It’s mid-March and the Northern Region Football League kicks off in just under a weeks time. ITBOTN was invited, by club captain Hone Fowler, to take in Lotto NRFL Division Two Manukau City AFC’s final pre-season game against last years Chatham Cup semi-finalists and NRFL Premier League side Birkenhead United.
Last month Manukau City announced a coaching coup, the appointment of Kevin Fallon. With coaching C.V stretching back over forty years, including a highly successful spell at Mt Albert Grammar School, the former All Whites coach and manager is now focused on the success of the South Auckland side. We caught up with him after the game and talked about the future of the club and the game in the area.
You’ve been with Manukau City AFC for six weeks now, what would you say are the major things you’ve brought to the club?
Well today’s game against what we felt, prior to the start of the season next week, was a much better side, certainly in the ratings than us, a Premier League division in the Northern league. I was quite pleased today that we can score goals. I mean we got four good goals, we let five in, but it gives us a lot to work on but it does give me encouragement for, as I said, for the level we’re at keep progressing, keep training, keep working hard. They give me a little bit of encouragement today watching that. We kept ourselves in the game. Plus, of course, when you’re something like 5 – 2 down and come back to 5 – 4 it gives you that little bit of fighting spirit.
It didn’t look like there was too much between the two sides out there at times.
You’ve attracted a couple of players, especially your 10 today (Ubaldo Nunez Espinoza) he looked a hell of a player for the NRFL division two, did you help attract him to the side as coach?
No, Ricky brought him in. Ricky Espinoza is my assistant, he’s got links with the South American boys and he did all the work for that young feller. I believe he’s a relative. He obviously will play higher football, it’s just a matter of time, he’s a good player.
Why Manukau City? Why South Auckland?
I think first of all it was the only real positive offer that I got, there were two or three that were germinating, for two or three months some of them, but none of them came to a conclusion. There were enquiries from the federation all the way down to club football but nothing happened, nothing materialised and I needed to get back working. So when an offer was put in from Manukau City I thought ‘why not?’ particularly because in the area we badly need to, I think, get things organised for a long term bid for the national league.
With the huge Māori and Pasifika population in South Auckland, football isn’t one of the top two sports (with union and league dominating). Are you hoping to attract more Māori & Pasifika players and get more interest from the local community?
I’m particularly for the long term – obviously can’t be too long because I’ve been the game a few years – but say in the next two or three years, get the academies running and get the young talent coming through the ranks, where we know what’s coming through rather than having to attract senior people to the club, which is what’s happening at the moment. I’d like, I think, in terms of twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen year old academies where we know what’s coming through and I know what we’ve got to go for, that’s what I’d like to do eventually, not just for the club but for the area.
So that if we’ve got really good soccer academies in the area kids don’t have to travel to (central) Auckland and jump on trains and buses or anything, they can come here. So that’s long term, that’s what I’m working towards.
You said you’d been in the game for a long time, forty two years…
Coaching. Since 1974.
What’s changed in New Zealand football in that time?
It’s changed for the worse. If you think about the crowds that we got. When I came here in 1972, Gisborne City were getting three, three and a half thousand crowds – Newmarket Park, double that, was getting seven, eight thousand people.
It was very organised the season, everyone played in the winter, you knew when the season started because there was the challenge trophy, the cup winners would play the league winners, you knew when it ended because that was the Chatham Cup Final and there was time after that for international football.
It seemed to be better structured than it is today. And the crowds, as I said, Auckland City might do well but nobody goes to watch them!
I go along and we get a few hundred along to Kiwitea St regularly.
And the dog. Two dogs.
Last season Manukau City started really well, winning six from eight before tailing off to win three from fourteen. Obviously you’re looking for consistency across the whole season, are you going to be focusing on the fitness of the team to get them through the season.
We’ve worked on fitness since day one. The hardest thing we’ve had this season is to get regularity, the first thing you do with football players is establish regularity. You want people to be at training, you can’t always say at this level players will be at training. I’m trying to change the culture, because at this stage you could take a team on Tuesday and on Thursday there could be ten new people.
It’s been very difficult to get to this level, to bring them along to this level to give Birkenhead a game. It’s not easy when you’re taking sides out from this level to play much better sides, you’ve got to be organised and I think a lot of them saw that today.
Thanks for your time, I’ll see you at Onehunga-Mangere next Friday for the season opener.
Well, that’s hurdle one, with regularity in our approach we’ll be looking to get out of this division and play at a higher level.
You can find Manukau City AFC’s fixture list here, and Kevin has his own weekly blog where he shares his thoughts on training, performance and the wider football world at http://www.manukaucityafc.com/
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.