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Guest Post – When football delivers a fairy tale ending…

Maria Anderton - Football Fern

Maria Anderton – Football Fern

By Josh Easby

No matter how closely you follow football, chances are you’ve not heard of Maria Anderton.

She’s just played her last season of competitive football, turning out for the last time for the Cambridge women’s team I coach in the Waikato A Division.

Being a modest type, she was happy enough to let her retirement pass with as little fuss as possible.

No chance.

I believe her achievements deserve to be shared with any young player, male or female, who wants to make the most of their time in football.

In the late 1970s, she kicked her first ball as a 10-year-old, becoming one of the first girls to play football in Gordonton, a rural town of a few hundred people on State Highway 1B in the Waikato.

Thirty five consecutive seasons later, and after an estimated 800+ games, she’s achieved everything possible in the local game.

She played representative football for Waikato at every level from U13, U14, U16, U19 and U21 to senior.

She played four internationals for New Zealand in the mid-1980s, scoring in her debut against Trinidad & Tobago, with other games against Brazil, Russia and Ghana.

In the first two decades of her career, she played for a string of Waikato clubs including Hamilton AFC, Western City and Waikato Unicol (for whom she played in the National Women’s Knockout Final).

A season of Sunday League with a men’s team saw in the new millennium and after a season with Te Awamutu, Maria arrived at Cambridge FC.

For the 12 seasons since, she led our women’s first team from midfield; an inspirational captain who set high standards on and off the pitch.

With so much achieved, there was only one glaring omission in her football story.

In more than 800 games, she never received a yellow or red card.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking she was a wimp – she wasn’t shy about challenging a ref’s decision or making a hard tackle. But her self-discipline, and sense of fair play, meant she never overstepped the mark.

I met Maria when I was appointed women’s coach three years ago and she was on the verge of retiring. I persuaded her to give it one more season … then another … and just one more this year.

She made it easy for me to coach the team.

No matter how wet or cold the conditions, Maria trained as hard as anyone. If I or any of the team slacked, she gently rebuked us. She wanted to win every game, and she expected the rest of us to want the same.

Even at 45, and with niggling injuries taking their toll, she made it clear she wouldn’t enjoy being subbed off – if a game was 90 minutes long, that’s how long she would give 100%.

Her popularity (and well-honed sense of humour) was matched by the respect earned from the younger players around her, and from our opponents.

As I watched the final season of her splendid career draw to an end, I felt a sense of dread.

Would a Sunday morning league game in Cambridge be a fitting end for such a fine player?

Thankfully, football has a way of finding fairy tale endings.

Our team played its way into the final of this year’s Waikato Women’s Cup, a game that would turn out to be the last competitive match of Maria’s career.

Our opponents were league champions Claudelands Rovers, a side unbeaten in 26 consecutive games, covering a period of 13 months, and winner of the Waikato Cup for the previous two years. In the opening game of 2014, they’d hammered us 9-1, our worst defeat in the three years I’d been with the team.

In the cup final, Maria tackled, passed and ran as if it was her first game of senior football not her last, urging her team mates to give their best. They played for her.

We won 2-1 and saw our skipper walk off a winner, 35 years after her football adventure started at a primary school in Gordonton.

For many of us, that was the real victory of the day.

Maria Anderton in action for Cambridge FC

Maria Anderton in action for Cambridge FC

Footnote: Since the cup final, Anderton has been awarded Cambridge FC’s Women’s Player of the Year (again) and presented with a Special Achievement Award from her club at the Cambridge Town Hall. The club’s committee has resolved that from next season, the women’s No. 10 shirt worn for so long by Anderton will have her name embroidered into its collar. The shirt will be reserved for players with the potential to reach the high standards of performance set by Anderton.

[Josh Easby has written about football for 40 years in New Zealand, through newspaper and magazine columns, books, match programmes, websites and since 1997, the daily email newsletter There’s Only One Arthur Bottom for fans of English League Two club York City (of which he is a former director). He coaches the women’s first team atCambridge FC (NZ) and is on the committee of supporter group Friends of Football. He supports York City, Cambridge FC and WaiBOP United.]

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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.

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