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. That was largely to put off, for as long as possible, the posts that are most likely to get people really hating me. But I can’t put this one off any longer.
So without any further ado…
Five of the most depressing
1 – Keith Hay Park
Why so sad: Never mind that Three Kings United’s home ground has one of the ugliest looking pitches in Auckland, containing more weed growth than a Coromandel dope plantation. Never mind that the clubrooms are so far from the pitch that to make the journey you need a packed lunch, a local guide, and to make sure you tell someone where you’re going in case a search party needs to be deployed. And never mind that there is more development surrounding the South Pole than there is around the number one pitch here. The most depressing thing about Keith Hay Park is none of those things. It’s the fact that it’s named after a local politician so right wing that he makes Donald Trump seem like Mahatma Gandhi.
Redeeming features: The name will probably never change but everything else here will. It’s having quite a lot of money spent on it in the next little while, with an artificial pitch going in and impressive looking new clubrooms going up that will overlook the Eastern side of the number one. But even still, I’m reminded of a Marshall McLuhan quote that opened the documentary on Anthony Weiner I saw at the film festival last week: “The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.” Perhaps they could lobby the council to call it Phil Goff Park…
One word summary: Teal
2 – Memorial Park, Manurewa
Why so sad: When something is smack dab in the middle of one of the lowest socioeconomic areas in the country, that’s no reason for it to be depressing – think Northern Wairoa or Mangere United. What really depresses me about Manurewa’s Memorial Park is that it’s painfully clear that, when resources are being dished out for sporting facilities, this place is so obviously last in the queue. When you line it up alongside the comparative palaces of some of the North Shore clubs, the injustice of it is quite hard to stomach. The pitch is a cricket outfield, no more and no less, and the ‘pavilion’ is looking like its glory days are well behind it. This proud club deserves better.
Redeeming features: The old grandstand might have seen better days, but at least it’s covered – making Manurewa a great option on a wet day. There’s also the history of this club. They have the undisputed distinction of winning the 1929 Chatham Cup with one of the most bizarre names in football – Tramurewa, which was an amalgamation of Manurewa and Tramways. Since then they have managed two Chatham Cups in 1978 and 1984 as well as taking out the National League in 1983. Like the old ground they play on they have seen better days, but they are still by far the most distinguished club in South Auckland.
One word summary: Yesterday
3 – Rosedale Park
Why so sad: Why don’t I like Albany United’s home ground? I’m struggling to put my finger on it. Surrounded by tall trees, it’s always a bit dark, cold and damp there. But that’s not really a good enough reason to put it on a ‘five of the most depressing’ list. I once got yelled at there for taking a photograph of the pitch for my annual pitch report while it was closed for repair. It hurt my feelings, but again it wouldn’t be fair to hold that against it here. The truth is, I really can’t think of a single good reason why I don’t like Rosedale Park…
Redeeming features: Why DO I like Albany United’s home ground? I’m struggling to put my finger on it. It’s perfectly pleasant really. The clubrooms are nice, the pitch is pristine, it’s surrounded by the home of New Zealand Softball which is interesting. But none of those things are good enough reasons to put it on a ‘five of the best’ list. The real problem with Rosedale Park is its blandness. There’s no soul there. Nothing that pulls on the heartstrings. Maybe that’s my fault. Maybe I haven’t been there enough to experience what’s good about it. But for whatever reason I don’t feel like I’m in any hurry to rectify that.
One word summary: Vanilla
4 – Allen Hill Stadium
Why so sad: This place is showing its age as much if not more than Manurewa. When I used to come here with my brother to watch North Shore United in the early nineties, this was one of the glamour clubs of New Zealand Football. Wynton Rufer and Harry Ngata were in the side, and the pictures of all the past Chatham Cup glories that lined the clubroom walls seemed to glimmer and glow. Maybe I was just young and when I look back now it’s through rose tinted glasses. But now I mostly associate this place with mud, overgrowth and rusty bleachers.
Redeeming features: I still love it here, though! How could you not? The best part by far is the wonky old covered stand that follows the contours of the bank it sits upon. If you love New Zealand football, this place is a real microcosm of what New Zealand football is. Unvarnished, unloved by the world, and without wanting to put too fine a point on it – just a little bit shit. So bad that it’s oh so very good. What’s the difference between this and Manurewa, though? This is a proper football ground, and its neglect isn’t related to the wealth of its surrounding area.
One word summary: Rustic
Bolter – Gower Park
Why so sad: If writing these posts has taught me anything, it’s that what ultimately makes a football ground good bad or indifferent isn’t so much bricks, mortar, or a good selection of craft beer – it’s the experiences you have there. And, Waikato tragic that you all know I am, Gower Park has never been a place I associate with happy thoughts. I’ve seen some victories there, sure, but they are exceptions that prove the rule. The 8-3 and 3-2 national league losses for the WaiBOP ladies and men respectively I witnessed on one miserable day last November are more what spring to mind for me when I think of Gower Park.
Redeeming features: It’s very nice there. Very, very nice there. The Lockwood clubrooms overlook a beautiful green playing surface ensconced in a cocoon of Pittosporum hedging with beautiful retro dugouts and ample bleacher seating. There’s even a sculpture of a ball hitting the back of the net! And it’s a spiritual home for me too, given I spent a solid chunk of my childhood at my grandparents’ house on the top of the Alison Street hill that Gower Park sits at the foot of. None of this helps, though. At least at Muir Park the surroundings matched the football!
One word summary: Bugger
Next time: Five of the most windblown
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.