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The long walk to football

Ranui Swanson 1, Waitemata 2
Starling Park, Auckland, March 29 2014

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“I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” – Nelson Mandela

The offseason is a long arduous struggle. It is hot. There are flies and mosquitoes buzzing around your head all the time. You sweat bucket loads simply by existing. But endure it we must. For at the end of that frightful journey, comes the ultimate reward. Yes, that’s right folks, it’s almost winter again and you know what that means  – NRFL IS BACK BABY! The first round of the Northern Regional Football League divisions 1 and 2 got underway today, along with the AFF/NFF Conference, and it sure was great to have so many games to choose from once again. For me there was only one option though.

Last year I started what I intended to become an annual tradition of using day one of the new season to pay my respects to the roots of football fandom by going on foot to support my local team. In 2013 that meant a gentle, flat, leisurely, ten minute  stroll across to Parrs Park and Oratia United. I have since made life more difficult for myself by buying a house in Swanson on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro…

Despite this minor lapse in judgement, and after briefly considering compromising slightly by taking my car, I resolved to suck it up, employ a good Sherpa, get myself a nice strong ice pick, make a pack lunch, and set out on the thirty minute trek, to embark upon the journey that tens of millions of fans around the world make every week – the walk to my nearest football ground to cheer for my local team. But instead of parading through the terraced houses of the UK with my fellow supporters, passing the ancient ruins of Italy, or enjoying  the colourful street scenes of Brazil, my journey was a uniquely New Zealand one. I headed through the lush farmland of Auckland’s Western fringe, to Starling Park and Ranui Swanson AFC, playing in the AFF/NFF Conference.

Upon my arrival, following CPR, defibrillation, adrenalin shot and subsequent relieving of the bar of about fifty gallons of their finest water, I was mightily impressed with the set-up here! They have wonderful facilities, the highlight of which is a brand new clubhouse with grandstand seating aimed in two directions – one at the number one traditional grass pitch and the other at a brand new artificial. The number one needs relaying pretty urgently but aside from that this is a very well set up club for one operating at Conference level.

The game was a local derby and it really showed. But it felt like more than that. You really got the feeling these two sides didn’t like each other very much at all. It was niggly and packed with tension. It started off with a hiss and a roar and both the pace of the game and the mood of the combatants was tough for the officials, who struggled to keep up. It’s a miracle there was not a sending off or six, let alone more bookings than the two we saw. It was pretty early in the game when the visitors, last season’s runners up, took the lead via Brent Mayhew, but it should have been 2-1 even at that point! The action had been end-to-end and shortly after a Ranui Swanson player missed an open net, Waitemata hit the bar. The furious pace wasn’t sustainable though and the game eventually settled down into the groove of a midfield slugfest. Just before the break, Jonathan O’Sullivan bludgeoned home an equaliser slightly against the run of play. The second half started off like a carbon copy of the first, fast and loose, with Jono Aalbers retaking the lead for Waitemata early on. But this time as the bodies tired with players on all sides sucking in oxygen and getting even more ill-tempered the more the clock ticked, it was Waitemata who continued to pile on the pressure and push towards extending their lead. They couldn’t do it though, and 2-1 was the final score.

Then came the real challenge of the day – my journey home. What goes down must come up…

Categories: NZ AFF/NFF Men's Conference

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

3 replies

  1. Thanks Nick! Have fixed. I’m gonna blame that one on whoever filled out the team card. If players want me to get their names right they need to make sure whoever fills out the card prints clearly and knows how to spell. 🙂

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