[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 Jason Heather
The Long Journey Home
Touchdown Auckland 2005! Although I’m a born and bred Englishman it was the obvious choice really, what with my wife being a South Auckland girl through and through. We met while she was on the famous Kiwi OE and she decided to stay in Blighty with me for five years (and even marry me!!), but after that my time was up; the Land of the Long white cloud was calling her home. So after a relatively successful footballing career in England, playing briefly for such semi pro league greats as Kingsbury FC and Harrow Borough, I decided to hang up my boots (and being a goalkeeper my gloves as well) and take the leap into a new life in God zone – it was either that or take out an ad in the local classifieds under the heading ‘lonely in London’.
When we had finally settled into our new life my thoughts turned again to the beautiful game. After obtaining a refereeing badge in the UK my first idea was to officiate – in my opinion so many players, retired and playing, are quick to bag the man in black but virtually none of them will actually pick up the whistle themselves – however, when I was told that my badge wasn’t recognized in the Oceania FA and if I wanted to referee I would have to start from scratch, that idea went out of the window. Then one day clearing out some things I came across the old size 11 Adidas ‘Copa Mondials’ and the size 8 Sondico ‘Classics’ looking somewhat dusty and neglected and I thought “why not?” A quick google search of my nearest local club led me to Papakura City FC; a quick email and an almost immediate and very friendly call from Bruce McGrath inviting me to training and the seed was sown.
My first training was a Thursday night and, although being quite rusty and older than the team I was training with, I felt instantly at ease with these guys – they were not your typical clicky teammates. After training I was invited into the clubhouse for a drink and when I walked in there must have been at least 100 people in there; when I asked one of my new friends what the occasion was he looked at me blankly and simply said “it’s training night”. At that point I knew I was sold.
From that moment on I immersed myself heart and soul into the club. A few years in the first team squad playing under the great Glenn Root and then, after a career ending shoulder injury at an embarrassingly old age, I didn’t just end things there. Joining the executive committee and managing the first team made sure I stayed involved to help build this club to where we thought it needed to be. It was at this point I decided that coaching was my calling but, after obtaining the basic badges to begin, there were no coaching spots available at the time. Discussions were had and it was agreed that I would have a hiatus from Papakura and I was generously offered a position at Waiuku AFC. As it turns out this was the best thing that could’ve happened to me AND Papakura and I’d personally like to thank Jim Evans for his help and guidance while I was a member of the Franklin outfit.
Two years later and Papakura are in trouble; relegation to the conference league and a coach walking out during pre-season. Obviously I put my hand up and was appointed head coach – not many clubs would’ve taken this leap with such a relatively inexperienced coach but they knew where my heart truly belonged (even if I didn’t know it myself sometimes) and handed me the reigns. A league title and a Counties Cup success later and we’re back where we belong. We’ve got our haters, you only have to read the anonymous posts on the Northern League Forum, and people who don’t believe we deserve to be promoted the way we were, but if you knew the work which has been done behind the scenes to achieve this you’d know it was like having to win the league all over again. These people bled blue and white to make sure we weren’t cheated, yes cheated, out of all the hard work my players put in during the season.
Many great players have come through this club. Some are still here coaching the juniors, others have moved on to other clubs, but you can bet if they started their football at Kura, they would say if asked (maybe quietly) that they were still Kura at heart. I now live in Ellerslie and have at least 4 very good clubs at least 10mins drive away, but I still remember that warm welcoming first training session, all the great memories, and the faith the club has shown in me over the years; so 4 times a week I make the drive south to do what I love doing at the club I love doing it at. We’re not always successful but we never stop fighting the good fight in the name of the club and the game. That’s why I love this club.
One more thing, and I’m not just speaking for Papakura. There are so many clubs with a 200+ membership but only a handful of volunteers trying to drive things forward; so if you truly love your club, remember the famous JFK line, “Ask not what your club can do for you but what you can do for your club!” See you during the season.
[To play for, get involved with, or find out more about Papakura City, e-mail admin at papakuracityfc dot org dot nz, or visit www.papakuracityfc.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.