[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 Paul Hobson
It’s 2003. The old ‘National Club Championship’ is in its death throes, despite the last ditch attempts at resuscitation following the ‘Superclub’ experiment, and I am nearing the end of my playing career in the North Shore United midfield. Birkenhead United, meanwhile, are in Division 2 of the Northern League, sporting lots of good players but zero youth. That’s when I got a call from Stu Weir, Club Captain and committee member of Birko at the time, asking me to come on a new adventure. I was so impressed with Stu’s vision that I came up the harbour from Devonport as a player, along with my son Jack who joined the 10th grade team. Fast-forward 11 years, and that vision that Stu won me over with is well and truly coming to fruition.
I quickly transitioned from playing to coaching. After working with little kids through to 15/16 year-olds initially, I’m now in my fourth year coaching the first team having brought them up from Division 2 right through to only missing out on the title last season due to goal difference. What makes me extremely proud is how the vast bulk of the group of players who worked so hard and earned this achievement have been with the club and with me as a coach right from the start of their development as junior footballers.
Stu’s dream (despite signing me!) was to invest in youth. To become a hotbed of player development and to create an atmosphere where kids not only wanted to play for the club, but become part of the fabric of the place and stick around for the long haul. Since those early days we have overhauled the place right from ages 5 and 6 and we are now seeing the benefits across the board. It is astonishing to look back and think how far the club has risen – from the midgets to the prems…
We want to be known as a club where we give young players a good football education in a fun environment. We have players who are first teamers who have played here since they were 5 years old, and they’re good players. People are here for the right reasons. They just like playing our brand of football, we don’t need to offer crazy amounts of money like others do, and this year’s first team squad will have eleven players under the age of 19 in it.
So many players have come up through our youth system in recent times to represent New Zealand in under 17s and 20s. And of course, the big success story, Bill Tuiloma is in the All Whites now and to have a player we have nurtured from such a young age come to footballing maturity at a huge European club like Olympique de Marseille is beyond satisfying. Bill always pops down to the club when he’s back in the country on a break and the kids follow him around like a film star.
For me, no club from what I’ve seen bonds the kids with the seniors the way we do. We make sure the first team interact with the juniors. It’s so special to see the young kids following the first team players around and having a real personal bond with them.
So many people have worked so hard behind the scenes here. Whole tribes of players and volunteers from multiple generations of many local clans are amongst the dynasties that make the place the family club that it is. But the person who I would love to win the Chatham Cup for most of all is Stu Weir. He got all this started and is now one of the club’s main sponsors via Kemps Weir Lawyers. If it wasn’t for Stu, I’m not sure where Birko would be now. He has always been there to talk to and he is, along with our current president Dave Newick who shares a similar philosophy, still positive and supportive of everything we do.
But one of the things I love most is the fact that nobody has ever rated us. There’s no better feeling than proving all your detractors wrong. And to be able to do it with a modus operandi that not only achieves success, but also leaves the game in a better state than we found it – that’s why I love Birkenhead United.
[To play for, get involved with, or find out more about Birkenhead United, e-mail dnewick at gmail dot com, or visit www.birkenheadunited.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.