By Rod de Lisle
A new ASB National league footie season and it all seems a little more organised, a wee bit more hyped up, this year. To me anyway. And on the telly too! So we trotted off to Melville’s Gower Park for the Loaded WaiBop season opener at home to Team Wellington. It must be said Gower looked a treat, the ground immaculate and the club well organised as ever, with a chippy van, ice-cream vendor and more ball kids than players. For a crisp tenner we got a free programme chucked in, well edited and a good pre-match read in the bar before the game. Interesting name, ‘Loaded WaiBop’, surely there is a pun in there I thought as I supped my tenth beer, although nothing sprung to mind immediately. And how the heck do we shorten that? LWB, as is in Long Wheel Base?
Mark Christie, WaiBop Big Boss, was on hand with NZF’s Cam Mitchell who was down from NZF Towers, checking out his old stomping ground. Christie appeared happy with the progress of his Federation based LWB side and was looking forward to an entertaining game. Black clouds threatened however, unlike the sunny day before, and the expected gate takings were going to be down on expectations. But it felt like proper football weather and spirits were high.
Could a Waikato based national league side finally have a decent season after many years of disappointment? A loaded question. As a Wanderers man it was nice to see six of our lot in the squad and five taking the field in the starting eleven. But when Gooch the local pundit pressed me for a prediction just before kickoff, I uttered 3-2 to Wellington, the first score that entered my head. Mainly because traditionally, LWB/Waikato always seem to have a slow start to the season before a mid-season perk up. Sorry boys, I must have jinxed you, as that indeed was the final result, not a welcome one for the local faithful who had sensed a win when LWB led with less than 10 to go.
Stelios Rossiteri, the automotive tycoon, was my guest at this game. He is old school with emphasis on the ‘old’ and his first comment was that there were so many youngsters in the teams he couldn’t understand the latish (4:35 pm) kick-off. These lads will be up past their bedtimes he suggested. I explained to him that most kids now practise their FIFA (trademark) Xbox-station games late into the wee hours and a traditional 2.45 kick-off actually disrupts their breakfast. Very good of Sky TV to accommodate that, he responded.
For the LWB team, things seemed quite rosy when centre back Adam Luque headed them into the lead early in the first half. He certainly wouldn’t have been the name one would have chosen for a ‘first goal scorer’ punt, having untroubled the scoreboard bloke all winter season. But this goal was a cracker from a corner after some good work from Marc Evans and Freddie Marquez to earn it. The crowd sensed it could be LWB’s day. However the heavens then opened and the game became more of a lottery, as wet games often are. Wellington equalised before halftime through diminutive Andy Bevin, a goal I missed, when an umbrella unfurled in front of us literally seconds before. A cue to wander back off to the bar for a half time beverage and escape the rain, while seeking a dry second half vantage spot.
The game ebbed and flowed like the rain showers and a draw was looking ever more likely, as shooting chances were limited by the conditions. The ice-cream van packed up and left, it was strictly coffee weather by this stage. LWB were more dominant in the second half but a goal didn’t seem be forthcoming. Although the referee, Mills, didn’t endear himself to anyone by denying a pair of clear penalty shouts to the home side. Indeed it was a game where Mill’s Acme Thunderer was under-utilised in my view. Was it a High Up directive to ignore all but the most obvious of fouls and indiscretions? Maybe a good thing, as football does itself few favours when player theatrics dominate proceedings. You don’t see Richie McCaw clutching his leg in pretend anguish, my old man used to say.
But late on, when Mark Jones picked up the ball just outside the right hand side of the penalty area, most of us knew what was in store. As he has done all season for Wanderers, slippery Jones cut out then in, with the balance of a ballet dancer, sending a defender the wrong way and thumped the ball between the sticks to the delight of all. Was this the winner? Jones clearly thought so as he sped off to the sideline and dived-slid arms outstretched before being swamped by teammates. Melville’s Bruce Holloway winced and muttered good naturedly about damage to the pitch but he was in a minority.
But as quick as a flash Wellington, who clearly hadn’t read the script, sped up field and equalised to silence the home fans. Then they had the audacity to cement the three points with a late goal to Saul Halpin in the 89th minute. So it ended 3-2, probably quite good for the Sky telly ratings but a typical WaiBOP start to the season. However the team looked good at times and don’t forget, this was a decent Wellington side.
Things should improve for LWB. Luque at the back had a good game, Speedy looks handy between the sticks and Jones showed why he deserves the plaudits. Marquez and Wade Molony have speed and tricks enough to give defenders a nightmare and there could be plenty of goals in store for the Hamilton based side. Gower Park passed muster as well: an ok crowd, given the weather and probably a better ‘football’ atmosphere’ than might be expected when LWB move to play its later games in the empty cavern of the Waikato Stadium.
Categories: NZ Men's National League
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.