Waikato United 2, Team Wellington 3
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, February 5 2012
CB: “Barbecues on the grass banks on a sultry cloudless evening, a few beers after work, a twilight kick-off… the sooner we get summer soccer the better.”
AH: “There’s more chance of Brian Chisholm biting someone’s ear.”
– Bruce Holloway debates summer football with himself, July 31 1994.
Waikato sport is a subject dear to my heart, Waikato football even more so. That’s why I was so pleased last week when I discovered Bruce Holloway’s delightful anthology of his columns in Waikato United, Melville United and Waikato FC programmes over the past 20 years.
Wonderfully rich themes run through the 462 page work as Bruce asks all the important questions of our time, such as: Why are New Zealand football fans so tight with their money? Are we the most boring fans in the world? What would be the all-time worst XI in the history of the National League? As well as insightfully dissecting the most serious of issues such as the slow motion train wreck that was the demise of Waikato United – moving through the collection, the reader relives this sad journey to oblivion through well-reasoned thoughts on the issues as they were grappled with and colourful reports from the club AGM’s year by year. Yes – I just used colourful and AGMs in the same sentence – read the columns about them, you’ll see. Chart the rise of Melville United as it rose from the ashes and filled the void. Follow New Zealand’s transition from National League to the NZFC, our summer franchise based competition, and the creation of Waikato FC to compete in the brave new era.
In between times, through a series of traveller’s tales, we are whisked off to far flung corners of New Zealand for Chatham Cup, National League and Northern League ties, told in such a way that makes you feel as though you are part of the fabric of the club. You can feel the buffeting gales on the sideline and the toxic post-game club room atmosphere at Tawa and ride on the team bus to Park Island in Napier for Waikato United’s last ever game.
The many obituaries of prominent Waikato football stalwarts, detailing the hard work and sacrifice to one of the most thankless causes in New Zealand sport are as inspirational as they are guiltifying (if I might be permitted to make up a word) – we should all be doing more.
Many of my own memories of Waikato football were stirred. As a teenager, I was an occasional visitor to Muir Park, the long since sold and demolished home of Waikato United. In particular, a couple of central recurring characters from the Chronicles in Darren Fellowes and Mark Cossey were heroes of mine at the time. I’m sure they were solid and capable club players, but in my mind, I couldn’t understand why they weren’t All Whites.
The timing of receiving this treasure trove of football gold couldn’t have been better. Flicking through and reading random articles provided an appetiser like no other for yesterday’s road trip to Hamilton for Waikato FC’s clash with Team Wellington in the NZFC. It really got my juices flowing. Arriving at Porritt Stadium though, immediately reminded me of the first rule of New Zealand Football – the more things change, the more they stay the same. The turnout from locals was disappointing and with the major theme of the region’s football history being the recurring struggle to stay afloat financially, seeing one person in particular watching through the fence then slinking in at half time when the ticket sellers had left their posts really pissed me off. I thought long and hard about blogging a picture of him before deciding against it.
Also, sadly, I gotta say that as much as we used to jokingly call Muir Park ‘Manure Park’ for it was something of a dump, Porritt Stadium, as beautiful a setting as it is, simply is not and never will be a football ground. Like any sports ground with an athletics track, it lacks the closeness to the pitch and intimacy that breeds atmosphere. It would be nice if Hamilton City and the Waikatio Region put the same amount of resources into football as they clearly do into rugby, cricket and hockey. Obviously that’s never going to happen, but one, and only one, modest, purpose built stadium that holds one or two thousand people, for the most played sport in New Zealand, shouldn’t be too much to ask. Should it?
As for the match itself, it was the second game in a row that I’ve been to in which the lads played tremendously well. Coach Declan Edge’s philosophy of possession based football is one I couldn’t agree more with. It’s fairly difficult to concede goals while you are attacking and it has always seemed to me that teams who press and look hungry for possession tend to give their adversaries the toughest opposition. When Waikato had the ball, Declan could be heard screaming from the side-lines KEEP IT! KEEP IT! It paid dividends as the home side twice took the lead against a team that looked much better than them on paper. With the score 2-2 at half time, they dominated periods of the second half as well as absorbing a large amount of pressure on their own goal, until only seconds remained before the final whistle, at which time Team Wellington’s Louis Fenton rudely took it upon himself to nick it with a well taken winner.
Bugger. The biggest thing that has never seemed to change down through the ages of Waikato sport is that if you want to be a fan, you’d better get used to suffering.
As is becoming my tradition for fixtures outside Auckland, after the game a prominant local statue was tastefully desecrated. Hamilton is very proud of being the adopted home town of Richard O’Brien, creator of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. In honour of this, they have a statue of Riff Raff on the main drag. Given Riff Raff’s overtly obvious class and good taste, it stands to reason that he’s a Roma fan too, right?
[You can get a copy of the Waikato Chronicles for the ridiculously cheap price of $10 by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org for a PDF. A sample of the work, a fascinating account of Waikato United’s last ever game, is available online here. Check it out!]
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/