Newmarket Park was the home of New Zealand Football between 1964 and 1979. Inaugurated well before I was born and destroyed by a landslide when I was just three years old, I had never set foot on the hallowed ground before, yet I have been moved by the passion with which people reminisce about the old place. So on Sunday morning I took my camera and went and had a look.
It was quite something. Even now, with little outwardly apparent to suggest its former life, the sense of history for a football lover is palpable in the natural amphitheatre. And what’s more, you don’t have to venture too far into the undergrowth to discover bits and pieces of what might easily be evidence of the park’s even more distant past as an old rubbish tip or, as I much prefer to imagine them, relics of our football history. What sprigged boots of players past, or young feet of children clutching their parents’ hands as they ascended the terrace steps, might have walked over the fragments of concrete? What hands may have gripped the steel piping arising from the ground that might be old plumbing from something entirely unrelated, or might be remnants of pitch-side handrails?
Of course this was in, and of, itself an unsatisfying exercise. So to get more of a sense of what it might have been like in its heyday, I went online looking for old pictures. But, most disappointingly, I found very little for such an iconic place in the history of our game. I thought therefore it might be worth remedying that sad state of affairs. So I wrote to Dave Barker, a photographer who attended National League games there in the 1970’s and asked if he had anything I could share with you. To my delight he immediately and most generously replied with 18 wonderful atmospheric black and white shots.
I planned to write a bit of a fluff piece to go along with all the photos. By way of research I wrote to a few people to ask for their favourite memories. What I got back was much more than I bargained for. Most intriguing was a scanned copy of a Sitter! article from August 2001 by Don Service supplied by Bruce Holloway. After reading it I realised I didn’t want to write very much on this subject anymore. Don has said it all so much better and more fully than I could, so by kind permission I have reproduced his piece below in full, followed by a selection of memories from other New Zealand football identities. I will add to these as, and if, more come in. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
When Blanford Park, the 40-year-old headquarters of the Auckland Football Association, had to be abandoned early in the 1964 season because of motorway development in Grafton Gully, Bob Clark, the newly appointed secretary-manager of the association handed out a leaflet to each of the thousand or so spectators there on the last day. It told us of the new headquarters at Newmarket Park under the headline “A Great New Chapter in Sporting History”. This sounded a bit grandiose at the time, and yet in its brief 15-year history Newmarket Park probably saw more international games and more floodlit games than any other ground in any city or any code. It also saw the first Chatham Cup final ever played in Auckland and the inauguration of the ground-breaking Rothman’s National League, both in 1970.
Clark, the first full-time paid employee of the AFA, worked long hours and did a ton of work in his 10 years as secretary-manager. But he was inclined to get carried away at times, and it was quite amusing once when the Cup was being presented on field, to see him dodging from side to side in front of an encroaching crowd trying to keep them back on his own.
There had been much discussion over whether the code should go to Western Springs Stadium or Newmarket. Western Springs could hold more people, but at Newmarket the crowd was much closer to the field, and the old Newmarket Borough Council, who owned the ground, were very helpful. The name Newmarket Park was only invented when soccer went there. Before that it was known as Olympic Stadium, and even before that as Sarawai Park. Like Western Springs, it was built with the aid of relief workers during the depression. It had been used for speedway events and athletics, although it was hard to see how the ground could have been wide enough. Some of Murray Halberg’s earliest big races took place there.
Although they only stretched along four-fifths of the sideline, the concrete terraces were an impressive sight. There were 42 rows. At the top you were at a considerable height, but got a good bird’s eye view of the field, and if the play got a bit boring, there was a good view of Hobson Bay on the left, sweeping around to Mt Hobson and beyond on the right. There used to be pleasant greenery alongside the terraces at each end, but being comprised of exotics like wattle, gorse and privet, this wasn’t considered politically correct by the Newmarket Council, and was later cleared, leaving a desert of bare earth in its place.
