‘Tis the season! Now that the 2013 winter leagues are all done and dusted, clubs up and down this fair nation of ours are holding their annual prizegiving celebrations literally as we speak. In clubrooms, restaurants, pubs and function centres in every town and suburb in New Zealand, cups are being presented, trophies are being awarded, and awful speeches are being given. All of this to recognise and reward the outstanding contributions thousands of players have made to hundreds of teams over the past few months.
This got me thinking. I asked myself: “Why not hand out some prizes of my own?” The answer came back loud and clear: “For numerous reasons.” It would be pointless, cringe worthy, hackneyed, and I don’t have a budget for engraving. But do you think I’m about to let any of that stop me? All the evidence of my previous blog posts would indicate not! So here it is, the first annual in-the-back-of-the.net prizegiving.
…and the awards go to:
Best sledging tweet – One of the joys of social media is when I arrive at a football ground to cover a game, the first greeting is not always in person. Sometimes it is an electronic message sent from wherever in the upper North Island I happen to be, up into space, through a couple of different satellites orbiting the Earth, into a server somewhere in the USA, then back the way it came all the way through to the suburban New Zealand sports field where I am standing. And it’s not usually a straightforward “hi, nice to see you”!
Best club on Twitter – While we’re on the subject of Twitter, how many first division football clubs in the big wide world would ever even contemplate tweeting something like this?
If you’re not following Melville United, you’re truly missing out. Honourable mention also goes to Waiuku AFC, who were one of the first Northern League clubs on Twitter and use it beautifully. They are famous for their signature #scoreswhenhewants hashtag, used liberally to describe star striker and cult hero Derek Sinclair.
Coolest kit – Also goes to Melville United, for their special one-off Chatham Cup kit. Very, very, very nice…
Best food – If the grappa imbibed espresso at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico could be classed as a food it would come close, but as long as that remains in liquid form, Mangere United’s homemade Fijian duck curry will be hard pressed to ever be defeated as the best thing I have eaten at a football ground.
Friendliest welcome – When I first started this blogging lark, I was a bit apprehensive about how people on the sidelines would view this weird guy who had never had anything to do with the game in the past turning up with a camera and writing bollocks. One look at the Northern League Forum is enough to fill you with dread about what sort of agro might be out there… But since then, I have continued to be amazed by how friendly and downright nice absolutely everyone associated with the game really is! The pinnacle this season was undoubtedly the ground announcer at Mangere United, who proclaimed my presence at the ground over the stadium PA just as I was stuffing my face with a fork-full of curry. This resulted in a slightly awkward wave to the crowd with rice and pieces of duck tumbling from my mouth in all directions! But it was very nice all the same – both the welcome and what was left of the curry.
Most excitement – This goes right back to before the start of the season. When Matamata Swifts pulled out of Northern Division 2, it left an opening that was filled by way of a three team play-off system. Claudelands Rovers played home and away legs against Te Atatu, then a one-off against last season’s relegated side, Papakura. And was it ever exciting??? Claudelands let a three goal lead slip back to 3-all in their home leg against Te Atatu, before going on to win 4-3. Then they conceded the first goal in the second leg and looked down and out, but despite that, went on to win 10-5 on aggregate! Then vs Papakura, they came back from 2-0 down at half time to equalise in second half injury time and take the win in extra time! It doesn’t get much more exciting than that.
Biggest yell – This award goes to the club that got me to yell the loudest, and it’s Claudelands Rovers again. I’m a passionate supporter and it doesn’t take much to get me yelling, but when they scored that second goal of theirs vs Papakura, I think I scared some goats in Azerbaijan!
Best crowd – Birkenhead United’s last home game vs East Coast Bays, when they only needed a point to win the league. Felt like Half the North Shore was there and I had to park in Glenfield. There was a fantastic vibe with vuvuzelas, painted faces and candy cane coloured shirts by the hundreds. Such a pity they didn’t get the result the supporters deserved.
