The ASB Premiership comes to a close this evening. As the TV cameras pack up and people start finding other things to do on Thursday evenings and Sunday afternoons, it’s comforting to know that the football season starts this month. Regional leagues, leagues proper with promotion and relegation, are already in pre-season.
For the football purist, regional leagues offer a more traditional European non-league football experience. Saturday afternoon kickoffs at 3pm. Tours of fascinating and shambolic parks of New Zealand. Increasingly awful weather. The Chatham Cup. It’s really got everything.
It’s free too, although the conscientious spectator will always stick ten dollars or more behind the bar in return for a coffee or something a little stronger to warm you up, dry you out or make you forget that you’re wet and cold.
For me, obviously, it’s the Northern League. While trips to Tauranga may be beyond me for a Saturday afternoon kickoff, it’s good to see them joined by not one but two Hamilton clubs in the top flight. It’s good for the Northern Region to actually represent the Northern Region, rather than become an increasingly congested Auckland League. That said, I can’t get to Hamilton using my AT Hop card.
So, stuff to look out for. Eastern Suburbs will be fighting hard to hold onto the title, but not too exhaustingly because they’ve got to play in next season’s ten team ASB Premiership. Further down the leagues Waitakere City will look to bounce back at the first attempt, while in Division 2 Waitemata FC will want a strong start after their promotion from the AFF Conference.
One of the pleasures of the regional leagues is that both ends of the table matter. For poor Southern United and the Weenix in the summer, their season ends pretty early and there’s little consequence for propping up the league. As the winning run Melville United went on in the last few games of last season proves, the threat of relegation is a powerful thing.
A new season brings a whole new chapter of stories to the teams we follow, coach and play for. There’ll be excitement, disappointment, success and failure spread across Saturday afternoons from now until August, for those who choose to spend their weekend in the parks of New Zealand following their team.
The NRFL Premier is currently still grappling with the fixtures computer, attempting to soothe it into producing a programme for thirteen teams. This is due to the ongoing caterwaul over Three Kings’ relegation that wasn’t for reasons I really cannot be bothered with any more. Whatever, let’s get on with the football.