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A football journey

Oratia United 1, Fencibles 0
Parrs Park, Auckland, March 30 2013

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There’s no feeling on earth like walking towards your favourite football ground for the first game of a new season. The nervous anticipation of the start of a new journey with your team that has built up to bursting point over a long offseason is finally about to find its outlet. Whether you are joining tens of thousands of other fans along the way as you emerge from the ‘Tube’ to see your stadium like a sun rising in the distance at the end of a long row of terraced housing, or crossing the River Tiber via the Ponte Duca D’Aosta and making your way along the Foro Italico to enter the Stadio Olimpico, your heart pounds and your palms sweat as your pace quickens with the anticipation.

Then as you climb the steps and emerge through the tunnel, a wall of noise greets you in tandem with a sea of splendour as the interior of the arena opens up before your eyes. You probably don’t realise it, from that point on your senses are bombarded with so much that you have no time to reflect, but the journey is almost as good as the destination.

This is why for my first game of the 2013 Northern Regional Football League, I chose to watch my local club, Oratia United. I’m no more emotionally attached to them than I am to any other Auckland club. But I am emotionally attached to the Northern League in general and there was excitement aplenty coursing through me as I undertook the short walk from my home to the ground.

This ten minute journey is a uniquely New Zealand one. At the end of my street is a gravel pathway that leads past two small stormwater lakes, through groves of native trees and flaxes, across a couple of creeks and through grassy meadows, all the way to Parrs Park. There is no need to see let alone walk along any roads. I can’t think of a better way to start the season.

And when I arrived at my New Zealand football journey’s destination, I found a quintessentially New Zealand game of football. A little rough around the edges, a bit of drizzly rain, some rather ordinary play, a lot of niggle and a 1-0 result with the goal coming in the last ten minutes. It couldn’t have been more authentic if Dave Dobbyn had sung ‘Slice of Heaven’ at half time.

Despite dominating most of the game in terms of both possession and time on attack, Oratia were lucky to get the result. Whether it was due to the nerves of their first game back in the NRFL having been promoted from the Conference last season, or just the rustiness that comes with any season opener, they didn’t look convincing in front of goal, despite many golden chances to strike. It looked one of those games that the dominant side would find themselves punished for their lack of killer instinct as Fencibles finally got a few chances of their own towards the end and could easily have nicked it. But instead, it was Oratia’s Matt Byrne who pounced on a shot parried into his path by the Fencibles goalkeeper and stabbed it into an open net.

Neither side will be particularly happy with the way they played, but I couldn’t stop smiling for the entire 90 minutes. Winter football has arrived and while the summer league has all the razzmatazz and skill, the Northern League has romance and rustic charm that the franchises can never reproduce. As I made my way home the same way I had come, looking through the trees I could see the sun breaking through the clouds and bouncing around off the Coloursteel roofs of my neighbourhood. For me that one little shard of sunshine pushing its way through a sea of grey cloud sums up New Zealand football in a nutshell. It’s what makes it all worthwhile, those golden moments we all hold dear. The journey towards experiencing the next one has commenced.

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2

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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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