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Banana skins and Koru Lounges

Birkenhead United 0, East Coast Bays 1
Shepherd’s Park, Auckland, August 24 2013

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I was depressed after this game, but I didn’t really understand why in the immediate aftermath.

It wasn’t because I’m a Birkenhead fan – I’m not. Nor was it because I had particularly wanted to see Birkenhead win the league per se – I was fairly ambivalent about it to be honest. There is a fairy tale element to their success to date, sure. The fact that they were only just promoted from division one last season, and the fact that it’s their 50th anniversary year, meant that I thought it might be nice to see them achieve ultimate success. But equally, East Coast Bays were bridesmaids last season and somewhat deserve to go one better now that Bay Olympic have fallen by the wayside. The point is I have no particular fondness for either outfit.

I thought it might have been the anti-climax that had left me feeling down. Birkenhead only needed to take a point from this match to win the league at home against their biggest rivals and after they comprehensively defeated star studded Central United two weeks ago, everyone saw this as inevitable. This match was to be their coronation. That it wasn’t to be is a big surprise. This is, in itself, not really any reason to be upset however.

It might only seem natural to feel sorry for the Birko players who slogged their guts out, gave their all and kept their cool for almost 90 minutes, only to have their dreams cruelly ripped away from their grasp right at the end. Almost 90 minutes. That word ‘almost’ – the worst word imaginable in the world of football. Missed by a light year is preferable to almost. It hurts so much. Going down to a messy late free-for-all pinball goal following a corner. One little lapse in concentration with time almost up, the job almost done – the stuff of real heartbreak. They had worked so hard and they were out on their feet, hanging on for grim death, when the fatal blow was struck. But that wasn’t really why I felt a bit down. I didn’t feel that sorry for the Birkenhead players – that’s football after all. On another day it might be them snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. What goes around comes around.

Equally as sad as it was to see Birko hearts broken, it was beautiful to watch the East Coast Bays side delirious with joy – and they earned it. They were cool, calm and collected all game. Never looked rattled, always in control and when the time came and Birkenhead were tired, Bays were perfectly placed to pounce. This was no fluke, it was tactics and they deserved their win. Besides, it was a pulsating, exhilarating game full of tension and suspense. Wonderful for the neutral. What’s sad about that?

There was of course the considerable irritation of once again, second week in a row, going to a game to cover a league victory, trophy presentation, and associated frolicking, only to see the club in question slip on a proverbial banana skin. That, I must say, IS quite annoying. I wanted to cover every division’s title clinching game and the fact that the relevant clubs aren’t playing ball does feel mightily inconsiderate of them. Don’t they know I can’t be in four places at once? How dare they all cross the finish line on the same day! Perhaps that was it… I really wanted that photo of Jack Hobson-McVeigh holding aloft the cup…

I didn’t really understand until I got across town to Western Springs. That’s when it hit me. The real reason. Shepherd’s park had been buzzing with a festival atmosphere. The balcony was packed, there were scores of people lining the side-lines and packed along the top of the grass bank. There were kids everywhere, there were flags, candy cane coloured shirts by the hundreds and painted faces. There were air horns and there were vuvuzelas. There was cheering, ribbing and barracking coming from all quarters for most of the game. And then when the drama built to a crescendo in the final stages, the air was thick with tension.

You can tell when I’m into a game because I live it. At Birko, I felt every shot on goal, every free kick given and every crunching tackle. I was yelling and screaming and offering useless advice to the players. Because the place was pumping. Then I got to Western Springs. A club in the same position, albeit two divisions lower, only needing to beat second to bottom Albany United to clinch their league. Yet by contrast Seddon Fields had all the atmosphere of a Koru Lounge…

I left before the final whistle. Partly because I couldn’t take any good pictures under the floodlights, and partly because I realised I didn’t need to see a trophy presentation, either to be happy or to feel like I was doing my job as a blogger. The fact was I was feeling down and didn’t really care about Western Springs one way or the other. I cared much more about those supporters at Birkenhead who had come out in droves and brought their infectious passion and colour with them. I had really wanted to see them celebrate their team. I know where I’m going to be next week…

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Premier

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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.

3 replies

  1. Great article Enzo! It was a disappointing day, but our heads are high, and we still have next week! That’s the joy of being a Birko supporter, we always have hope, and are just so proud of our club, no matter what.

  2. Me and my 17 yr old son turned up hoping to see Birkenhead win, although neither of us have any connection to the club apart from my boy having played with one of their players and his dad that I know. It was the closest thing to the Newmarket Park days in terms of the crowd and their passion (you have to have watched National league in the ’70’s to know what I mean), and we both wanted Birko to win. ECB I thought never really showed much and were average at best – the fact that they won at the death with such a messy goal was disappointing and summed them up I thought. Great season from the ‘candy-stripers’, and they would’ve won with a bit more edge up front. Would think a new number 9 might be on the cards, but genuine finishers are, as they say in Manchester, “as rare as rocking horse shit”. So well done on the occasion and atmosphere. Birkenhead did themselves proud.

  3. I presume you will once again grace us with your presence at Olympic Park. Look forward to the report. To be honest, I have no preference as to who wins the title. Rather, Bay Olympic supporters want revenge for the 2-1 loss to Birkenhead earlier this year as we deserved at least a draw. Indeed, the visiting support may be surprised as to how we have changed things up during the season. One thing is that we are a good team at keeping possession. What we do with it is another question…..I am picking a draw.

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