[Welcome to the first post in ‘I Love This Club’, a new series of guest posts on in-the-back-of-the.net exploring what makes grassroots New Zealand football people tick. Over the coming weeks and months, players, volunteers, coaches, chairpeople, secretaries, others, and all of the above, will write about what makes their football clubs so great that they see fit to dedicate vast chunks of their lives to them. I can only hope that your enjoyment of it somehow matches a tiny fraction of their passion for the game we all love. If you would like to contribute to this series by writing about your special club, please e-mail me via casagiordani at orcon dot net dot nz.]
By Ella Reilly
I’ll never forget my first home game for Waiheke United. There’s a point to this wee anecdote, so bear with me for a moment. It was a 10th grade game, against one of the big Auckland clubs (although I can’t remember which). As is customary for Island games, we picked up the opposition from the ferry and took them to our home ground, Onetangi Sports Park, on the far side of the island. As we drove through Oneroa, Surfdale and Ostend, the kid we picked up acquired a puzzled look on his face. Apparently something was missing.
“You guys don’t have a McDonald’s here, do you?”
“Burger King? KFC? Pizza Hut?”
“Nope, none of them.”
He sank back into his seat, a little stunned. “Jeez. How do you guys survive?”
To answer his question, we hammered his team 6-0.
For those who haven’t yet picked up, or are simply unfamiliar with Auckland’s geography, Waiheke United AFC is a football club based on Waiheke Island. We’re a fairly small club, based in a fairly small community – Waiheke’s population is approximately 8000 permanent residents and our club has around 250 members. Our members range from the littlies learning their trade in First Kicks and Fun Football right through to Senior Men’s and Senior Women’s teams; from kids who have made Federation Talent Centres to those just wanting a kick about with their pals on a Saturday afternoon. In short, despite our size, we’re enabling people across the footballing experience spectrum (this exists, right? No? Well, it does now) to learn and play the beautiful game.
It’s because of things like these I love Waiheke United. Having played for the club since I was nine, I’ve seen (and experienced) the club growing and changing. Cosmetic things like actually having club jackets (for the juniors) and new, matching kits for the season (when I started playing, my 10th grade team wore shirts made of old, heavy material, with sponsors on the front that had long ceased to exist, let alone support the club in any way); logical things like getting AFF to adjust the fixtures so all of our kids are playing their home games on the same Saturday (as opposed to the previously haphazard arrangement of a few teams away, a few at home and no real club atmosphere at the Onetangi Sports Park) and practical things like actually having clubrooms – a place for the club to call home. Granted, there aren’t quite enough Nottingham Forest shirts hanging on the walls to my taste, but I like to think it’s a work in progress. And it would be seriously remiss of me not to mention that we’ve got one of the best playing surfaces in Auckland in the Onetangi Sports Park, with the pitches sand carpeted and well drained; ready for whatever Auckland’s weather gods care to throw at it.
This is not to say that being a small, relatively isolated club doesn’t have its drawbacks (although knowing your players live a ferry ride away from the nearest fast food outlet isn’t one of them, regardless of what the town-based opposition might think). Having joined the Committee a year ago as the club’s secretary, these have become more apparent to me than they were as when I was a player. There’s always the need for a few extra pairs of hands (but then, this is a condition typical of any organisation run off the love, sweat and tears of volunteers). When it comes to organising teams at the start of the season, youth teams need to constantly be reshuffled as they progress through the different levels of the game; from 7-aside to 9-aside and finally to 11-aside – but with limited prospective players (i.e. the Island as a whole), it’s easier said than done.
At the end of the day though, we’re a solid little club. Registrations for this season so far are looking good, the Seniors are training already (Goddam those hill runs. And the hurdles. Whoever invented ‘overs and unders’ deserves a right telling off), and we’ve already had our first few club events of the year – members of the Wellington Phoenix visited the club for mini-games with the kids last week, and a 60-strong contingent from Waiheke went to Eden Park to watch the Adelaide match on Saturday night.
Waiheke United: I love this club.
[To play for, get involved with, or find out more about Waiheke United, e-mail secretary at waihekeunited dot org dot nz or visit www.facebook.com/WaihekeUnitedAfc]
Categories: I Love This Club
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.