I thought I knew what my midweek blog post was going to be this week but then, for reasons that I can’t go into, it fell through. Wondering what to do instead, I did a dangerous thing – I turned to my Twitter followers and asked them what they would like to see me write about…
The first response was from Waikato Times football reporter Andrew Voerman, who suggested that I could rate my favourite football grounds. This was followed up by Monsieur Cordwainer Bull who added that I should also look at my “five most improved venues, five most depressing venues, five most wind-blown, and five most inaccessible.” Another follow-up came from ‘Riverboat Captain’ who suggested “best and worst stadium food.”
Well, I aim to please. To start with I’ll give you my fair dinkum five best football grounds in New Zealand. Then, if I’m not assassinated as a result of the below, I’ll work my way through the other suggested categories in future weeks.
So without any further ado…
Five of the best
1 – Kiwitea Street
The great: How could anyone not love Kiwitea Street? There is so much that’s awesome about the place that it’s difficult to know where to begin. The atmosphere created by modest crowds scrunched into this cosy, intimate boutique venue is as good a place as any though. It’s New Zealand football in its purest form. So there’s that, but the simple thing that often draws me there is just the close proximity to the pitch that you can sit in reasonable comfort. On a wet day this is the only place in New Zealand where I know I can go, sit in a covered stand, and still get photos from as close as I would be on any other sideline getting drenched.
The gripe: Auckland City and Central United aren’t really my cup of tea – two of the most successful clubs in New Zealand football. If there are ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in our game then relatively speaking these clubs are well and truly in the ‘haves’ camp. It should come as no surprise to my readers that my sympathies usually lie more with underdogs. It’s partly the Hamiltonian in me and partly the Social Democrat. The fans at Kiwitea, however, are an extra parochial lot and sometimes I feel a bit like they see me as an enemy of the state rather than a fan who just happens to want the other team to win a football game. It’s not a crime, surely…
One word summary: Kiwiana
2 – Mangere Domain
The great: It’s perched on top of an extinct freaking volcano. I mean, come on, need I say any more? And even in the unlikely event that that’s not good enough for you, there are panoramic views of South Auckland, a working dairy farm and a historic Māori pā site all surrounding this natural amphitheatre. If you don’t love Mangere Domain then you’re dead inside.
The gripe: It’s the home ground of Onehunga Mangere. I’m sorry, but there’s a reason why I’ve never seen them play away – I just don’t perceive the Mountain Men as the most exciting team in the league. When I’m looking at the draw wondering where to go each weekend, their fixtures never grab me. Base a team like Manukau City up there on that mountain and I’d sign up for a season ticket at any price.
One word summary: Paradise
3 – Shepherd’s Park
The great: Birkenhead United really know how to put on a show for the big occasions. Flares, samba drummers, banners, wigs, kids in candy cane striped shirts, and big crowds – this is one of the most well supported clubs you’ll find in this country. And it’s not contrived or clichéd when they call themselves a family club. The place is always teeming with kids, all jockeying for a place to shoot goals from at half and full time on the number one pitch and they are fully engaged – interacting with and idolising the first team players – looking for high fives at every opportunity. I never fail to get warm fuzzies at Shepherd’s Park.
The gripe: The parking. For big games you always know you’re in for a bit of a hike.
One word summary: Whanau
4 – English Park
The great: You wouldn’t know I’m a Waikato native if all you had to go on was the Aucklandcentric nature of this list – but hey, I like to keep people guessing, and I do have this one token non-Auckland football ground in my top five. See? Not a JAFA at all. There are other contenders unlucky to miss out on this spot like Park Island and Gower Park, but surely nobody can deny that Christchurch’s first class facility at English Park does take a lot of beating. It’s a modern purpose built football ground set up to house 3,000 fans in plastic seated comfort. And it’s the only place I’ve been to in this country of ours that treats women’s football with the respect it deserves – with a gate charge, ground announcer, half time entertainment and decent crowds.
The gripe: Artificial pitches… I understand why they are important and necessary but at the same time they aren’t quite the same, are they? It’s like a fake Christmas tree – in your head you know they are better on multiple levels, but in your heart you’d still rather have a real one dropping crap everywhere and giving you hay fever…
One word summary: Fancy
Bolter – Ken Maunder Park
The great: Power pylons, one of the busiest roads in Auckland, a creek, a wasteland and a big grey blank wall – these are the things that border the pitch at Ken Maunder Park. What’s not to like? Seriously, this place, for me, falls into the so bad it’s good category. It’s got grit, it’s got ambiance, it’s got industrial chic. It’s the kind of place where you could set a hostage swap scene in a cold war spy movie and win a Palme d’Or at Cannes. You need to get down there stat before Lynn Avon disappears completely from the NRFL.
The gripe: It’s a football ground and that’s all it is. It’s not a place to get a snack, it’s not a place to whet your whistle, it’s not a place to go to be ‘entertained’. It’s a place where football is played and enjoyed for its own sake. Not really a gripe, I suppose, just a fact.
One word summary: Avant-garde
Next week: Five of the most improved.
Categories: Other Football Topics
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.