsal Ferns were formed in 2017.

Indoor football

While not officially sanctioned by New Zealand Football or FIFA, indoor football is a popular leisure activity in New Zealand, especially in the main cities. While futsal can be played indoors or outdoors on a hard court, indoor football is played on artificial turf and usually uses walls for rebounds. Indoor football can be played with a normal football.

With no governing body, playing numbers are unknown. There are many leagues, including business leagues with matches played at lunchtime, and evening competitions that range from social to serious. Most leagues have mixed or men-only teams.


Chris Sinclair and Antony Riley are FIFA-accredited futsal referees. They have been called up to a number of FIFA tournaments, including the 2021 Continental Futsal Championship and the 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup in Lithuania. Chris Sinclair has been a FIFA futsal referee since 2014 and refereed at the 2016 Futsal World Cup in Colombia. He has also officiated at Oceania Football Confederation events in New Caledonia, Fiji and Auckland, and at the World University Games in Kazakhstan. Antony Riley started refereeing futsal in 2012, gained his FIFA Futsal Badge in 2016 and refereed at the 2018 Youth Olympics.

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Neill Atkinson, Steve Watters and Alida Shanks, 'Football', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 May 2024)

Story by Neill Atkinson, Steve Watters and Alida Shanks, published 5 September 2013, reviewed & revised 7 June 2023