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A dormant force

Waikato FC 0, Hawkes Bay United 4
Crown Park, Taupo, February 17 2013

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Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake. A dormant volcano, it last erupted around about 180 AD with an explosion so ferocious that it is noted in ancient Chinese history that the sky glowed red.

That fact has precious little to do with this football game. I just think it’s a great story.

I know the point of the ASB Youth League is not to be results focussed, but still, one of these days a Waikato team is not going to make me question my own sanity for driving hundreds of kilometres to watch them lose.

It was a hot day in the Central North Island yesterday. Swimmers frolicked and paragliders whooshed across the water as hundreds of holiday makers sought refuge in the lake from the sweltering summer heat. I drove right past them all, drooling slightly as I forlornly turned left and headed up the hill to Taupo’s Crown Park to watch yet another Waikato capitulation.

As I always say though, watching your team lose is character building. Those Auckland and Waitakere fans don’t know what they’re missing.

This game followed the same old well-worn Waikato football pattern. They started with a hiss and a roar, then held their own, then defended stoutly, then turned to mush.

A couple of likely looking Waikato attacks in the opening few minutes yielded nothing and as Hawkes Bay slowly worked themselves into the match, their superior class eventually won through. Their 2-0 lead at half time was thoroughly deserved. The contest was effectively decided by a counterattacking goal early in the second half that was cruelly crafted from Waikato’s best chance of the match. Striker James Davies was one-on-one with the keeper and beat him only to be foiled by a desperate last ditch come from behind lunge from a Hawkes Bay defender. If that shot had gone in, at 2-1 the game could have been anyone’s again but instead the ball was dispatched straight down the other end and into the Waikato net. And that was the ball game.

Hawkes Bay are better than their mid-table ranking suggests. But for a couple of unfortunate defeats they would have been a real force in this competition. They are probably just out of reach of the playoffs as things stand now but the future of Hawkes Bay football looks nonetheless to be in good hands.

This was officially a home game for Waikato but Taupo is roughly equidistant between Napier and Hamilton so it was a good venue for these two sides to meet on virtually neutral ground. Despite it being a long day for me to get to and from, the 282 kilometre return journey to Auckland gave me plenty of time to ponder what I had seen. While I was spectacularly unsuccessful in coming up with a better way of working the Lake Taupo eruption into the story, I did have some other thoughts about Waikato football as I meandered back up State Highway 1.

On the road I passed advertising hoardings for rodeos and country music concerts, not to mention a very unappealing looking photo on the back of a bus promoting the musical ‘Hairspray’. I passed three speedway tracks and several club rugby grounds that wouldn’t look too far out of place as summer palaces fit for Tsars.

In the UK, football is a working class game while rugby is reserved more for the higher orders. In New Zealand it’s a bit more complicated than that. In the cities, rugby is often a working class pursuit but in the hinterland the oval ball game is synonymous with farming. The Waikato region is dominated economically and socially by the dairy farming industry and the culture associated with it. As surely as gumboots follow swandris, rugby follows cow cockies – the Waikato is not and never will be a football stronghold. But this hasn’t stopped it from punching well above its weight in the past. When it erupts again, I hope I’ll be in whatever two horse town bears witness to it and that’s what keeps me going.

Categories: NZ Men's National Youth League

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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.

1 reply

  1. Enjoyed and relate to last 2 paragraphs. Dunedin has the same issue, but sub cow cockies for students.
    Students mean that our top clubs will compete in the winter, but not much more.
    I have no doubt that if ASB Premiership was played from May-August, Otago would be top 4 each season.

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