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An eye opener

Hamilton Wanderers 0, Glenfield Rovers 1
Porritt Stadium, Hamilton, August 6 2016

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“So let me get this straight, the youngest member of the team has made the bus late.”

“I know, 17 years old. He should be there early warming up all the seats for us.”

Here I was, on a freezing cold Auckland morning, standing on the sidewalk opposite Victoria Park Market with half the Glenfield Rovers first team squad and their coach Daniel Donegan. Daniel had messaged me on Facebook after I posted my article about Forrest Hill Milford, player payments and the mistreatment of the women’s first team at Becroft Park. He offered me the chance to travel with Glenfield on the team bus to their next away fixture in Hamilton “for a behind the scenes perspective” and so we could “speak in person about how we compensate our players and dispel some of the misconceptions about money in the NRFL.”

It was a chance too good to pass up.

As we were mulling around waiting for the bus to come from McFetridge Park, where it had gathered up all the North Shore based team members, already my eyes were popping out of my head… A message had found its way to us from the players already on their way – apparently the driver had special instructions not to allow any porn on the trip. It was explained to me that on a previous trip they had tried to play it on the in-built TV screen but they were unable to get pictures – only sound…

It was at this moment that it began to dawn on me what I had gotten myself into!

Having said that, the bus ride down passed reasonably uneventfully. I got to have a few interesting chats with Daniel in between his quiet one-on-ones with some of the players and various discussions with his assistant coach.

I was interested in the fact that he has worked with Declan Edge quite a bit. He satisfied my curiosity by relating his favourite Declan saying – about the difference between amateur and professional sportspeople. “What do you think the difference is between amateur and professional?” he demanded. I replied that professionals get paid while amateurs don’t. “No, the difference is amateurs focus on what they do right. Professionals focus on what they do wrong. An amateur will hit 100 golf balls and be proud of the 90 they hit well. A professional will analyse what went wrong with the ten they hit badly.”

It was an interesting thing to consider, in the context of why I was there.

The amateur/professional divide and what it meant was a theme of the day in some ways. It manifested itself again in a different way when we stopped at Sky City Hamilton for lunch before we were due at Porritt Stadium for the 2:45pm kick off. One of the players demolished his bowl of spaghetti and part of somebody else’s before deciding he felt like more garlic bread. Mario Bilen gladly offered up his. “You see that?” coach Donegan quipped to the hungry player “Mario is an experienced professional and he doesn’t eat the garlic bread. What does that tell you?”

“He’s an engineer not a sports nutritionist” the player shot back through a mouthful of bread…

One of the players asked me about my Forrest Hill Milford piece and it started a little discussion about the controversy. I said it was good to see that a few of the men’s first team players had contributed to the Givealittle. “They probably just want to **** the women’s team” a player reasoned.

When we returned to the bus after our pasta lunch with kick off less than an hour away, the driver was disconcertingly nowhere to be seen. Donegan, suspended for this game for an outburst directed at a referee the week before, would be allowed no contact with the team when we got to the ground so he gathered his players around him right there on Hamilton’s main drag and delivered a slightly surreal team talk while we waited for our chauffeur to materialise.

Once we got underway, as we were weaving our way through Hamilton East, Donegan asked me “What do you think about pokie funding? The fact that poor people who gamble are paying for a flash bus like this for us?” I replied that it’s money for community activities, this is a community activity, and it’s better than corporations like Sky City keeping the profits…

When we finally arrived, the coach’s suspension also allowed him to spend some time with me in the clubrooms before the game, filling me in on the realities of player payments from his perspective.

He told me that the Rovers’ first team budget is the same as it was when he took over the team four years ago. Since then he has run it like a separate entity from the club that does its own corporate fundraising to generate income to spend on creating an environment that players are attracted to – nice busses, nice kits, nice pasta lunches with nice garlic bread… and yes, player payments. According to Donegan, this is done at no cost to the club, so the first team is not taking money from juniors, social teams or women. And he assured me that “if the women had a semi-final in Christchurch, we wouldn’t make them fundraise.”

He doesn’t believe in some players getting a lot more than others. Rovers have ‘bands’ (like a collective agreement!) where the band you are placed on depends on your experience. Players generally get an amount per game plus a win bonus and their money is contingent on them turning up to training. He sees the payments as reimbursements and incentives.

I asked him if it was a fiction that the league was amateur. His reply was “that’s a legal term. It’s semantics. If you work out an hourly rate for all the time the guys put in it would be about $5/hour.”

I also asked if he thought it was right that his guys get paid what they do while a lot of women in the game, who arguably play at a higher level considering New Zealand’s world ranking, get less or nothing. “It’s not right or wrong, it’s the market. Supply and demand.”

“Most people who complain aren’t affected by it” he said. “My message to Ellerslie, etc, if you don’t like it by all means take the moral high ground and take pride in your club but don’t knock others. It’s like your poor neighbour who is spending all their money on flat screen TVs and cigarettes. That’s your neighbour, it’s not affecting you so don’t judge them.”

The game was really a secondary part of my trip on this occasion, which was just as well because it was dire. It was settled by a second half penalty scored by Steven Holloway.

The good part about it was because Steven was on the pitch, his dad Bruce (AKA Cordwainer Bull) was prowling the sidelines. Bruce, of course, is Chairman of Melville United so I asked him for his perspective on player payments. It was akin to Donegan’s and it sounded like his club’s approach is also similar in many ways. He singled out both Glenfield and Central for praise in the way they run their operations – “they are bringing money into the game, not taking it out!” He told me that Melville charges sponsors for advertising boards surrounding the pitch and to get them to pay, they have to supply a product – a competitive first team that people come to watch. Therefore it’s necessary to invest some of the money they make into player payments.

I also asked Bruce the women’s equality question I posed to Daniel. His response was “if the women want to sell a board they can have the money. But the trouble is they don’t drink at the bar so we don’t get any income from that when the women play.” – That might have been the most depressing part of the whole day for me.

After some pizza courtesy of Rod de Lisle’s culinary, I mean pizza buying, skills we piled back onto the bus and headed back towards Auckland. There was one stop left at the Rangiriri pub where the players ordered shots. I found a quiet corner to start making sense of my notes. “Do a shot Enzo!” “Nah I’m good.” “Don’t be a vagina!!!!” Next thing I knew, a shot glass was put in front of me – I chose the path of least resistance. “Make sure you write about that!” – I am a man of my word.

The singing started around about Manukau. Most of the songs were about Birkenhead United and called into question the parentage of their team. I’ll refrain from describing some of the other ditties that contained lyrics that would make Eminem blush.

When we arrived back at Victoria Park, I had enjoyed my day, and remain very grateful to Dan and the team for letting me into their inner sanctum.

I have said many times before that I don’t have a problem with player payments. As Bruce Holloway said, clubs like Glenfield are bringing money into the game not taking it out. But I do differ slightly with Daniel Donegan around the role of those who don’t like it. Everything affects everyone and it’s up to those of us who want to make a difference, whatever that difference may be, to keep striving to do just that.

Categories: NZ Northern Men's Premier

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

2 replies

  1. So the Monkey’s sing about the Mighty Birko even when not playing them! Just a bit of jealousy I guess. At least the Monkey’s had a nice outing from their cage for the day!!!!

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