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Birkenhead United 1, Central United 3
Shepherd’s Park, Auckland, April 9 2016

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It was a special day at Shepherd’s Park today, as the locals bid a very fond farewell to one of their favourite sons. Jack Hobson-McVeigh has played for Birkenhead United since birth – coming up through their age-group teams and going on to play over 180 times for the first team. Today was his last appearance for the club before he makes the move to Germany, where he will live in Dortmund and play, in his words to me a few weeks ago, “at some sort of level”.

It can’t have always been easy being the coach’s son, with unthinking types no doubt assuming that he’s there because of some kind of favouritism. But in all the numerous times I’ve watched him play for Birko, Jack has been close to the best player on the pitch in every one of them – directing operations from that ‘regista’ position that he so often plays in. And when he’s been on the sidelines the team hasn’t been quite the same. There is no doubt he will leave a big hole.

The big deal the whole club made of his departure certainly reflected that.

He entered the pitch to the strains of You’ll Never Walk Alone and the sight of flares burning brightly at the Southern end, and he left it through a guard of honour made up of Central United players, Birko players, and ball kids. Then in the clubrooms afterwards, his number eleven shirt was retired permenantly.

In between, the fairytale send-off didn’t quite go according to the script. Birkenhead looked for all the world the better side, as they should have really with Auckland City still in action across town in the Oceania Champions League, but they simply weren’t able to convert their opportunities into runs on the board.

The first half was lively with a lot of niggle, but ultimately it ended in a stalemate.

The man on the scoreboard was finally called into action at around about the hour mark, when Mario Illich curled a Central free kick around the wall and in to give the plucky visitors the lead. This sent Birko into a fury as they doubled their efforts to get back into the game. It finally paid off for them when they won a penalty, and with about ten minute left in the game the man himself, Hobson-McVeigh, stepped up and slotted to level the scores.

But one point wasn’t enough for the home side – they wanted to send their one club hero off in style and so on they pressed. David Parkinson thumped one shot into the crossbar so hard I think it’s still quivering and Jack Salter missed one with only the keeper to beat. But as so often happens in situations like this, it was Central who re-took the lead via a classic counter attacking goal from Finn Cochran before Nicolas Zambrano put the icing on the cake from the penalty spot.

There was to be no fairytale ending. But some things are more important than winners and losers…

I first met Jack when I interviewed him for the first of my annual pre-season interviews way back in February 2013. He struck me as a really nice guy then, and numerous chats on the sidelines since have done nothing to alter that opinion. I’ve been really grateful to Jack and Paul and everyone else at Birko for all the support they have given me over the last few years – anything I have asked of them I have recieved.

So all that remains for the time being is to wish Jack and his partner Sarah a wonderful life in Germany. Maybe one day I’ll get to watch Jack play a game or two over there! I’ll definitely check out the draw if I ever find myself in the neighbourhood.

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Premier

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

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