[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 Jim Evans
In the year 2000, I purchased a block of land in Waiuku and made the trek from West Auckland down South. After settling in, the first thing I did was ring the football club so we could get to meet some people straight away whom most likely had the same passion about the sport. I had started my association with football in a small club called Green Bay Titirangi United, which later merged with Blockhouse Bay to become Bay Olympic. My first impression when I turned up to training at Massey Park was that this small club was very similar to that of GBTU and I was made to feel very welcome. GBTU was a great club. I played through the junior football grades and into senior football surrounded by a lot of good people. I got to learn the ins and outs of the operational aspects of how the club was run as my mum was on the committee for a long time as well as parents of players that I grew up with. From scoring my first goal at the age of 12 to the nights of senior club celebrations where the little clubroom rocked with the live sound of Graham Brazier, the experience has left me with a lot of good memories.
Therefore I gave my heart to Waiuku very quickly as there was a lot of similarities. In 2001, I was part of the playing team coached by Paul Brogan that won promotion into the Auckland Federation Division 1 as it was called back then (I think). In 2002, I was captain of the team, which was coached by Ward Jameson that managed to retain its place in the division and won the Counties Cup Final against Papakura’s third ranked senior team. The game was full of passion and dedication and that team won it for the club for the first time in 44 years. This success started to make me realise that this club had potential as it had the attitude and desire which small clubs need to get by. The coaches over that time period, Paul and Ward, had started to focus on bringing the younger players through. They both had different coaching talents and methods but both of them had done a very good job in introducing the up and coming youngsters through into the first team atmosphere.
I took up the coaching reigns in 2003. The club’s vision was to get to a level which would satisfy the younger players of Waiuku and give them the opportunity to experience Northern League Football. We continued to work on getting the talented Waiuku players who were playing in the city in better divisions back to the club. These players were living in Waiuku and over time we managed to do it. In 2006, the team got through a grading system and ended up in the Auckland Super Division. The club then won the Counties Cup and the newly introduced Tom McNab Cup. And in 2007, the team successfully got promoted to the Northern Leagues and again took out the Counties and Tom McNab Cups.
And the club has stayed in the Northern League since, which is truly no mean feat.
Waiuku AFC is a country club with little resources, in a town that has a population of approximately 6000 including the surrounding suburbs. It is a staunch rugby town with a successful team that has won the Counties Manukau title a number of times since I have been here but they also have a glutton of financial resources with a lot of the community in behind the green and reds. And this is where I can start to comfortably talk about my love for this club. Waiuku AFC has a heart about it. It is a club that battles against all the odds. Not only does it compete and beat bigger clubs regularly and finish in the top 6 of the NRFL2 division but it works hard behind the scenes to keep it going. It is building relationships with the community and the community has responded with more people starting to take note of the Blue Army. It gets very little support from the Councils or Federations (maybe we are just too far away or more likely too small) but it is amazing what happens when you combine a vision with a team of people who want to see it work.
The club continues to focus on youth and give their youngsters a chance, and really there is no choice with Waiuku being relatively isolated. Over my time, we have had an outstanding pool of loyal and experienced players that allow these young guys to prove themselves. If I go through my own list of captains over the years – Robert Thornton, Logan Drain, Cody Ralph, Jerry Hubbard, and Derek Sinclair have been very loyal to the cause as I know they can be playing higher grades. And there are others who give their loyalty to the club and mentor the young players.
To set the record straight, each first team player pays his fees and fines every year which is something that most likely doesn’t happen anywhere else. No one at Waiuku AFC receives a cent – it is all done for the love of the game and the club itself. We attract people because we are prepared to give players and coaches a chance which they may not get elsewhere. And they pay to play and therefore have a stake in our success or failure. People play on the pitch due to their performance at training or on a Saturday not because they get petrol money, a win bonus or a pair of boots. I remember having a conversation with a talented young player about coming to Waiuku a year or so ago and after sitting down with him for fifteen minutes he asked me if he could get the same bonuses as his current club. I said no and by the way I am going to ask you to pay your fees. After giving me one of the most surprised looks he said ok I will be at training tomorrow night.
But that is not all. We have first team players putting the programmes together. The first and reserve teams clean out their respective changing rooms (theirs and the team they play) they do the dishes after the meal and set the field, dugout and nets up before they play or they take them all down. All done as a team as no one is above anyone else in the club and we all pitch in to make it happen because that is what we do. The wives/girlfriends make the food in the kitchen which we pay for with a weekly meat raffle. We try to make Massey Park a hospitable place where people enjoy to come as we know how disappointing it is to go to any of the bigger clubs who do not put on any food for the visiting teams. We believe that being hospitable is part and parcel of today’s game.
I personally owe a lot to the club. It has shown faith in me since I started coaching and I am now in my 11th season with the first and reserve teams. The skills I have learnt with Waiuku AFC have put me in good stead for the business part of my life where I am an ambitious CEO bringing together larger groups of people. Man management, creating teams that align to a common goal, empowering people to make decisions and allowing them to empower others are all things I have learnt in football which I now apply on a regular basis in the corporate world. Waiuku AFC have given me the chance, as well as others, to build something which people believe is right. And now, for me personally, it is very satisfying to keep giving back to the community and the club after they have shown so much faith in me. I enjoy mentoring and keeping the younger players on the straight and narrow if I possibly can. There are so many negative influences in normal day to day life these days. Trying to help them focus on the right stuff and focus on the game.
Yes I know, at Waiuku AFC resources are scarce, but the tireless work and attitude of the people that ultimately make this club tick makes me very proud to be a part of. There, it turns out, are a lot of footballing people that think like myself and others at the club that the underdog can continue to succeed, that David can always give Goliath a good run for its money. I certainly enjoy being part of a network of people that go the extra mile to make these kinds of things happen. Some of these people will be friends for life.
I was going to say good luck Waiuku AFC, but we will make our own luck. That is why I love this club.
[To play for, get involved with, or find out more about Waiuku AFC, e-mail Waiukufootball at gmail dot com, visit www.facebook.com/WaiukuAFC, or follow them via the excellent www.twitter.com/WaiukuAFC!]
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.