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The battle of Camford Bridge

Cambridge 0, Waitemata 2
John Kerkhof Park, Cambridge, September 19 2015

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Call me biased, and of course I am, but WaiBOP United was a revelation last summer. They competed for a semi-final spot right up until the end and showed that they could beat anyone on their day – a trait not seen in a Waikato based outfit since season 1 of the franchise based national league. But what really made it was the setting. Cambridge Football Club provided an old-school intimate backdrop with lots of bleacher seating close to the pitch – and it attracted great crowds! One of the highest attendance averages in the league witnessed the best season the region had stumped up with in a very long time at that level. From a personal point of view, this package went a long way to rekindling my enthusiasm for the ASB Premiership.

It was therefore sad news to see that WaiBOP United won’t be returning to John Kerkhof Park this season. A victim of their own success perhaps, Cambridge now see the hosting rights shift to pastures more television friendly.

But all is not lost for football fans, such as myself, who appreciate a bit of rural charm! Because in 2015, Cambridge won the WaiBOP Premiership and are currently halfway through duking it out with AFF/NFF Conference winners, the westies of Waitemata, for a spot in next season’s NRFL Division 2. That means best case scenario there will be many more football trips to Cambridge in store for me, and worst case I get this one PLUS a new NRFL club ten minutes’ drive from my house! I can’t lose! *Maniacal laugh*

In addition to all of that, there was another aspect of this fixture that gave it a WaiBOP United ‘full circle’ kind of feel. Waitemata’s star studded (by grassroots football standards) line-up contained a solid chunk of the nucleus of that Waikato FC side alluded to above that made the playoffs in season 1 – Michael Mayne, Colin Gardyne, and Brent Mayhew. Craig Wylie and Cambridge’s Robbie Greenhalgh also have Waikato FC and WaiBOP United pedigree.

Now, I can’t ignore the fact that it’s been suggested by many around the traps that this Waitemata side is a “chequebook team” assembled with the objective of buying a place in NRFL. On this matter, Player/Coach Michael Mayne had a simple message to me back on the 1st of August when he tweeted “Welcome to look at my books. Don’t underestimate the power of mates and wanting a different type of training environment.” – fair enough. People will have their own opinions but they are only based on perceptions. All I can do is take the man at his word, and I do. Not that I think buying teams is necessarily a bad thing… Injecting money into the game – quelle horreur!!

However this team was assembled, the one thing nobody can quibble with is their record. They are a squad full of players that Neil Emblen would describe as “better than the level”, having scored 123 goals (5.6 per game on average) and only conceded 12 in their unstoppable march to the Conference title. A goal difference of 111 is not too shabby in a 12 team league!

So the conventional wisdom was that Cambridge, who only just clinched the WaiBOP Premiership from Ngongotaha last week, would be in for a tough day at the office on this occasion. And so it proved although they did well to only wind up 2-0 down, leaving them with a sniff in the second leg at McLeod Park next week. They acquitted themselves well. I thought the biggest difference between the two sides was prima punta Gardyne, who remains a class act. The Waitemata attack just looked a bit more pointed than that of their opponents although they squandered a fair few golden chances and probably should have won by more.

As it stands however, if Cambridge are searching for inspiration, they might look to the Claudelands vs Te Atatu/Papakura play-off of a few seasons ago where the Waikato outfit were behind on multiple occasions against teams that were supposedly much better than them from an Aucklandcentric point of view. They showed that you should underestimate WaiBOP champions at your peril.

So 2:45pm this coming Saturday at McLeod Park, Te Atatu South. You never know what might happen in the big smoke…

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2

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Enzo Giordani

An action photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand. I focus on sport, birds or cats depending on what stage of the apocalypse we're currently experiencing.

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