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Shifting sands

Stansfield and Solomons

Well that, as they say, escalated quickly.

Two days ago Hamilton Wanderers announced to their members on Facebook that they have submitted a bid for an ASB Premiership license. Two days later WaiBOP United look to have thrown in the towel, telling their own members that they will yield their license if Wanderers meet the criteria. This heralds an almost certain changing of the guard for Waikato and Bay of Plenty participation in our nation’s national football league.

From a fan’s perspective, I feel a bit numb to be honest. I love my friends at Wanderers and of course I will swing in behind them if and when they are confirmed in the ASB Premiership. They will be my team – no question. But once again, just when you start getting passionate about something, and it starts to become successful, the rug gets pulled out from under you.

How are supporters supposed to feel about the rest of season 2015/16? How are the team supposed to feel? They have a genuine chance of semi-final and O-League football but they are playing for a ghost club. Come to think of it – what will happen if WaiBOP qualifies for the O-League then doesn’t exist when the time comes to compete in it?

Over the past 20 years I have gotten used to supporting Waikato United, then Melville United, then Waikato FC and now WaiBOP. I feel a bit like one of those fairground clowns, my head rotating from side to side waiting for the next Ping-Pong ball to be shoved down my throat.

The great thing about the WaiBOP model was that it hoovered up all the best players from the entire catchment, no matter who they played for in winter, and it gathered support from across the whole spectrum of clubs in the region. Are we now going to see a return to the bad old days where every other top tier club such as Melville and Tauranga City United duplicates resources as they try to compete for entry themselves?

Hopefully not. For one, I put the question to Melville United Chairman Bruce Holloway last night and received this encouraging and characteristically insightful reply:

“Wanderers Sports Club’s expression of interest in a national league licence should firstly be acknowledged as a courageous move. It shows Wanderers must be respected as a seriously ambitious club.

But is very hard work being a national league club. As I observed many years ago, through its very demanding nature, the national league attacks the onion of a football club, removing layer after layer of club life until it gets down to the little sliver of ambition and commitment at the core.

Which reminded me of how I first became aware of Wanderers’ licence application – on a posting on the club’s facebook page, where a previous bulletin had advised that a club working bee had been cancelled because not enough members had made themselves available.

So hopefully the prospect of assuming Waikato’s national league mantle will spur the motivation of the Wanderers rank and file, because the national league baton in Hamilton is now poised to be passed on once again.

I believe Wanderers’ application will be the catalyst for WaiBOP United calling it a day. If Wanderers meet the criteria, Waibop will likely opt out (with the blessing of NZ Football) and effectively transfer the licence.

I was always comfortable with the existing Waibop model. It’s prime advantage being that if it runs at a loss, the national league cost is effectively socialised across the wider football community through the regional governing body also being the licence holder.

However the federation itself is far less enthusiastic about that concept. It has always seen itself more as a reluctant backstop, pressed into action when nobody else could pick up the ball (which is hardly an inspiring vision).

The good news is we will see a Waikato national league licence return to a proper club base – an entity with its own clubrooms and training facilities – for the first time since 1998. This always simplifies relationships and is generally preferred by traditionalists.

My Melville club advised early on that we would not be seeking a licence. The long-term projection of a club running a men’s team in an elongated 30-week national league, along with women’s, youth and futsal teams under the same banner, simply did not appeal as sustainable, certainly in our objective situation.

Melville has the experience of two seasons of national league (1996-97 and 1997-98). What we learned from that is the importance of not putting the cart before the horse and pursuing a national league presence without first having the support infrastructure to justify it.

Our club’s priority over the next 3-4 years is to build a premier purpose-built football facility at Gower Park. If that can be achieved I suspect rather than us chase the national league, the league will be chasing us.

In the interim, I would certainly urge Melville members to support Wanderers at national league level, just as they supported Melville in the late 1990s.”

So, at least to begin with, and at least in Hamilton, there is hope that everyone will continue to swim in the same direction…

The WaiBOP letter mentions eight new applicants. The ones that I know of so far are Tasman (Nelson/Marlborough), North Shore City (North Shore United and Takapuna), Auckland United (various South Auckland clubs), some kind of East Auckland entity, and Palmerston North Marist. There are two new places available not counting the Wanderers WaiBOP switcharoo. My bet is that Tasman will get in along with either North Shore or Auckland United. That’s a straight choice between growing the game in South Auckland where there is so much potential to grow, and consolidating North of the Harbour Bridge where the game is already strong. My hope is that the opportunity is taken to grow. I have already bored you with my opinions on that in depth so wont again. Follow this link if you are interested.

My only other plea for the moment is to Wanderers and it’s this – If they are successful in gaining a license, would they consider dropping the ‘Wanderers’ and just being Hamilton? That would speak to me more as a fan than the Wanderers name that just makes me think of Bolton and wonder why…

Just like it’s time to change the flag it should be time for New Zealand to move past English names for clubs. Let’s strike out and forge our own fresh identity! Until the next big upheaval that throws the baby out with the bath water in about five years’ time…

Wanderers

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Enzo Giordani

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: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/

1 reply

  1. There is a lot of appeal in having a club based team but WaiBop does at least represent the area ie supporters of various clubs can easily get behind it. The franchise model works for this, I can support WaiBop and CAmbridge with no conflict at all. For me though, consistency would be more important – both for the league and for a team I can support. We want true fans not plastics and that takes time.

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