My third season covering local club football is over, bar a few catch-up games on the Women’s Premier side of things, and at last we know who the champions are, who is going up and who is going down. After all that fun-filled excitement, I’m here to tell you that this never gets old. There are always thrills and spills and lovely little stories to tell from the quaint little meadows (bogs) of the upper North Island football scene. All that remains now is to wrap things up before we transition into the summer scene.
Around this time last year I did this via a mock prize-giving, but this year I thought instead I’d be a little more self indulgent in the way I go about taking you down memory lane.
I got into blogging because I wanted to write, but after doing it for a while it’s now a tossup whether I am more fond of the writing or the photography side of things. It’s hard to do both well because if you are putting the necessary concentration into taking good photos, you aren’t really focused enough on what is happening in the match. I’ve tried to be a bit balanced with where my attention goes but with varying degrees of success… The equilibrium I seem to have reached is that at every game I usually get at least one photo I am quite chuffed with.
Here follows an example from each NRFL game I attended this season with a bit of unintelligent commentary to go alongside.
My first fixture for the year was the now traditional walk to my nearest club and back. This means it was not strictly NRFL, but an AFF/NFF Conference game instead. The winner of this league is promoted to NRFL Division 2 though, so I’m still calling it relevant! The main thing I remember about this derby clash between my local Ranui Swanson outfit and their fierce rivals Waitemata was it was brutal! This photo sums it up quite well. The look on Jonothan O’Sullivan’s face as he hurtles towards Patrick Anderson says it all really!!
Second cab off the rank was another feisty wee encounter, this time a little further afield at McFetridge Park, where two title contenders went head to head in the first match of the Men’s Premier season. It was decided by a tackle that resulted in a red card and a penalty in favour of the home team. This photo of Jordan Shaw admiring his handiwork on Michaeil Gwyther is a little more tender than the last one but still tells something of a story. I like the small flecks of grass you can see sprayed up by the players hitting the deck that tell you it’s not quite winter yet.
First Women’s Premier game of the year, and you can tell that this photo is one of my absolute favourites because it’s currently the desktop wallpaper on my laptop. I love all the things going on here. Tayla O’Brien, one of my favourite players I don’t mind telling you, firing a cross away while Daisy Cleverley takes off in pusuit. A Claudelands player coming in for the attempted block and the rest of the chasing pack looking on. A good picture speaks a thousand words. That was only 41 but that’s only because I’m leaving it there due to space constraints.
Another one from the same game. The beauty of this shot is it really illustrates the impressiveness of Briar Palmer this season. She stood out for me as totally dominant in the games I saw her play. Here’s why. Those two Claudelands players had her totally trapped in against the sideline with nowhere to go just nanoseconds before this shot was taken. Now here they are clutching at thin air. How did she do it? Witchcraft is the only explanation I can offer.
The second Women’s Prem game I attended this year was yet another clash of the titans with Eastern Suburbs taking on Three Kings United in Kohimarama. But this contest between these two great powerhouses of the women’s game was marred by a season ending injury to Emily Stotter. This shot doesn’t really have any meaning with regards to the game, a 2-0 victory to the home side, but I include it because the subtle little shirt-pull by Belinda Van Noorden on Harriet Steele just tickles my fancy somewhat.
Two things stand out most about my first Division 1 game of 2014, a battle between Metro and Hibiscus Coast. The first is the big storm we had the night before that uprooted a tree at Phyllis Street. The other is the stormy relationships on display from some of the Metro players amongst themselves! It wasn’t the most cohesive looking unit and I suspected that had something to do with their 6-1 drubbing. This shot depicts one of the many Hibiscus Coast attacking chances that didn’t find the back of the net as Dave Self saves an effort with Trent Hayes flying spectacularly overhead.
One of my favourite outings of the year was undoubtedly my trip to Allen Hill for North Shore United vs Eastern Suburbs in Division 1, not because of the football on display, but because of the company. My brother Nando was there to enjoy the game with me along with Haru and Michi, a new generation of footballaholics. This shot of Haru during the break illustrates the sort of form that marks her out as having a bright future in the game ahead of her!
Next up, Ngaruawahia, Ngaruawahia, Ngaruawahia… Really, I just enjoy spelling Ngaruawahia so much that I wanted to do it three times. But also, they had a really rough year. Nothing went their way sadly and the net result of that was relegation. As everyone knows I have a real soft spot for the Green Machine so that was rather sad on a personal level. This game at Fred Taylor Park was a critical one against fellow strugglers. They really needed all three points but despite trying their guts out they couldn’t do it. I like this shot of captain Ben Latham because that struggle is written all over his face here. The result was a hard fought and unlucky 2-1 defeat, and that pretty well sums up their season.
