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Newmarket Park – Once more with feeling!

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No live football for me this weekend! Instead I spent yesterday afternoon at Eden Park soaking up the Cricket World Cup atmosphere as India took on Zimbabwe (more on that later in the week), and today was the big BBQ at the former home of Auckland Football that neither wild horses nor ‘Cyclone Pam’ could have kept me away from.

The good folks at Friends of Football have very generously credited my blog post on Newmarket Park as part of the impetus behind getting this event together and aside from wanting to support a great occasion, I was really keen to get along and feel the old place come alive with stories from some of the people who made it special.

Of course it was a wonderful success. How could it possibly go wrong? A bunch of ex All Whites, Football Ferns, National League players, journalists and fans reuniting 35 years later at the place where all the magic happened. At its peak there were 50 odd people there including all of the above and a bunch of kids kicking footballs around unconsciously re-enacting some of the great moments that have taken place on the same patch of dirt decades before they were born.

The stories were a privilege to listen to. Whether they have “changed” a bit over time or not is completely irrelevant. Some of the best ones were not about the games themselves, but about the ‘social occasions’ that took place after some of the great matches featuring known shrinking violets such as George Best, Glenn Hoddle and others. I’d love to repeat some of them but they are not my stories to tell – instead you should get yourself along the next time they do one of these and hear them for yourself!

However one that I hope nobody minds me repeating was about the history of the move from Blandford Park in Grafton Gully up to Newmarket in the early 1960s as told by a former member of the committee of Auckland Football.  Apparently they were told at the time by a Newmarket Borough Council engineer that the ground was unstable and that the Eastern Stand should not be built. But other elements in the local authority really wanted the home of football to be on their patch, and another (younger) engineer quietly told Auckland Football that if they waited, the older engineer was close to retirement and when he went there would be no obstacle to the move.

The rest is history. The Eastern Stand collapsed in the dead of night on July 3 1979. One shudders to think what would have happened and who would have been liable if the slip had happened during a game with the stand full of people. One also has to wonder how much of a different place New Zealand Football would be in today if the old expert’s warning had been heeded and the move from Blandford had instead been to Western Springs – would we now still have a national football stadium there?

We’ll never know. But the moral of the story I guess is listen to your elders! Be they engineers or former international footballers, they all have something to contribute and deserve respect.

I’ll leave you with some photos of today’s event before I shut up about Newmarket Park for a while. On the off chance you are not sick of reading my harping on about this topic for the umpteenth time, fear not, I am currently working on something slightly different you might be interested in – looking at the history of Blandford Park! Watch this space…

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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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