By opening day a grandstand with eight or nine rows was in place behind the goalposts at the northern or Ayr St end. The Eastern Stand, with six rows along the sideline, was opened in the late 60s, financed to a large extent by the profit from the game at Carlaw Park in 1967, when 26,000 saw Manchester United beat Auckland 8-1. In the mid-70s part of the terraces was roofed over, and by that time the seating, both covered and uncovered, wasn’t that far short of Carlaw Park. The park was officially opened on Saturday afternoon, May 30 1964, when Munster (Germany) beat Auckland 4-2. Then on the Monday (Queen’s Birthday) the visitors beat New Zealand 6-0. There was much criticism of the late selection and assembly of the New Zealand team.
Then followed an almost incredible number of overseas teams, with many of them playing only in Auckland and not further south. One or two teams may easily have been missed in the following list, but we saw from Britain (in alphabetical order): Aberdeen, Bobby Charllon’s All Star XI (drew 1-1 with Auckland in 1977), Bournemouth, Bristol Rovers, Cardiff City, Dundee (1972 and 1978), (Glasgow) Rangers, Heart of Midlothian, Luton Town, Manchester United (again they beat Auckland 2-0 In 1975), Middlesbrough, Norwich City, Scotland FA XI, Stoke City (Auckland beat them 3-1 in 1973), Sunderland, Tottenham, Wales FA XI and Wolves.
The visitors won most of these games comfortably, although New Zealand beat Luton Town 3-2 in 1977, only to lose to them by the same score the next day in Wellington. A talking point from this game was the goal from a cracking long-distance drive by Auckland’s Warren Fleet. The crowd was possibly the Newmarket record, given by one of the papers as 14,000.
In 1976 I missed one of the most memorable games, when (quoting from the AFA history) “the Aucklanders led the mighty Spurs 3-2 with just five minutes to play… goals from Nelson, Taylor, and lain Ormond. The effort told in the end, and as they flagged, the visitors struck three times to snatch a dramatic 5-3 victory which was talked about for years”. Australia played four tests at Newmarket Park, the last one in 1979 when New Zealand won 1-0, thanks to Duncan Ormond’s second-half goal.
In 1977 NZ beat Taiwan 6-0 (My first All Whites match attendance – Ed) and 6-0 again, four days later at the park, Keith Nelson getting five goals altogether. A 1966 game saw Sing Tao (Hong Kong) beat New Zealand U23 8-6 (4-4 at half time). Auckland’s worst nightmare was In January 1967 when Sparta Prague beat them 12-1. The visitors’ finishing power that night seemed fearsome; every chance or half chance was converted into a goal. Yet later that year Auckland drew 2-2 with another Czech team, Slavia Prague.
New Zealand won the Oceania Tourney In 1973, beating Fiji, Tahiti, New Caledonia and New Hebrides, and Tahiti again in the final (Australia didn’t enter). The crowds weren’t big. One newspaper said the aggregate for the tournament was 40,000, and this was repeated on TV, but this was probably a misprint for 14,000. Four New Caledonian teams came, and in 1968 they beat New Zealand 3-1; their only test win in this country. And yet between 1951 and 1979 they beat us nine times up in Noumea. Why do we never seem to play New Caledonia now? In the 1968 game the New Zealand captain was Dave Wallace of Wellington and one of the selectors was Dave Wallace of Auckland. In 1977 New Zealand won two tests at the Park against New Caledonia, 3-0 and 4-0. The second one was abandoned by the ref, after only about 25 minutes because of brawling conduct by the visitors. But seeing the goals were coming so freely, I thought it was a pity he didn’t let play continue (And let’s not forget how the crowd loved a good brawl, Don – Ed). Other exciting wins for the locals were Auckland’s 3-2 triumph over Dallas Tornado In 1967, 3-2 v Zurich in 1970, and NZ 2 China 1 in 1975.
Other teams not mentioned above who played at the park were Young Follows of Zurich, Sloven Bratislava, North Berlin (three visits), Radnicki FC (Yugoslavia), Iran, Jardines (Hong Kong), Selango (Malaysia) and Indonesian XI, Tonga, and about five state or club sides from Australia.