Onwards to Division 2 and Oratia, where they had a clash with surprise packets of the whole NRFL – Waiuku! The boys in blue won a promotion at the end of the competition that had a rare quality of being universally celebrated as a win for the good guys. And when you talk about Waiuku, you can’t do so without mentioning talismanic forward Derek Sinclair. Here he is doing what exactly I’m not entirely sure, but who cares? The man’s a legend.
Into May and back to Women’s Premier. This match at Riverhills was the Katie Rood show, as many a Glenfield Rovers game is. The golden girl knocked in a hat-trick to seal a victory against Fencibles United that would keep the pressure on the competition leaders for the time being. It was the cup where Rovers got all their glory from though of course, stealing a major upset to take Forrest Hill Milford down and deny them their league/cup double. Fencibles finished well down the ladder, a point reinforced by this shot of Katie Jackson leaving them in her dust.
Taken at Bay of Plenty vs Papatoetoe at Gordon Spratt Reserve, always a happy hunting ground for me in terms of taking good photos, this is another one of my favourites of the year. I suspect you might be seeing a bit more of this shot in 2015. For now however, suffice to say it is of Papatoetoe’s Sarah Broadbent taking off from BOP’s Shania Heath. BOP have come ahead in leaps and bounds since I first saw them play and it was pleasing to witness their competitiveness in this game.
There isn’t much better in the realm of football photography than capturing the perfect header. Not suggesting this shot taken at Waiuku vs Warkworth is it for a moment, but it’s not too bad. The thing about header photos is you never know what kind of facials you are going to get…
This was a biggie. A sort of grudge match between the two teams that finished 2013 level on points at the top of the Premier Division table. It was East Coast Bays that won the league on goal difference after Birkenhead stumbled in their last match of the season at Bay Olympic. Bays players and managment were on hand that day and there were some ugly scenes after the game. So there is no love lost. On this occasion, it was another defining moment for Birkenhead in a bad way. The 2-1 loss was probably when any hopes of going one better than last season disappeared over the horizon. The photo shows East Coast Bays celebrating their winner. Methinks they fully understand its implications.
Ellerslie vs Mangere United in the race to get promoted out of Division 1, and it’s here that I confronted my greatest photography demon – shooting night games. I really struggle with it and here’s a great example of why – poor light and moving subjects are a bad combination. Sometimes the results look kind of cool like this one does, and sometimes they are a bit like Ellerslie was in this game – a model of a missed opportunity.
It was a late decision to attend Hibiscus Coast vs Melville, so much so that by the time I got my arse into gear it was 15 minutes in. But it didn’t matter, I still got to see some great action including some top goals, spectacular saves, and a midwinter dip into Stanmore Bay! But what really stood out was the gravity of this win by Melville. Not only did it set them on the path to promotion while as it turned out mortally wounding the same ambitions of their opponents, but it also proved that I am not a jinx afterall when it comes to Waikato football teams! And speaking of luck, I was also able to grab this great shot of an unusual pose as Hibiscus Coast Romanista Zane Olla competes with Daniel Finlay… The look on Finlay’s face alone is worth the price of admission! (Like all NRFL it was free to get in)
And on we go to the big title clincher. Glenfield Rovers defeating East Coast Bays 6-3 to grab the Northern Regional Football League Premier title in their first season back in the top flight. An almighty achievement. Hard to choose a photograph to feature from this game as one feels it should really be something with a trophy in it to convey a sense of achievement for the black and golds, but I simply can’t go past this tackle from Joe Breshnahan on Allan Pearce. How could you? There’s something about McFetridge Park and turf flying.
What can you say about Papakura vs Fencibles apart from reiterating the fact that football is such a cruel game sometimes. Kura deserved to go up, they were good enough to go up, but on the day they choked. This photo kind of sums it up. Harry Hillary-Jenkins looks like a ballerina balanced on the tips of his toes and at full stretch getting his foot to the ball, exerting every last ounce of effort just for one touch, while Peter Jones simply does all that’s required, getting his body in the way to relatively effortlessly stymie the attack. That’s football sometimes.
And finally, the culmination of my NRFL season with the camera – Melville United beating the odds and gaining promotion back into the Premier Division. Once again, this photo is not of the frolicking aftermath, it’s just one from during the game that due to its atmosphere I happen to be rather taken with. A perfect note to end on because it’s a perfect metaphor for my feelings towards NRFL.
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.