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The End Of The Endless Season?

Cup Smooch

E-Subs captain Thomas Shaw giving the cup a pash

They drew the 2016 Chatham Cup preliminary rounds this week. The oldest cup competition in New Zealand starts on ANZAC weekend, running through weekends until the final on the 11th of September. A fortnight after that,the 2016/17 NZFC  teams will begin their pre-season. With the ten team league running through until mid-March 2017, pre-season for regional league clubs will be underway prior to the 2017 NZFC final. And then there’s the Oceania Champions League, this year and next year. Does it never end?

Well, no. If you’re of a mind to watch it, there’s a full calendar year of football on offer in New Zealand. The experience of many football supporters, the gnawing gap in the schedule between seasons, is filled here by a continuous rolling buffet of the game.

It’s not so great for the teams though. NZFC new boys, Eastern Suburbs and Hamilton Wanderers, are competing in both Winter and Summer leagues this year – meaning the season that kicked off three weeks ago will roll on until March 2017, a full twelve months of competitive football and training.

Ball Boy Onehunga

Maybe even he’ll get a game in that time.

Obviously lots of summer clubs already find themselves in a similar situation. Central United always know they’ll be without some of their summer ACFC stalwarts in the early part of the season, as the Oceania Champions League runs concurrently with the start of the NRFL Premier League. There’s also the need for a rest, players aren’t machines.

There’s some hope in the prospect of New Zealand Football’s competitions review, the Rob Sherman led reorganisation which has seen Suburbs and Tasman United join the summer competition. It proposes a shift towards a single season, involving all existing levels of football in New Zealand.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.06.35 pm

The plan, should the two year licenses granted to the new teams be extended, is to open up the summer competition to the regional leagues, with promotion decided via playoffs (and whether teams meet the criteria for entry, like promotion to the English football league). That would see the 2018/19 season for all leagues begin in July and end in March, and include NZFC teams in the Chatham Cup again.

It makes sense in many ways. Joining up the NZFC with the regions means that the summer competition is competitive at both ends, it means those in the regional leagues have something extra to play for beyond the end of the regular season. The potential for a club to rise from the NRFL Division Two to the NZFC, or an NZFC club to go the opposite way creates the potential for drama, for stories and for excitement.

It also gives players a break too, during the wet months of April, May and June. I’m sure they’ll be glad of that.

A single season presents challenges, particularly to those clubs who effectively exist in Regional leagues and the NZFC league. It would also mean the regional leagues would cease to operate in August/September 2017 and not resume until July of the following year.


Photo credit: John Fetcho

From a commercial side, it creates one product – one New Zealand Football League.  Handy for sponsorship, marketing and televising games. Economically it’s sensible not to force clubs to pour money into travel until they are operating at the highest level, and the qualification standards for the top league would ensure investment is sought or made in facilities and youth programmes for clubs on the make.

I foresee trouble when the first club who doesn’t meet the qualification standards is refused entry to the NZFC though.
Potentially it creates a structure for New Zealand football to develop within, one which allows both regional and national competitions to exist. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the endless football of the next few years, only that we should eagerly anticipate the potential future of the game in New Zealand.

Categories: NZ Men's National League

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John Palethorpe

8 replies

  1. If NZFC teams are allowed into the Chatham Cup, football in this country can consider itself dead.

  2. I didn’t see anything in the competitions review that indicated that all football would be played July to March. Did I miss something? What I took from it is the NZFC would run July to March, the teams competing in it will eventually all be club based, with other teams from their clubs still competing in local leagues. Just as, for example, Hamilton Wanderers currently has first and reserve teams in the NRFL, a team in the WaiBOP Premiership, and others at lower divisions still. In future they’ll have a national league team, another in the NRFL that will also play in the Chatham Cup, and so on down below. Players will no doubt move between those teams – as they do now. I don’t see any radical change here. The biggest changes are the shift from franchises to clubs and the addition of an extra round in the NZFC.

    I predict that if we ever move to one season it will be over winter.

    It’s worth reminding ourselves too that all this is only going to happen if the ‘preferred option’ is financially sustainable. That’s a VERY big if.

    1. I assumed they’d try and run leagues in parallel, otherwise there’s going to be a hell of a fixture kludge in July/August with the regionals, NZFC, Chatham Cup all colliding.

      It’d also make the promotion/relegation to the NZFC a nightmare, as the regular season wouldn’t be finished in time for the new open NZFC. So if the 2018/19 NZFC sees a team get relegated, their replacement has to be in place for the 2019/20 season commencing in July – so it means either the 2018 regional playoff team doesn’t play the winter season 2019 and oh no I’ve gone crosseyed.


      1. But the fixture clash is no different to now really where there is NRFL and O-League on at the same time. The Cup will be an added complication but by that time of the year only for a handful of clubs. Clubs are capable of prioritising where they want to play their best players – NRFL, NZFC or Chatty. Promotion could work like the O-League – you don’t go in until the year after – which would actually be good for promoted clubs in that it gives them a nice lead-in time to get themselves organised.

          1. Also this bit…..

            The participating entities would be integrated pinnacle community clubs
            (some of which will be evolved from current Franchises) that have senior
            men’s, senior women’s, youth development and Futsal teams participating in a
            coherent national competitions structure.

            Evolved from franchises, eh?

          2. Promotion and relegation are definitely a headache they probably haven’t really thought through yet if the seasons are overlapping but it can work. The sensible time to hold playoffs would be mid-late March based on the previous year’s regional league winners. They could be done and dusted by April when the winter leagues start. The cleanest and easiest way to run it all would be one season over winter but for other reasons I really feel that would be a retrograde step…

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