By Cordwainer Bull
It’s an unfortunate back-handed tribute to Dave Cook that the AFC Fury club he founded has surrendured its northern league ambitions so soon after his own demise.
Dave was the pulse of the club, and yesterday, barely weeks after his death, Auckland Football advised AFC Fury had withdrawn from the northern league.
AFC Fury had already defaulted two consecutive matches in the Lotto NRFL Division 2 Reserves league, calling into question the club’s status in the competition. Article 13 of the northern league regulations states: “Any team defaulting two games consecutively, or three in a season, may be further fined by AFF and may be deemed to have withdrawn from the relevant competition”.
When pressed, the club elected to withdraw, meaning all fixtures involving AFC Fury will now become byes for opposing teams, while all previous results will become void.
While it would have been a more lasting tribute to Dave if the club had found a sustainable northern league future without him, this is perhaps a reminder that the most valuable person in any club is not the 30-goals-a-season striker, or the coach with more badges than a North Korean general, but a driven administrator.
Seldom can you go to the Administrator Tree and pick yourself a ripe one as a replacement. We often take for granted the things that most deserve our gratitude.
But the withdrawal of Fury also raises the question of whether it is too big an ask for outlier clubs such as Fury to have to field a reserve team to contest the northern league. It generally means having to travel hundreds of kilometres every second week for a standard of football only comparable with what is on offer in their own back yard.
For a number of years, under the pig-headed managership of chief executive John Turkington, WaiBop federation actually prohibited its clubs from fielding reserve teams in regional competition. Clubs doggedly battled for the right to participate in structures which best served their interests and eventually won.
However it is a big leap from introducing regulations which serve the interests of clubs – and regulations which simply bind. Reserve teams are perhaps the ideal, but do not suit the objective situation of some distant clubs. And we are learning in the northern league this year that life goes on, even with the odd bye.
The geographic spread of the northern league means there is perhaps a case to be made for allowing outlying clubs to find solutions endemic to their own objective situation. (And I say that as someone who battled fiercely for the right of my own club to be able to contest the northern reserve league.)
Last month Dave contacted me asking if I knew of a team, or group of players who were interested in playing northern reserve league. In typical Cook fashion he was angling for the inventive solution of having players based in the Waikato or Auckland forming a “team of convenience” and playing their reserve matches elsewhere than Maramatanga Park. Might we yet see this idea gain traction elsewhere sometime in the future?
Meanwhile Fury’s withdrawal means Bay of Plenty, a province with two cities and numerous towns and centres, now has just one northern league soldier remaining, in Tauranga City United.
Though Fury’s northern league demise should perhaps be seen within the wider historic context of the logistical challenges for Bay of Plenty clubs.
It requires organisation and dedication to keep a club afloat where your first team has such a travel schedule.
The Bay of Plenty has become something of a northern league graveyard, when you consider Fury are following in the footsteps of Whakatane Town, Kahukura, Kawerau Town, Rotorua City, Rotorua Suburbs, Ngongotaha, Otumoetai, Mt Maunganui and Taupo in bowing out. (A note for the anoraks: Tokoroa AFC was always affiliated within the Waikato district, despite it being listed as a Bay of Plenty club on Jeremy Ruane’s otherwise excellent website, www.ultimatenzsoccer.com, while Turangi, Waiouru and Taumarunui were affiliated to the old Tongariro Football Association.)
And for anyone who thinks I am somehow unfairly highlighting Bay of Plenty struggles rather than those of my native Waikato, yes, we’ve had our fair share of drop outs over the years as well, in Frankton Railway, Fraser, Te Aroha, Matamata Swifts, Te Awamutu, Huntly Thistle, Waikato Unicol, Tokoroa, Cambridge. But we do have four remaining clubs and at least one battling hard to rejoin.
Some forum commenters are now arguing northern league clubs should be required to field a whole catalogue of teams before being permitted to play at that level. Criteria for northern league membership already covers a number of spheres, including club development and sustainability (and demands clubs be working towards quality club mark certification).
But it is silent on the question of critical mass in terms of teams, players, administrators.
However those who believe having a number of other teams in a club is the answer may care to reflect that when the current ASB premiership was constituted (as the NZ Football Champonship) it was an unyielding requirement that the franchises were to be strictly one-team entitites. The thinking behind this was the challenge was so great that there should be no other distractions apart from focusing on a flagship team, and it became a primary constitutional requirement.
Ironically, this was in essence a rebuttal of the earlier doctrine Bill MacGowan had promulgated in forming the first summer league in 1996 – that top clubs needed t be all things to all people and have juniors, youth, women etc. In practice that was found to create significant problems, and so the 180-degree about face was introduced. (Anyone who is genuinely interested in the clash of ideas about league formats and the politics should check out www.nationalleaguedebates.weebly.com).
But back to Fury and Cook.
For me, Fury’s withdrawal best serves as a footnote to the value of club administrators. It’s a reminder that working as a football volunteer is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections every three years, but as volunteer club administrator you vote every day about the kind of club you want to belong to.
[Cordwainer Bull is a former Waikato United and Waikato FC programme columnist. His hobbies include splitting hairs and SHOUTING. His favourite player was Craig Jessep.]
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2
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/