[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 Bruce Holloway
First, a mildly sceptical comment about the founding proposition of this series of columns: that folk like me absolutely love a particular club (Melville United in my case).
Could it be that perhaps we just love the broad concept of community clubs, and the sense of belonging and ownership they confer, as opposed to some intense personalised relationship with a particular incorporated society?
I pose the question because perhaps my club is not that distinct from numerous other football clubs with totally similar structures, operations and visions.
How weird would that appear to, say, a visitor from Mars, that folk like myself should end up at a club we profess our undying love for – while we should also occasionally engage in fierce and melodramatic rivalry with another club pretty much exactly the same a few kms down the road?
There is a certain perversity to it all if you look at it dispassionately. Through complete accidents of history or geography, we love one club and dislike another one which is pretty much the same.
Still, I suppose it makes a more succinct column commissioning title brief than “I vaguely kind of like this club, or others very much like it, and I’ve never really given it much thought”. (Though there’s an idea for a follow-up series, Enzo.)
Perhaps the fundamental challenge here is not dissimilar to one of those small-group seminar exercises, where punters are asked to introduce themselves without referring to occupations or what they actually do with their lives.
The challenge is to explain “who you are” instead of telling “what you do”. It is not so easy to focus on “being” instead of “doing”.
So, how would I identify or explain the Melville United club if I was to focus on “being” instead of “doing”?
What is it that Melville stands for in terms of its “being”? What is it that identifies us from other clubs? What best explains any sort of unique value system? Does Melville even have one?
What are the common essential qualities of a Melville club member? Are there any? And depending on your answer, is it then any surprise that so many players and members should come and go over the seasons?
What do we stand for as a club in terms of football, or life philosophies? What are our values? Do we stand for anything if we remove the crutch of talking about ourselves in terms of past achievements?
Indeed, could individual Melville members even say what they stand for in terms of club life, and, for that matter, what they want out of a club? In most cases I would argue “no”.
Of course the reality is that in football we are defined by our “doing”. Achievement on the park and on the balance sheet is how we keep score. The nature of our football activity is one that naturally favours “doing” over “being”, so it becomes naturally easier to talk about “accomplishment” rather that the essential culture of a club.
But I will tell you this. If there were two items on the agenda at a Melville committee meeting, where one item was an introspective reassessment of the club’s intrinsic values and principles – and a second, of whether we should have an extra towel in the dunny, it is the second item that would draw the big discussion.
And later we would pat ourselves on the back and admire our pragmatic approach with the new towel.
Still, rabbitty philosophic waffle is not what you came here to read about is it? You really just want a quick summary of the “doings” of Melville through the prism of my own accidents of history.
Well, the great thing about being a football fan in New Zealand is that, here at the final frontier, it is still a pretty democratic business at club level (not so much at federation and national level where they actually went to great lengths to de-democratise and STOP everybody having a say back in 1999). Turn up as a mad keen fan at any club and chances are within a few months you will be running the place if you have got the energy and the inclination.
The truth is, I didn’t particularly care that much for “Melville” before 1996. I was a fan (and occasional administrator) of Waikato United, a club formed by Hamilton AFC and Claudelands Rovers in 1988 specifically to contest the national league.
But under Soccer New Zealand (as it was then called) chief executive Bill MacGowan’s prescription for the original 1996 summer league, the teams to retain this status were required to be big broad-based clubs with juniors, youth, women… pretty much the exact opposite of the criteria when the summer league was reincarnated in 2004.
It meant the only way Waikato United could continue as a flagship team was through amalgamating with another club – which was another thing head office was very keen on. Parallel with this of course was the undeniable fact that Waikato United had been struggling financially after five seasons without a significant major sponsor and playing at the highest level. By contrast northern leaguers Melville AFC – the 1995 premier league champions – lived within their means, and had shown admirable ambition on and off the field.
So in 1996 near neighbours Waikato United and Melville AFC tied the knot, forming Melville United AFC, and supporters such as me were part of the package. It was under this name that the new entity contested the summer national league in 1996-97 and 1997-98.
Waikato United amalgamated with Hamilton AFC – which had itself been formed in 1964 by the merger of Technical Old Boys and Wanderers (though disaffected elements later broke away and formed what is now Wanderers Sports Club).
Among the combined honours from the Hamilton and Technical eras were Northern League winners (1972, 1976, 1979, 1984 and 1987), Air New Zealand Cup Winners 1976 and Chatham Cup Winners (1962, 1988, semi-finalists 1970 and runners-up 1992. Today the honours board, displaying this lineage, resides in the Gower Park clubrooms.
So today Melville United can trace its roots to all the major club football achievements in Hamilton over the past 50 years.
Meanwhile Melville’s Gower Park home was named after Dr George William Gower (1887-1974), an early member of the Hamilton Domain Board and a prominent surgeon at nearby Waikato Hospital, and for many years Gower Park stood as a swamp with little amenity value for recreational activities due to the composition of its soil (deep peat) and movement of the earth.
But after Melville AFC established themselves at Gower Park in 1981, a slow transformation began from what historically has been described as “a wasteland” to the park it is today.
Melville, which had previously used Te Anau Park in Glenview as its home field, initially sought council permission to build clubrooms on Gower Park, however regulations did not permit additional buildings on the park at the time (due to it exceeding the building/land ratio). Undaunted, the Melville committee purchase a section on the south-western corner of the park on Kahikatea Drive, where Lockwood clubrooms were built, from which the club operated for six years.
