Hawkes Bay United 2, Team Wellington 6
Park Island, Napier, January 15 2012
Our summer holiday on the East Coast of the North Island came to an end yesterday, but not before getting along to some quality local football. I was very pleased to finally get the opportunity to attend a match at Park Island, the beautiful home of Napier City Rovers – a fine club who are 4 times National League and 4 times Chatham Cup winners, including a famous double in 2000.
The local NZFC franchise, Hawkes Bay United, have been having a bit of a frustrating time trying to get someone to play against them of late. This would be their first competitive hit-out since December 3rd following two trips to Hamilton aborted due to a waterlogged pitch at Porritt Stadium. This has left the Bay with only 4 games under their belt in the competition to date.
Going into this fixture, Team Wellington sat on 9 points from 6 matches – good enough for 4th place in the 8 team league. At the end of the season, the top four teams play off for the title and a place in the Oceania Champions League and the World Club Cup. So only being 3 points shy of Waitakere and Canterbury in second and third equal, this was a big match for Wellington. With 2 games in hand, Hawkes Bay also had the opportunity to use the game as a springboard to leap up the table.
Park Island more than lived up to its reputation as a special place to watch football. The sun was shining bright and the decent sized crowd had a lovely relaxed summer atmosphere. Spectators lazed around the place, kids wreaked havoc with footballs and, I kid you not, attacked the magpie mascot everywhere he went – “GET GUS! GET GUS!” was the constant battle cry. There was a sausage sizzle for the adults and a lolly scramble for the kids at half time. Whenever the home team needed encouragement, a wonderfully retro sounding song, “black, white, alright – come on the bay” blared through the antiquated sound system. It felt to me like the National League in its heyday. A huge credit to the franchise officials and management.
As for the game itself, well it was one of those occasions that fits the cliché ‘a game of two halves’ like a glove. Team Wellington took the lead twice in the opening stanza, Hawkes Bay showed plenty of resolve in coming back and twice equalising. In the second half though, the lack of match fitness seemed to tell on the Bay as they let in 4 pretty preventable goals. Skipper Bill Robertson let his frustration get the better of him towards the end and was dismissed having earned a second yellow card. After he disappeared up the tunnel, the unmistakable sound of a door slamming echoed right across the stadium. Wellington’s Louis Fenton was the hero for the visitors, scoring two goals in each half.
Team Wellington were clearly the better of the two sides and before the season is out they should find a way past Canterbury to grab the third playoff spot. Hawkes Bay have the potential to get there too if they can start stringing a few 90 minute performances together.
After that most pleasant afternoon, all that remained was to deface a prominent local landmark. Pania of the Reef was, Maori legend has it, a beautiful woman who was in love with the son of an important chief near what is now Napier. She was lured out into the sea at night by Siren like sea people and transformed into a reef when she tried to swim back to her lover. I thought this apt given Roma often lures me out of bed in the middle of the night, then causes me to strongly consider turning myself into a rigid obstacle in a shallow body of water.
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.