Bay Olympic 1, Birkenhead United 3
Crum Park, Auckland, March 2 2013
This is why football is a winter game in the civilised world. With the scorching sun beating down on Crum Park in Titirangi on Saturday, it was far too hot for trench coats… And dark sunglasses make football far too tricky to follow. But these minor irritants were no deterrent to the myriad of moles, spies and amateur sleuths who appeared to have made their way out to West Auckland to watch this friendly between Bay Olympic and Birkenhead United.
While some were prowling in the shadows, others were unashamedly filming the game from high on the bank or rattling off player’s names on the sidelines, completely unfazed by the fact that they stood out like a dog’s proverbials with a mobile phone pressed against one ear and a finger stuck in the other. With the level of covert and overt surveillance on display, Birkenhead might have been forgiven for thinking they’d stumbled into a parallel dimension where they’d been promoted to the English Premier League at the end of last season rather than the New Zealand Northern Regional Football League Premier Division.
Crum Park is off the beaten track a bit. So much so that shortly after kick off a Birkenhead assistant coach was overheard giving directions via cellphone to someone who was clearly hopelessly lost. But if this was a ploy to put people off attending, it didn’t work. The crowd, mostly gathered under the shade of the tree-lined banks, was positively bountiful for a pre-season game.
It was obvious that when it became known that these two sides would be playing each other it would generate considerable interest. Bay Olympic, champions the past two seasons but rumoured to have lost several important players in the off-season. Birkenhead, newcomers to the top flight who play nice football and boast a talented group of players many of whom have ASB Premiership experience.
I do wonder what curious observers from other clubs were expecting to learn though. It’s hard to imagine why the two sides would play a game like this if they had anything to hide or any intention of revealing state secrets. These fixtures are played mostly to build match fitness – no matter how many in-house games you play you can’t simulate a real game. Crucial signings, new game plans and tactics were surely kept firmly under wraps and aside from anything else, Birkenhead coach Paul Hobson confirmed that his team alone had 14 players “unavailable” across first team and reserves.
I myself went primarily because I was interested to see who was playing, but truth be told I didn’t recognise anyone much. All I had to go on was the names they were yelling at each other but this cunning plan had a fatal flaw. I was left with the distinct impression that each and every player on the pitch was named “Jono”.
But nobody would have left too disappointed – it was still an interesting game and a particularly impressive display from the newcomers to this level even though it took them a while to get into the match. Played in thirty minute thirds rather than halves to combat the oppressive heat, it was Bay Olympic who looked most likely in the first period, striking first albeit through a cross from an offside player missed by the Birkenhead squad member filling in as a linesman. From that point on though, it was all Birko.
It’s hard to read too much into friendlies at the best of times and so we will have to wait for all to be revealed on April 6 when the league kicks off for serious. Both these teams have very interesting opening clashes. Bay Olympic take on last year’s runners up East Coast Bays at Olympic Park while Birkenhead will be entertained by heavyweights Three Kings United. I can’t wait to get my hands on the match day programmes. I’m dying to see how many Jonos are playing…
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Premier
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.