Well, there goes all the respect I had for Declan Edge. Waikato FC announced on Tuesday that players Jesse Edge, Harry Edge, Ryan Thomas, Matt Oliver, Dan Looker, Bailey Webster, Harley Tahau, and Mohammed Awad have ceased attending training without any communication with the club, apparently encouraged to pull out of the squad by their former coach. This occurred in the context of the lads in question having previously assured club officials they would stay at least until the transfer window opened and it would be possible to draft in reinforcements. This shocking new development came despite many of the players concerned performing prominent roles in new tactician Mark Cossey’s first match at the helm, a 3-2 victory against Youngheart Manawatu.
There is no other way to describe this, apart from an abject disaster for Waikato football and the long, long, looooooooong suffering supporters of the game in that region. Assuming Waikato’s statement is true, that these players have been manipulated en-masse by their mentor, one can only deduce that this move by Edge is motivated by spite at the franchise administrators who dismissed him two weeks prior. But instead of simply punishing them, what he appears to have done is seriously, and potentially fatally, injured the game in New Zealand’s fifth largest city.
New Zealand Football is currently reviewing franchise license renewal applications from the eight incumbent ASB Premiership clubs as well as new license requests from other regions keen to enter the league. Waikato are seen by many as the weakest link in the competition, and for those who’d like a crack at a license themselves, their situation continues to present itself as a scab worth picking. They cannot afford this sort of spectacle if they want to build strength and confidence in their project and win the right to a continued existence in the long term.
It is vital for football in New Zealand that the Waikato Region is represented. Should their license not be renewed, it would leave a vast ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of football darkness between Auckland, Napier and Palmerston North where kids would not easily be able to aspire to play at New Zealand’s highest level domestically.
These deserters putting all this in jeopardy by walking out now to join Edge in his new job at Ole Academy, is an act that cancels out any sympathy I previously had for them. Any reasonable person who had the game’s and probably the players’ best interests at heart would have encouraged them to stay put until January. A good man who had good ideas but perhaps pushed them a little bit too far, instead now looks more like a self-serving egotist plain and simple. And a franchise already struggling to attract crowds and volunteers, has now lost further goodwill and credibility in the sporting community in which they operate.
Waikato have the ability to bring in three non-contracted players between now and the transfer window and have already signed former Melville and current Bay Olympic player Robbie Greenhalgh to attempt plug at least one of the gaps left by these defections. But they still find themselves seriously behind the eight-ball moving into the second half of the season and the recovery that previously looked like an uphill slog, now appears closer to an attempt at the North face of K2. Fingers crossed they can make it.
Categories: NZ Men's National League
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.