By John Palethorpe
“TIME! TIME! TIME!” The ring of voices in the air, clear above the oystercatchers and gulls, were distinctly English in origin. For a minute it was possible to imagine that this game were taking place on Hackney Marshes rather than Seaside Park. From Ranui Swanson’s blackshirted team anyway, the canary yellow Otahuhu were closer to home with the tones of the Indian subcontinent marking their presence on the pitch.
The morning had brought torrential rain to the area, the real ‘run, by god’ cloudbursts which fell so many autumnal fixtures. But the cool breeze off the Tamaki estuary saw a game begin as if the earlier torment were a distant memory. For about fifteen minutes. The game could be quite simply summed up as a tale of two puddles. The first, lying just inside the eighteen yard box of Ranui Swanson, came to the fore as Otahuhu bustled through.
The ball held up in the depths of the rainwater for just long enough to spurn the goalward intent of their Kauri-esque striker. It was to be a familiar story for the home side as the afternoon drew on. Minutes later, single figure minutes later, the opposing puddle struck. A similar amount of bustling effort and neat passing brought the keeper to the edge of the Otahuhu box, the striker with ball at feet.
Disaster though, for Otahuhu, as the ball part-submerged giving the striker hesitation, the keeper no time to change his mind. The clash was solid but brief, the red card which emerged was to colour the rest of the game. As the home keeper trudged off bemoaning his meteorological luck, Ranui Swanson lined up a free kick just outside the area. They scored, past a captain forced to don a grey vest to mask his true outfield colours.
Despite their deficit of players, Otahuhu refused to turn the game into bloody attrition. They did not have the tactical shape of their opponents, yet managed to consistently force Ranui Swanson into conceding free kicks on the edge of the area. Who knows if a little more time on set pieces would see them yield more than they did today? The newly minted ‘keeper was the busier of the two on the pitch, although his kicking game and shot stopping throughout belied the suddenness of his promotion.
Swanson, spurred on by a midfield featuring a startling Alexis Lalas clone, were steady if unspectacular. Cries of “discipline!” and “pressure!” despite their advantage was represented in their hounding of their opponents. Their second came from, in my view, a coin toss of an offside decision. The flag stayed down on this occasion. Tones of discontent came from both sides, leading to a sensible call from the referee to speak to both captains warning of his displeasure at the rather choice language on offer.
The second half opened with the referee, who was being assessed that day, returning from the dressing room long after both teams had taken the pitch. Nil nil team talks must have been the order at half time, as both teams refused to believe there was any lead held. Otahuhu turned to hanging the ball high in the air for their strikers to chase, while Swanson’s passing game was more tick-tock than tiki-taka.
If anything the game began to sour, with injuries and tackles bringing consternation from both benches. The lack of spare footballs became a sore point, causing the game to stop for a moment while linesman and referee quietly lectured an over-enthusiastic Otahuhu bench.
Swanson’s third had no element of ill fate or dubious nature. A corner placed in well, a thumping header down and across the face and a shot high into the net with the keeper flailing. Their fourth, a few minutes before the final whistle, had the home bench screaming for offside once again. At three down, Otahuhu continued to play the game although the accidental collisions and rambunctious tackling stepped up another subtle gear. At four down, the game became more representative of the threatening clouds heading from the South. Yellow cards were issued to either side as the time blew away with the rising wind.
As the final whistle blew, the ball was in the air. It was probably safer there.
Otahuhu United 0 – 4 Ranui Swanson
[John Palethorpe is a thirty year old Primary teacher. He enjoys sport and politics, and writing about both. He steadfastly refuses to accept that football isn’t as mainstream in New Zealand as it is in the United Kingdom. He blogs here, and tweets here.]
Categories: NZ AFF/NFF Men's Conference
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/