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Bay Olympic 2, Birkenhead United 2
Olympic Park, Auckland, August 31 2013

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My coverage of the 2013 New Zealand Northern Premier League started on March 2, at Crum Park Titirangi, with two clubs – Bay Olympic, and Birkenhead – and so it concludes, almost six months later to the day. Oh how things have changed. When the two sides met in that pre-season friendly it was master meets apprentice. Bay Olympic were defending back-to-back champions while Birko were freshly promoted from division 1. Today, the roles were almost completely reversed with Birkenhead needing a win to sensationally clinch the league in a season that Bay Olympic spent most of staving off relegation.

This was Birkenhead’s second and final chance to wrap up their maiden Northern Premier title in their 50th anniversary year, after they conceded in the final moments of last week’s game on home soil to pass up their opportunity to clinch it with a draw vs second placed East Coast Bays. Today it was a win or nothing. Defeat would hand the trophy to their noisy neighbours over at Bay City Park, and East Coast Bays players and fans were out in force today to cheer on their former biggest and fiercest rival. In my experience there has never been much love lost between Bays and Bay, but today proved once and for all the old adage that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’!

Last week I made no secret of the fact that I’d love to see Birko win this for the benefit of their awesome band of supporters, but sadly it wasn’t to be.

Bay Olympic started the stronger of the two sides and although Birko had their periods of pressure and enjoyed a handful of meaningful first half opportunities, it was the home side who bossed most of the opening 45. They achieved their reward prior to the break thanks to some messy goalkeeping from John Fletcher.

The visitors weren’t going to lie down though, and they stormed back into the match in the second half, starting with a penalty converted by Jack Hobson-McVeigh, and then a header from substitute Roussin Nkoy. The Nkoy goal prompted a massive cheer from the Birko faithful that wouldn’t have seemed out of place emanating from Eden Park during an All Black test! Their joy was short lived however, as moments after that tantalising glimpse of the title; it proved nothing but a mirage. Another bit of poor defending from the league hopefuls resulted in a soft goal conceded from a corner.

That was the ball game really. Two very preventable goals cost them the title. They had some notable chances to steal it at the death, one in particular that rattled the woodwork, but destiny was simply not on their side. When the final whistle went, Birko hearts were broken as East Coast Bays supporters spilled onto the pitch in celebration.

Sadly, there was a bit of ugliness after full-time when members of the Olympic and Birko coaching staff clashed. The players from both sides joined in to indulge in a bit of pushing and shoving and for a few moments it looked like we might have a bit of a brawl on our hands. I didn’t see any meaningful punches landed from where I was standing (quite close) but none the less it was a disappointing way for a great season to end.

Birkenhead must be devastated, but hopefully after a bit of reflection they will be in a position to celebrate what a wonderful season they have had. Second place is a truly remarkable achievement. They might well remember their disappointment when they missed out on promotion in 2011, after having led division 1 for most of that year. They followed that up in 2012 with an unbeaten season. If I was the rest of the 2014 Northern Premier League, I would be very, very afraid.

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Premier

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here:

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