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Perfectly Flawed: The Appeal Of Northern League Football

Mark Jones

Mark Jones

Here’s a list of things I got up to this Easter weekend:

– Ate too much chocolate and hot cross buns

– Watched the Wellington Phoenix go down miserably to the Melbourne Victory

– Had a gander at Auckland City beating a collection of players not from Hawke’s Bay in the ASB Premiership Grand Final

– Went on Radio Sport to discuss my main passion – the National Basketball League – after watching waaaay too many games over the weekend

– Avoided starting my two monster university assignments

Witnessed the most Northern League football game of all time.

Now, if you’re reading this there’s a high probability you don’t give a damn about my weekend, and rightly so, but the epic encounter between Glenfield Rovers and Hamilton Wanderers needs to be documented in the number one place for local football discussion, so here I am.

On my first visit to the ground of the defending champions, I witnessed a game which if I ever had to explain to someone what the Northern League is about, I would just show them the footage of this encounter.

In my book, there are a few staples which make a Northern League game so entertaining and action-packed.

The first is an abundance of goal scoring. You’d be let down if you went to a NRFL game and the score ended 0-0 or 1-0, as goalscoring is pretty common-place – nobody really raises their eyebrows anymore when Newfound Riches FC beats All Our Good Players Left United 6-1, right?

The second, third and fourth characteristics all loosely fall under one umbrella, which I like to class as “Varied Discipline”. Northern League sides love a good penalty, and yellow cards are also fairly commonplace, as is the odd scuffle – usually instigated by the overly feisty player on the squad. Let’s also not forget own goals, which probably falls under the “Varied Competence” scale.

Related to that is another characteristic – fan diatribes. Nothing is more amusing then watching a club old-timer blow up at an opposing player from a team who plays 200 kilometres away, for the sole offence of falling over when being lightly pushed. Suddenly a perfectly acceptable team becomes the Most Odious Side Of All Time because by crickey, you wouldn’t see my lads diving around like a bunch of soft *insert casually sexist or inappropriate remark here*. You just don’t get that kind of misguided passion at ASB Premiership level.

This passionate Northern League fan also takes advantage of his position on the touchline to get some potshots in at the referee, who nobody in the ground likes, including the players. Oh wait, this is the case with every league, and every sport. Let’s move onto the final characteristic, which is…

Exciting finishes! Watch enough Northern League footy and you’ll find enough injury-time goals to enjoy. One personal favourite was a Birkenhead v Hamilton Wanderers game at Porritt Stadium, in which Birkenhead’s 93rd minute go-ahead goal saw keeper John Fletcher run the length of the field to join in on the celebratory dogpile, and the Birko fans whoop it up in the stands. 15 seconds later, Jordan Shaw got on the end of the resulting kickoff to nod one home past Fletcher and send the Wanderers faithful into jubilation.

Oh, and relevant to the overall picture? In that game, Wanderers had a player sent off for starting a scuffle, and had Mark Cossey sent to the changing sheds for yapping at an official. Red cards, goals, exciting finishes, fan drama – that 2013 encounter was potentially the epitome of a classic NRFL game.

Until now!

Kris Carpenter getting in the way of a Gwyther boot!

Now playing for Glenfield, Kris Carpenter (right) had a strong showing

Friday’s game had everything – enough to run through my arbitrary checklist.

Goals – Six of them, in fact, and plenty of drama amongst. Glenfield went ahead through set-piece goals from Peter Jones and the impressive Kris Carpenter, before Wanderers dragged it back through goals from the classy duo of Federico Marquez and Mark Jones. In between those stages? A dodgy penalty decision, and a penalty save.

Yellow Cards – So much so that I lost count, though there were at least eight. Which led to…

Referee Angst – Nothing unites two feuding players like a combined dislike of the referee, which occurred when the poor ref tried to calm down two opponents, before walking away as the two culprits smirked at each other, rolling their eyes at the ref. The linesman too copped some stick, getting sarcastic applause from the Wanderers bench for continually being a stickler for the rules.

Own Goals – Ohhhh yes. Despite Joe Edwards’ beautifully vocalised claims to the contrary, his effort was almost certainly an own goal. After beating Bailey Webster down the wing, Edwards cut inside and fired in a shot which was blocked by the Wanderers defence on the goal-line, before an attempted right footed clearance only saw the player fall over the ball and watch it squirm into the net – 3-2 Glenfield. Which tied into…

An Exciting Finish – After the referee blew up for a foul in the 96th minute (and unsurprisingly got berated for doing so), Wanderers put forward a hopeful long ball from the resulting 60-yard free-kick. Under pressure from nobody, a retreating Glenfield defender desperately tried to head a ball which was heading into the arms of his keeper, resulting in a back header looping over the stranded custodian and into the back of the net from 20 yards. Joy for Wanderers, despair for Glenfield, and what occurred after the whistle? A Scuffle.

The Northern League is far from perfect.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 1

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Niall Anderson

Hamilton raised, Niall Anderson now halves his time between university studies in Auckland and catching up on all things Waikato football in the Tron. Having covered Waikato FC and WaiBOP United in the ASB Premiership, Niall is also the lead writer at Find him on Twitter @NiallGunner.

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