Best picture – Tempting to award this to the Phoenix’s Michael Boxall for this stunner last weekend…
But really, I just wanted another chance to brag about that photograph. The summer season is just getting started and this prizegiving is for the winter season just ended, so here’s the real winner. Two people who I can’t name from Glen Eden United vs Drury United in the first round of the Chatham Cup. I especially love the rubber ‘dirt’ spray coming off the tackling player’s trailing boot…
Most interesting club – The way I decide which game to go to each weekend, is I look at all the draws the week before, and decide what looks interesting. I suppose that the club I have seen the most of, must therefore be the most interesting… I thought maybe there would be a danger of a tie in this category, as I am usually unlikely to want to see a club if I have already seen them play in the past little while, but despite this there was a clear winner, and that winner is Claudelands Rovers. I have seen Claudelands six times this season – twice in the Women’s Knockout Cup, three times in the promotion play-offs and once in Division 2. The next most interesting clubs are Birkenhead and Ngaruawahia at four times a piece.
Most photogenic player – When I photograph a game, I tend to take somewhere between 700 and 900 pictures. On average, 97.75% of them are complete and utter rubbish, leaving 18 presentable ones to go on the blog. I always hope that all the good ones are each of different players, but it more often than not works out that many of the usable pictures are all of one player or another. I don’t know what it is about some players that the camera loves, but they are somehow always in focus and doing something interesting, while with others all I seem to get is a series of blurs. Darious Kubuya of Claudelands Rovers is one of those players who often seems to be in every half decent photo I take. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s a skill, no mistake!
Best programme – Definitely Ellerslie AFC, head and shoulders above the rest. A very interesting read, lots of different content you don’t see anywhere else, and this has nothing to do with the fact that they got me to write a piece for one this season…
Muddiest shoes – This award goes to all the clubs in the Auckland region. A perfectly good pair of shoes were completely ruined traipsing around every swamp in the super city assessing the pitches for how they were holding up over the winter. The verdict? I developed a new-found respect and appreciation for Tiger Turf…
Best post-match interview – Midway through the season, I decided to start getting out of my comfort zone a little bit and start bowling up to people at full time to ask for an interview on camera. This was a daunting prospect at first, but now I’m pleased to say I have no shame left! This one was the highlight of the season by far, talking to a pleased as punch Ngaruawahia United club president after her team were promoted to the Premier Division…
Best cameo – Once I started doing interviews, a game seemed to emerge where players tried to outdo each other with the best video bomb! But there’s an old saying – you have to either do it first or do it best. This one at Waiuku AFC was the first and the best.
Honourable mention also goes to this one…
Best ground – It’s unique, probably in the world, with its little country feel, on a working farm, in the middle of Auckland’s sprawling metropolis, nestled up on a volcanic cone, near a Maori pa site, with panoramic views of the Manukau Harbour. Nowhere else stands much of a chance, really. Onehunga Mangere is a very, very special place. There are clubs with better facilities, pitches, atmospheres and resources to burn. But sometimes, there’s no substitute for a little thing called spirituality, and while I might be a staunch atheist, that’s what Mangere Domain has in spades.
Club of the year – The supreme award! Looking back through this post so far, it’s obvious that one club has scooped more prizes than any other, and so that makes this decision very easy. It would be a complete travesty, after the season they have had, across both their women’s and men’s first teams, if they were to not win this prize. The women made the semi-finals of the Women’s Knockout Cup and finished second in the Women’s Premier competition. The men, despite being written off by everyone, and having to come from behind twice in their campaign, were promoted to Division 2 where they were tipped to struggle. Instead, they managed 23 points and easily avoided relegation. Claudelands Rovers should be the club of the year. But they are not!
Because I get to make up the rules as I go along, I’m giving it to Birkenhead United. Because how many clubs get promoted to the top flight at the end of one season, then only miss out on the Premier Division crown the next because of goal difference? They also made the quarter finals of the Chatham Cup, it was their 50th anniversary year, they have a great squad of players, some of the best supporters and one of the best club atmospheres in the league. For all those reasons, Birko are my team of the year and I wish them every success for 2014 – and I can’t wait to see them, along with all the other Northern League clubs, in action again then!
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.