[Welcome to ‘I Love This Club’, a series of guest posts on in-the-back-of-the.net exploring what makes grassroots New Zealand football people tick, through sharing their stories about why they love their clubs. 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. Previous episodes in the series can be found here.]
By Wilson Hawes
My journey in football began as a 7 year old when I ventured down to the famous rugby weigh in only to be turned away due to a serious genetic deficiency which was very hard to hide in the small working freezing works town of Waitara in the late 60’s……you see, my dad was a POM. This meant that I was told by the teacher in this very rugby and league orientated town that “that line over there is for you Wilson….” The soccer line.
Until that day I paid little interest or cared not a lot for this strange round ball code, my heroes were the senior side of the local Clifton Rugby Club and the superstars were those who were blessed to pull on the black and gold hoops of the mighty Taranaki, these were the days when provincial rugby and playing for your town, province and maybe the mighty All Blacks was every lads dream…..and this one’s as well, until the “soccer line” loomed so prominently in my life.
Football in Taranaki for me involved trips every weekend the 20km in to New Plymouth. Early games were typically double figure drubbings at the hands of our more experienced, flashy, city big neighbours. Then some magic happened in the form of one Charlie McAllister, he saw us kicking a ball around on our street, came out and played with us and ended up in our team. Charlie was one of those outrageously talented sporting freaks that you get from time to time. He later had a successful rugby career and eventually played professional league in the UK and is the father of All Black Luke McAllister. Now Charlie had pace, bravery and the unique ability to dribble the ball, with our tactic of “pass the ball to Charlie and walk back to half way” our football fortunes prospered and with it came our confidence and the rest of us started to play a bit of football too. In fact from time to time when we got the ball off Charlie, we became a pretty good unit. All things must come to an end and eventually it was discovered that the best youth Rugby player in Waitara was masquerading in the “poofs” game and he was dragged back to the oval ball, the rest of the boys had become a bit of a team and for me the die was set…..I had become a footballer for life.
A move from the Wairarapa in the mid 70’s saw me playing football in the Wairarapa College first eleven under the tutelage of the mad-pom English teacher Keith Sawyer. These were great years with the side winning the Wairarapa senior men’s competition and having a good run in the national secondary schools tournament. The local central league side in those days was Masterton for whom I played before heading off to University. That side had local legends, Henk Tromp, Robbie Hullena and Alistair Dornan playing for them. Allie in particular was to me (at this stage a skinny little 72kgs), this towering man Mountain of a central defender. I have never seen his better in the air. But not only was he a great header of the ball he had the unique ability to meet the ball perfectly with his forehead and in the same motion, flick his head back for that his combed-over locks would be perfectly in place when he landed on the ground….this was the 70’s after all
My footballing decline probably started with my move to University in Wellington in to study law. VUWAFC was a good Central league side and I started with a hiss and a roar there enjoying the football and the social life that Wellington offered. Having never had a serious injury before the old style of pre-season (running….running…running….) did not agree with me (or my shins) and three cracked ribs and a smashed collarbone in a pre-season friendly pretty much ended my footballing journey other than a few social games.
So like many I drifted away from the games as study, career, marriage and kids became more important. It wasn’t until the mid 90’s that I came back to the game when I was tempted by a client to give football a try again and discovered Fencibles United and the mighty Melchester Rovers. The over 30’s legends who have been a fixture at the club since before the amalgamation of Howick and Pakuranga. This side have battled on in the over thirties and now thirty fives with a solid core of lads like John Mallinson and the amazing Paul Kingston who had the notable delight of playing over 30’s football with his son…something that is not that uncommon at Fencibles. We had Stefan the giant Austrian with the intimidating bald head and silky skills. Bruce the Sandhurst educated ex Thai Special Forces officer. The mighty Ross Johnson a brick wall of a centre back, whose feet I never saw leave the ground in 5 years of playing alongside him. We had Freddie Demeer the cat-like moustachioed Belgian goalkeeper. The Shaw Brothers with their workmanlike attacking skills and the truckload of goals they scored each year. The legend Steve Flack, man of the match game after game, while playing (unbeknownst to him) with a 12 centimetre tumour in his chest……Now Stevie beat the cancer and after his all clear, he came straight back to football and the Melchesters subbing on scoring on his second touch!
So to me football is about a life spent in the company of fascinating people, sharing a love for the game whether playing, supporting, coaching or administrating. Now I dont for one minute believe that Fencibles is unique in this and I know that these sorts of stories will be repeated in club after club all over New Zealand….football for me is about the people you get to know and the enrichment that sharing a love for this game brings to us all. Multiply this across NZ and it is surely a force for good in this uncertain world.
[To play for, get involved with, or find out more about Fencibles United, e-mail secretary at fencibles dot org dot nz, chairman at fencibles dot org dot nz, or visit www.fencibles.org.nz]
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.