Finally residency was allowed on Gower Park, with the club construction of the main entrance off Allison Street.
This was a hugely costly exercise for the club, however it was considered beneficial for long-term growth, and over the past 30 years Melville United have slowly civilised Gower Park with volunteer labour, in partnership with Hamilton City Council.
This has included building the clubrooms, installing billboard advertising to ensure financial sustainability, erecting spectator seating for 250, and working on planting and hedging.
A public address system, construction of a crowd barrier fence around the No 1 pitch, and over 120 metres of cobblestone paving have also been added by club members.
In 2011 work was completed on a $250,000 floodlighting project, in which Melville purchased a job lot from Eden Park, and erected 56 1500 watt lights covering 2.5 pitches at the eastern end of Gower Park.
In 2012 coaching dugouts were upgraded to now be among the best in the country – featuring fold-down seats once again acquired from Eden Park.
At present the No 1 pitch is in the final throes of renovation in preparation to be a training venue of the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup. Meanwhile planning has begun for a major clubrooms upgrade (building above the current footprint).
The long-term strategy is to re-develop our clubroom facility, and broaden the base, establishing Gower Park as the (multi-use) Melville Regional Sports and Community Centre, in consultation with other prospective community users.
There are seven full-sized pitches at Gower Park, with scope for a number of various-sized junior pitches.
Every year Melville United invests in facilities development to improve the value of the park for both aesthetic and functional value and the club is committed to developing the venue into one of the best football facilities in New Zealand.
So there is plenty to be proud of at Melville.
In 2003 Melville United finished runners-up in the Chatham Cup, and were duly named as Waikato Club team of the Year by Sport Waikato, the first time this award has been won by football.
In 2009, Melville won the northern premier league title, capping a landmark year in which we also completed installation of terraced seating at Gower Park and finalised clubrooms kitchen refurbishment. A new scoreboard was erected at the north-eastern end of the No 1 pitch. Melville United was duly named as Waikato Club Team of the Year across all sports, and was a finalist for the Club of the Year award.
In 2012 Tyler Boyd became the first player from Melville ranks to earn a professional contract. Last year Ryan Thomas became the second.
These days Melville annually hosts secondary school tournaments – including the newly inaugurated Russell Trophy for Year 9 boys teams in July – the ethnic tournament, Masters Games, and Sunday League finals,
Despite ongoing facility improvements, we are completely debt free and our balance sheet boasts assets (at cost) close to $1m. We operate our facilities 12 months a year with football schools and business house 6-a-side tournaments over summer.
Melville has a stable executive committee, most of whom have served 10 years or more, and a strong base of loyal sponsors who have ensured the financial sustainability of the club.
But most of all, Melville is a family club, built on the likes of the Owens, Timings, Noorland and Williams clans, where there have often been several generations and many decades of involvement.
Then there are relative newcomers, such as myself.
Though I had hung around the club over the years, and had two sons play for Melville, I never formally joined until mid-2004. Within three months I found myself as chairman, at a time when the club was at its lowest ebb, facing relegation from the northern premier league – Melville’s first backward step since formation – and badly in need of regeneration on all fronts.
You will appreciate my reservations about assuming the leadership of a club that would so readily allow a newcomer take the chairmanship, but with a bit of bump and grind and the odd bout of polemics, things have generally worked out.
Behind closed doors we still occasionally have robust debates at management committee level. In my view the big administrative challenge in a football club is not so much finding agreement – but learning how to disagree maturely, without it becoming debilitating.
If there is one thing I always stress, it is that in the realm of ideas, just as on the pitch, we need to play the ball, not the man. And I like to privately console myself that even when I lose votes numerically – as I often do – that I still win in terms of possessing the more progressive ideas. My colleagues would no doubt disagree, but at least do so diplomatically.
My “love” of Melville is not uncritical.
I think we are slightly too tribal at times in protecting the facilities we have worked hard to create, when there is a wider good to football that could be addressed. For example, the notion that recreational-level Melville teams – as club members – should take preference over floodlight hireage to a national league entity for spring training makes sense in terms of membership privileges – but is weirdly incongruous in terms of a holistic view of the game. (i.e. If the national league club wore a Melville badge the priority would be reversed.)
Indeed, I think we haven’t quite got it right in general with our relationship to the national league, and we should have had a far more significant influence on the progression of the game at this level (though I accept I am in a Melville minority in saying so).
I would also prefer to see Melville as a club of a new type, with far more of our membership coming from supporters – where their prime relationship to the club is one where they buy in as fans – as opposed to recreational-level players who simply turn up with their boots every weekend.
It also occasionally rankles that my club has created a narrative whereby it dates its origins to 1972 (the Melville AFC side of the ’96 merger). It disappoints me that there is not a wider appreciation that – through its family tree – Melville United could actually trace its roots back to 1913.
But those are small quibbles. Being part of a club like Melville becomes a never-ending story. You grow to care about the characters, the place, and the common good.
This is my 10th consecutive season as chairman. That’s probably too long.
People get stale, relationships wane. Leadership regularly needs a freshen up. Somebody new at the helm brings new ideas, new energy, new methods of work.
But “love” – that is a far more abstract quality, and it seldom dies a natural death. My scepticism at the beginning of this essay is perhaps unwarranted.
I love this club.
[To play for, get involved with, or find out more about Melville United, e-mail cordwainerbull at gmail dot com, visit www.melvilleunited.co.nz, follow them via www.twitter.com/MelvilleUnited or like them at www.facebook.com/pages/Melville-United-AFC!]
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/