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Resisting the urge to call this ‘aim high’…

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Occasionally I get invited to attend and cover national age-group tournaments, but never before has accepting such invitations been terribly practical. So I’ve tended to pass. However, last week I was on some annual leave from work and in need of something useful to do… After the garden and household chores had been taken care of at a leisurely pace from Monday to Thursday, I had a day to spare on Friday which I decided to spend attending finals day of the week-long AIMS Games in Tauranga.

AIMS is the New Zealand Association of Intermediates and Middle Schooling, so this was a big national sports event for 11 and 12 year olds across a wide variety of sports. In the football section, 27 girls teams and 39 boys teams hailing from Whangarei in the North to Christchurch in the South lined up against each other, and there was even one international entry – Apii Avarua from Rarotonga.

I love watching kids play, and this was no exception. That pure joy you get on their faces that comes from a place of playing the game for no other reason than the sheer fun of it. That, and the week off school you can get out of it from time to time… Regardless, it really is a joy to witness the grin of a kid with the ball at their feet. You simply don’t see that in adults.

This tournament also clearly meant something extra to those participating. The first game I watched was the girls semi-final between Northcross Intermediate from Auckland’s North Shore and Tauranga’s Otumoetai Intermediate, and it was desperately close. Northcross led 1-0 at half time but an error from their goalie saw the ball spilled between her legs and into the goal in the second half, resulting in a deciding penalty shootout, won by the locals. The despair on that goalkeeper’s face was very real and you could see from that alone how much these kids desperately want to win.

As if the atmosphere needed adding to, the kids walked onto the pitch for both the girls and boys finals to the strains of the UEFA Champions League anthem! For the boys, it was Tauranga Boys versus Auckland’s Balmoral Intermediate. For the Girls, Otumoetai faced Palmerston North Intermediate. In both cases it appeared to be the visiting sides who enjoyed the benefits of the noisier cheer teams in attendance! Perhaps because visiting sides can’t go home until the bus leaves with the last team playing on it…

The two games overlapped, so I had to divide my time between them, therefore I can’t tell you much detail about either match, except I thought in the girls game Otumoetai looked the better of the two sides and deserved their win. On the boys side of the ledger I thought Tauranga looked technically better and they certainly looked to have more possession and clear chances, but Balmoral wanted it more and the hunger of the visitors won through in the end.

I’ve seen a lot of teams win trophies in my various travels, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team as happy to be crowned champions as Balmoral Intermediate were yesterday. They were just so overjoyed it almost brought a tear to my eye, and the way they were mobbed by their supporters invading the pitch when the full time whistle was blown, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the Champions League anthem at the start of the match was in no way misplaced!!

So all that remains is to say congratulations to Balmoral and Otumoetai Intermediate schools, worthy champions both. I didn’t see any trophies presented – there may or may not have been any, but what they will definitely have taken home will be much more greatly cherished anyway – happy memories that will last a lifetime!

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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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