Last month I bowed to public pressure and wrote a post ranking my five favourite football grounds in New Zealand. In so doing, I also acknowledged requests for follow up pieces looking at the most improved, depressing, wind-blown and inaccessible grounds along with the best and worst stadium food. You’ll note that I’m taking my time with this wider project. This is largely to put off, for as long as possible, the posts that are most likely to get people really hating me. Luckily, before I get onto those, there’s still this sort of backhandedly positive one….
So without any further ado…
Five of the most improved
1 – Stanmore Bay Reserve
What’s better: You know what they say in real estate – location, location, location. You can’t beat waterfront property. Hibiscus Coast’s home ground is gorgeous, and it would still be a special place even if the football club consisted of a long-drop toilet and a pitch surfaced with scoria. It was the facilities and the pitch that always used to let the side down, though. But in recent years there has been some money spent and what a difference it has made! The most welcome addition from a spectator’s perspective is definitely the expansive clubroom balcony that boasts one of the best sea views in football.
What could still be better: It’s a pity that the view from pitch level doesn’t match the balcony’s. Perhaps for their next fundraising target they could look to jack the playing surface up a meter or two? Then maybe move the public toilets to the other side of the carpark so they don’t corrupt your vista. THEN that place will be perfect! (Yeah, I know, just watch the bloody game…)
One word summary: Seaside
2 – Porritt Stadium
What’s better: I have a real mental block when it comes to football grounds set inside running tracks – up to and including the Stadio Olimpico. The big red circles of doom just separate you from the action so much and go a long way towards wrecking any atmosphere a ground might have. I didn’t like going to Waikato FC games at Porritt because of this. But now that Hamilton Wanderers are giving preference to the pitch outside the main athletics stadium, I find this a completely different place to go and watch football. So pretty!
What could still be better: It’s still a bit yucky on the east side with the big grandstand plonked there with its ass end right in your face. It’s all mouldy walls and rubbish skips. It would be great if they could knock that over and build something double sided that provides covered seating for both grounds. That would probably make this place Hamilton’s home of football. Without it, I think that title still belongs to Gower Park.
One word summary: Leafy
3 – Walter Massey Park
What’s better: Back in 2013 when I first did my ‘State of the Nation’ pitch report, this was head and shoulders the worst football pitch in Auckland – maybe even New Zealand. It was so bad that I gave it zero out of ten. It wasn’t even a football pitch. In summer it more closely resembled a section of the Gobi Desert and by mid-winter it was a dead ringer for the Bog of Eternal Stench. Since then Manukau City AFC have fought, struggled, lobbied Auckland Council and ultimately achieved what so many clubs outside South Auckland get as a matter of course – a new sand carpet. The other big change since my zero rating has been the amazing colourful murals they have painted on the exterior walls of the clubrooms. A cool vibrant club at the heart of a cool vibrant community.
What could still be better: Obviously the place isn’t perfect, mainly because it lacks a few basic creature comforts. The flash new pitch is still just a patch of grass in a suburban park. You still get muddy shoes standing on the sideline. If you want food, the KFC across the road is probably your best bet. If you want coffee, bog off to Ponsonby you yuppie.
One word summary: Polynesia
4 – Everywhere that there’s turf
What’s better: Where there’s turf there’s improvement. These surfaces are all still very new, and where it’s been installed at great expense to local ratepayers, in general there has been some accompanying investment in the surrounding spectator experience. At the very least, brand spanking new concrete paths have replaced muddy grass to stand on, and swanky black wire waist high fences have replaced rusty railings with peeling paint to lean on. Ellerslie’s new retaining walls double as seats and Ranui have new clubrooms with a two sided stand looking over both their turf and grass pitches at Starling Park.
What could still be better: Life is full of trade-offs of course, and these cash injections do come with downsides for the spectator experience. In one of his recent blogs, Kevin Fallon said that grass has a better atmosphere than turf. Come on, right? How is that possible? I don’t know, but in my opinion he’s right. The other downside is the lack of access to all sides for viewing. At most kiwi grounds we are used to rocking up to little more than a paddock with boundaries marked out by a bit of string that nobody really cares if you ignore. We aren’t used to big angry looking signs that effectively say “PISS OFF!” Not overly welcoming. Then there are the high fences that really cramp a spectator’s style. At Ranui about a third of the perimeter of the pitch is off limits. At Western Springs you can only really watch the game from one side.
One word summary: Rubber
Bolter – North Harbour Stadium
What’s better: I’ve got one word that makes all the difference here – perception. The difference between a good football ground and one you love is all about how it gets you in the feels. It’s that feeling that swells in your gut as you pull off the motorway when you’re almost there. Essentially what I’m talking about is love. And sue me, but I love North Harbour Stadium in all its shitty 90’s glory. How has this happened? It’s simple, all the thousands of hours I’ve spent here, be it in the main stadium for the Under 20 World Cup or on the outer oval for the National Women’s League, the place has slowly but surely drawn me in and afflicted me with a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome.
What could still be better: These are all well documented. It’s in desperate need of refurbishment, it’s in Albany, the traffic in and out is diabolical, it’s in Albany, the parking is horrific, it’s in Albany, the food is terrible and overpriced, it’s in Albany, it’s got no atmosphere, it’s in Albany, the pitch is woeful, and it’s in Albany. Yes, it’s basically a shithole but it’s football’s home shithole.
One word summary: 1995
Next time: Five of the most depressing
Categories: Other Football Topics
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: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/