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Forza Birko!

Birkenhead United 1, Napier City Rovers 1 AET (Rovers won 4-3 on penalties)
Shepherd’s Park, Auckland, August 30 2015

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When Birkenhead played Glenfield in their local derby earlier in the year, I gave all concerned a bit of a hard time with a tongue in cheek post about the fearsome occasion… It’s possible they took it to heart because today’s Chatham Cup semi-final at Shepherd’s Park had a few things in common with the fantasy world I created in that post! Despite the rainy weather there was a big crowd that I would estimate numbered well into four figures – and they really meant business atmosphere wise!

There were heaps of banners. There were samba drummers!! And most excitingly of all, as the teams walked out onto the pitch to the sound of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, there was a big cloud of smoke drifting across the pitch from FLARES! And I don’t mean the pants from the 1970s… That’s the first time I have ever seen those at a New Zealand sporting event and I would love nothing more than for it to be the start of a trend!

Birko’s opposing fans, those of Central League champions Napier City Rovers, also did their bit to enhance the occasion with a great turnout of blue clad supporters making plenty of noise as they urged their team on. But I wasn’t exactly a neutral observer in this game I have to admit.

Despite my usual rule to back the Waikato team or whoever is playing Auckland, my natural urge to cheer for Napier was overruled by the real affection I have for Birko. The club also very kindly gave me a shirt today, complete with a number 10 (alla Totti) and ‘Enzo’ on the back, and I was delighted to wear it with pride! I got a bit of a light hearted hard time from Rovers coach Chris Greatholder who exclaimed “aren’t you meant to be neutral???” Oh well, I promise to make up for it by cheering for Napier in the final. Not that they should get too excited about it – I’m notoriously bad luck!

The game of football more than matched the surroundings with an exciting encounter that certainly had my pulse racing for the full 120 minutes of thrills and spills. Napier were, on balance, on top for the bulk of the game but Birkenhead defended with gusto really lifting for the big occasion.

The home side was missing their captain and regista, Jack Hobson McVeigh, who injured his Achilles in training on Thursday. It was slightly odd seeing him on the sideline when most of the banners around the ground carried his name but, despite that big loss, I thought that had a bit of luck gone their way they might have got the result. It seemed like every chance that fell to a Birko attacking player fell awkwardly and in such a way that was too hard to get a good shot away.

It’s always cruel to lose a game via the dreaded penalty shootout but there’s certainly no shame in it. And, while it’s no consolation to Birko, we now have a final that is very mouth-watering indeed… The Northern League champions will play the Central League champions! It’s back to the future with a virtual Superclub final.

My first act as a Napier City Rovers fan is to put in a plug for the final to be at Park Island! Rovers have had a horror run of away ties this season so nobody should begrudge them a home final. North Harbour Stadium is booked on the day in question and there’s nowhere else in Auckland that’s really suitable. There’s a Central region team in the Women’s Knockout Cup final so it would possibly suit them too. So why not? We’ve had finals in Wellington and Christchurch in recent seasons so the precedent is there. Let’s do it. I’m up for a road trip!

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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