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Birkenhead United 3, Central United 0
Shepherd’s Park, Auckland, August 9 2015

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Back on the 14th of July when I assisted with the Chatham Cup quarter-final draw, I left the headquarters of New Zealand Football with mixed feelings. It had been a thrill to participate in something I have romanticised most of my life, but I also felt a bit guilty for sending teams I like on difficult away trips to the South Island…

I needn’t have worried though, as it turned out yesterday! Eastern Suburbs went to Christchurch and dispatched the cup holders of the past two seasons. And while that was happening, in snowy Dunedin, Mangere United was shocking everyone by going one better than their South Auckland rivals Manukau City did a couple of seasons ago, and earning themselves a semi-final berth. Napier City Rovers had already beaten Wellington’s Western Suburbs on Saturday so all told that’s three away victories out of four games! Drawing the away teams wasn’t such a poisoned chalice after all.

Of course, there always has to be an exception. Birkenhead United provided us with that yesterday over the team that had the shortest distance to traverse of the four away sides – Central United.

Like everyone in this world I have my funny little prejudices. There are football clubs I really like and others I’m not so fond of. Sometimes there’s rhyme or reason to it, sometimes it’s my Waikato upbringing showing through, sometimes it’s my bleeding heart liberal trendy lefty side and other times it’s just the randomness of my brain. But for whatever reason it might be, Birkenhead is one of the clubs I really like.

It has a lot to do with the atmosphere at Shepherd’s Park. You always see a good crowd there with lots of passion on display and I am always personally made to feel like my presence is appreciated. They are also a family club with kids running around everywhere in candy cane shirts whenever you are watching the first team in action. It’s a place I always love going to.

So it was a real privilege to see them clinch a Chatham Cup semi-final spot, I believe for the first time in the history of the club, and know that I played a very small albeit completely random part in it by pulling their opponents out of the hat.

But I can also genuinely say how much I enjoy watching the other three clubs still in the hunt!

Mangere United appeal to that trendy lefty side of me as they carry the hopes of Auckland’s Fijian community and the diversity of South Auckland. They are the future of football I often dream of.

Eastern Suburbs, in contrast, appeal to the romantic in me. They represent the traditions and storied history of the game in this country. Five time winners, they are level with Central on that score but haven’t won it since 1969. Having all but wrapped up the 2015 Northern League after today’s shocking news about Three Kings United’s ineligible player punishment, an extremely rare double is now well within their reach.

And of course, Central League champions Napier City Rovers appeal to the side of me that was forged in the Waikato. They carry the torch for the rest of New Zealand who, like myself, grew up supporting two teams – the local side and whoever is playing Auckland.

I couldn’t be more excited about the potential semi-final combinations and for the past 24 hours I’ve been constantly thinking about where I’d go to watch based on each. I wouldn’t even rule out a trip to Napier if they are entertaining Suburbs… A battle between Northern and Central League champions who wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to meet? As they say on X-Factor – THAT is what this competition is all about!

It looks like I’ll be helping with the draw again tomorrow. Last time almost nothing I was hoping for eventuated so let’s see what happens this time!

Categories: NZ Chatham Cup

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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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