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Mooloo ole ole ole!

Waikato 28, Hawkes Bay 3
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, October 13 2012

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River runs deep, river runs slow
Living in the land of the mighty Waikato
Straight from the river, beer is gonna flow
Aint no other place that we ever wanna go


Mooloo ole ole ole!
Mooloo ole!

I had to include the lyrics of that song for two reasons. Gloating, and to make this post a little bit about real football. Mostly for gloating though. Yes, I know I have poo-pooed rugby a lot on here, and rightly so, but I do have a weakness when it comes to my home province. I feel a deep sense of nostalgia when I hear the Mooloo song, a tune borrowed by Waikato supporters from football fans they encountered during a tour of Argentina in the late 1980s. And the ‘log of wood’, AKA the Ranfurly Shield, is one non-football trophy that can still make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. So when Waikato lifted the log for the 9th time from Taranaki around a fortnight ago, it seemed like a great opportunity to relive the magic of my youth and get down to Hamilton (home also of rugby’s Super 15 champions, cricket’s Plunket Shield holders and netball’s ANZ Championship winners, just saying) to watch their one and only defence before the end of the season.

For the benefit of my international football readers, the ‘log’ is unique in that it’s played for and won on a challenge basis. The holder faces challenges from other teams every regular season premiership home game they play. When the holders are beaten at home, the shield transfers to the victor who then must defend it at each of their subsequent home games. Reading this you could be forgiven for thinking that the shield changes hands almost every other week. But it doesn’t. Such is the esteem that it is held in, teams that hold it grow in stature and defend it with their lives. Thus it tends to change hands once a season if you are lucky. The longest tenure ever was 8 years and 4 days when it was held by Auckland between 1985 and 1993. When that reign was eventually ended, by Waikato, I was lucky enough to be in the stadium to witness it first-hand. It was one of the most exciting things I have ever seen. When the shield is successfully challenged for, it is a very big deal for the team and the local community that wins it

Whether you like rugby or not, and with or without the shield on the line, Waikato rugby crowds are something that everyone should experience at least once. The crowds might be small compared to an ‘El Classico’ or an ‘Old Firm’ derby, but there is still nothing else like it anywhere else. With the Waikato jersey barely changing in over 90 years, there is no mishmash of colours on display. Nearly everyone comes dressed in the famous red, yellow and black hoops so the sea of colour is consistent and a sight to behold. Then there’s the noise. Apart from the singing of the Mooloo Song, there is the famous (or infamous to our opponents) cowbells. They come in all shapes and sizes but all have the same loud tinny clunk that when played prestissimo en masse, are simply deafening.  They come into their own as an opponent is taking a kick at goal, when they build to a colossal crescendo as fans try to put the enemy kicker off his work.

My grandmother has a genuine antique cowbell that was found in a paddock many years ago. I like to borrow it for big occasions such as Ranfurly Shield games because without a hint of exaggeration it is undoubtedly the loudest at Waikato Stadium. It’s so loud that during one game, a 50 point drubbing of arch enemies Auckland, the opposing goal kicker was continually glaring in my direction as kick after kick went wobbling off to one side of the posts or the other. The sound it makes is so annoying that I have been told once or twice in very colourful language by fellow Waikato supporters to stop ringing it – or else…

Super Rugby is taking over provincial rugby as the showcase competition in the sport and that’s sad. You don’t get atmosphere like this at Chiefs games because the tradition and culture that has been built up over the best part of a century is incontrovertibly worth something. As I’ve said on this blog repeatedly, franchise based competitions never seem to manage to manufacture the same atmosphere as clubs have always had in spades, and that goes for any sporting code. That’s why provincial rugby is still special and deserves a special place.

The way the ITM Cup format has been tampered with and compressed over the past couple of seasons has made it less popular, but the powers that be should take note, that doesn’t mean people are less taken with their provincial unions. Rather, it means that the rugby hierarchy have taken a good thing and meddled with it for no good end. Football can be criticised for being too stuffy and not changing enough with the times. Rugby very often shows the folly in the other extreme.

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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