The Rothman’s national league, starting in 1970, was Immediately successful in increasing crowds and getting greater media attention, especially as Blockhouse Bay won the league and cup double. The Grammar Rugby Club, next door In Ayr St must have made quite a packet charging soccer spectators for the use of their parking area. Eastern Suburbs, North Shore and Mt Wellington (three times) won the league for Auckland in the 70s. The standard was high, the pace not quite so frantic as now. Crowds for league games were often 3000-5000 in the first half of the decade, even 10,000 for a crucial late-season game between Eastern Suburbs and Mt Wellington in 1971. By scoring three goals against Mt Albert Ponsonby at the park in 1971, John Wrathall of Suburbs, by then a veteran player, achieved his feat of scoring 1000 goals in all grades of soccer (See, it pays to have your dad keep count, kids – Ed).
Five Chatham Cup finals were played at the park, but with this fixture always televised live, the crowd was never above 6000-7000. The final of 1975 was a classic for skill and entertainment. Blockhouse Bay, the underdogs, scored twice in the first 10 minutes through Mike Farac and Colin Shaw to set up a real struggle, with Christchurch City eventually winning 4-2 in extra time.
During the night of July 2, 1979, after prolonged rain, about one third of ‘the Eastern Stand’, and the adjoining corner of the field, collapsed into the steep gully behind. Restoration would have cost at least $500,000, but even so, it was disappointing that the AFA abandoned this popular venue. Rugby offered Eden Park for the Chatham Cup final. There was a lot of publicity and sympathy for the code at the time, and with two Auckland teams involved, there could have been a big crowd. Instead, for reasons that are hard to fathom, the game was sent to a little-known ground in Papakura.
Today the place is still called Newmarket Park, but no trace of the seating or ancillary buildings remains. Where the field was, there’s still a fair area of mown grass, but at the northern end there’s an ugly shallow lake of muddy water of almost a quarter of an acre, with plastic bottom and sides. The terraces were broken up. Some of the pieces were thrown down the gully, many others were piled in big mounds on the field, covered with earth and trees planted on top, though in places concrete blocks still peek through. A path leads up through what is now bush on the old terrace slope to where the top entrance was at the bottom of Sarawai St.
One of my all-time favourite matches at Newmarket Park was the May 1976 fixture between Auckland and Tottenham Hotspur. Auckland were leading 3-2 with half an hour to go but Spurs brought on an 18-year-old who had only made one previous appearance for the side – Glen Hoddle. He inspired a hectic finish with Spurs winning 5-3 in front of 10,000 fans. In the 1970s, we were lucky enough to go to Newmarket Park and see the likes of Tommy Docherty’s Manchester United (1975), Jack Charlton’s Middlesbrough (1975), Glasgow Rangers, Aberdeen, Stoke City, Bournemouth, Bristol Rovers, Dundee United, Sunderland and Hearts. From Germany, we got Hertha Berlin and in 1977, the Bobby Charlton All Stars (a Harlem Globetrotters-style composite side of ex-pro’s) played an exhibition game against Auckland. We shouldn’t forget the great domestic games played there either – some classic Chatham Cup finals, including the 1972 decider when Mt Wellington beat Christchurch United in the second replay – yes, the second replay – at Newmarket Park, following a 4-4 draw at Wellington and then a 1-1 draw in Christchurch (after extra time) … no such thing as penalty shoot outs then!
Firstly, what I liked about Newmarket Park was that it was ‘football’s home’. The game has never had one since. I think I may have played in the last Rothmans League game with Eastern Suburbs and also in the last international. It was ‘special’ to me for I was part of the team that beat the Australians 1-0 for our first win over the Aussies in 25 yrs. That was, I think, the last International played at Newmarket Park, in June 1979. I also remember playing a fixture at 10:00 am KO on Easter Monday in front of about 6,000 fans. I scored a lot of goals at Newmarket and was also red carded by Les Coffman – with my ‘Long Walk’ featuring in a large photo on back of the Saturday night sports paper, the ‘8-o’clock’. Fond memories and a very special ancestral home!!
I have wonderful memories of Newmarket Park: First as a player participating in Auckland Women’s F.A.’s first representative game against Wellington in 1973. The game was the curtain-raiser to Auckland v Juventus. For many spectators, it was the first time they had seen women play football so it was a special occasion even though we lost 1-0. Second as a spectator watching closely fought games at all levels: clubs, associations and internationals. It was such an amazing experience to sit amongst large crowds and share in the camaraderie of never-ceasing banter, laughter and criticisms of the players. Thirdly as a ‘student’ – sitting in the Press Box, nearly always alongside Ken Armstrong, and being able to ask all sorts of questions about the game unfolding in front of me.
Easter Monday, 1976. Twenty minutes before kick-off in the Air New Zealand Cup final at Newmarket Park, and there’s standing room only in the Royal George Tavern on the corner of Broadway. Over 200 travelling Hamilton AFC fans are warming up for an afternoon of chanting, singing, and support as their team of northern league underdogs prepares to take on the might of national league aristocrats Gisborne City in the cup final. Drink the football atmosphere. There’s twitching anticipation of being party to the big match just minutes away. The exuberance which comes with the common bond of a mass sporting movement is far more intoxicating than even the best booze.
“Time to go,” someone yells over the din. En masse both bars empty – in many cases with glasses and jugs still in hand – as the Hamilton throng marches the 800-odd metres to the Park. The old anthem of ‘The Muir Park Dynamos’ is sung at a 100 decibels. The hard core of “bus people” are there for the team, the occasion, as much as for the football spectacle to follow. When you march eight abreast through an Auckland thoroughfare you know your team can’t lose. At the turnstiles at the southern entrance to the park, it’s a family ticket. “We’re with Dad,” us youngsters say, trailing in on the coat-tails of one or another of the elder brethren.
With a touch of the theatrical, the Hamilton players emerge onto the pitch with blue plastic footballs which they boot high onto the impossibly steep Newmarket Park terraces. There’s just time for a deafening chorus of away support before the team races onto the pitch in advance of a famous victory – the first national football silverware for the Waikato since Technical Old Boys won the Chatham Cup in 1962, and a handy (for that era) $6000 prizemoney. The unpretentious terraces added to the amphitheatre effect. You always got a good return on your vocal exertions at Newmarket Park.
Hamilton had previously pitched camp at Newmarket Park on the Good Friday for a storming 3-1 semifinal win over a Mt Wellington team which was to later finish second in the national league. The chant on that occasion – addressed taunting to the more sedate Auckland spectators had been “See you Monday”.
The Newmarket terraces were our home away from home. Fans learn most about the art of being a football fan when they are on the road. It’s part of the “us and them syndrome” that draws otherwise disparate elements together. To go to Auckland and beat the cream of the national league in Blockhouse Bay, Mt Wellington and Gisborne City in consecutive trips was the ultimate. And in this regard, for Hamilton AFC fans, Newmarket Park was our Wembley.
Newmarket Park was a huge part of my life from 1970 (when I joined the New Zealand Herald) until it sadly slipped away. In the early years of the national league and in the years that followed I probably watched more games of top level football than anyone given that Auckland has always had the most teams and that I covered every game. I well remember some standouts like the second replay of the Chatham Cup final after I had seen the first two in Wellington and Christchurch, Duncan Ormond’s goal in the 1-0 win over Australia and Brian Turner’s penalty shocker in his first game back in New Zealand after playing in England. Newmarket Park was special. I not only watched football matches there but every week attended the AFA meetings which were also held there with Charlie Dempsey always holding court. The press box was at ground level right on the halfway line and while it did not give the best view, it certainly was the place to be with the coaches right there too! I well remember the early days and how much I learned from sitting in the press box with Ken Armstrong leaning against the fence right in front of us and shouting instructions. It was not the greatest facility but it had a certain charm and I really enjoyed the countless hours I spent there.
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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/