Back in June 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 windblown
1 – Wakefield Park
Why so blustered: It’s Wellington innit! It sure is. I haven’t been to a lot of grassroots football in our nation’s capital but when I have gone it has more often than not been at Wakefield Park – home of Island Bay United, Wellington Olympic and others. Island Bay gets maximum wind and minimum light, and in my experience it’s always cold enough to freeze the balls off a golf course. All the games I have seen here have been at night, when the floodlights seem about as effective as a full moon in a coal mine and the substitutes can be found ‘warming up’ under multiple blankets with more layers of clothing on than Sanka Coffie in the Himalayas. In short – it’s not a particularly pleasant place to watch football.
Redeeming features: Setting the cold and wind aside, Island Bay is a lovely part of the world and it’s arguably the Italian capital of New Zealand – given that it’s the suburb of Wellington in which a lot of Southern Italians and their families settled into in the first half of the 20th century. So there’s that connection to my roots. Plus, on the absolutely not in any way Italian side, the clubrooms at Wakefield have one of the better tuckshops around, and they do a very good line in cheese and pineapple toasted sandwiches – so good that I have been known to go back for seconds.
One word summary: Chilblains
2 – David Farrington Park
Why so blustered: It’s Wellington innit! The home of Miramar Rangers is one of those spots where if it gets any sun at all, and I assume it does because grass does grow on the pitch, it can’t be much more than an hour or two’s worth per day. The pitch is like a table top cut into the side of a cliff and because it’s at the top of a valley that runs South down towards Cook Strait, it’s very exposed at the top of what is basically an Antarctic wind tunnel. If you are coming to a game here and you don’t know what you’re in for, I recommend you bring a hot water bottle, a thermos full of coffee spiked with something seriously alcoholic, and possibly a spade in case you need to dig a snow cave…
Redeeming features: Like all of these places, with discomfort comes beauty. David Farrington actually reminds me a lot of Central United in some ways. It’s well set up with high vantage points for viewing both from the clubrooms and in the bleachers perched along the top of the high bank along the Western side. It’s like a rugged Scottish links version of Kiwitea Street’s beautifully manicured and tree lined parkland golf course. The more distant scenery is lovely too, with all the cute Wellington wooden villas clinging to the surrounding hillsides (how, we do not know) interspersed with large clumps of silvery green bush and scrub. A more quintessentially Wellington scene is hard to come by.
One word summary: Glen
3 – Gordon Spratt Reserve
Why so blustered: It’s… not Wellington, but it could easily be apart from the whole flatness thing. It’s Papamoa, in what’s supposed to be the warm and sunny Bay of Plenty but the location isn’t the issue here – it’s the wide open spaces with next to nothing around to shelter the place from the elements. Gordon Spratt Reserve is basically a field with a set of goalposts at each end and not much else to speak of between it and the Kaimai Ranges. The result of this is that standing on the sidelines is an experience that roughly compares to being lost at sea in an inflatable dinghy.
Redeeming features: I always get good photos here which is why I miss the Papamoa side that used to compete in the women’s Northern League. Nothing in the background means there’s nothing pesky for the camera’s autofocus to latch onto instead of the player you are trying to shoot. I also respected Papamoa as the one club where you always got a programme when there to follow women’s football – a good sign that they took it seriously even when results on the pitch might have hinted otherwise. The bright yellow kits of the home team were always great too, as long as you weren’t suffering from a hangover…
One word summary: Spartan
4 – Rongomai Park
Why so blustered: I feel a certain obligation to include something from our nation’s biggest city in this category but I have to admit it is something of a challenge to pick out Auckland’s most windblown park. In the end, I went for Rongomai Park – home of Conference side South Auckland Rangers. It fits the bill because it did happen to be very windy the one time I watched a game here. It is in a very exposed location and, although it’s not strictly wind related, SAR (as the club is colloquially known) does sound a lot like a viral respiratory disease of some concern in the early 2000s…
Redeeming features: But I mustn’t poke fun at this football ground. Nice facilities are few and far between in South Auckland, so where they exist we should celebrate them, not childishly mock them. Which is why I have no wise cracks at all to make in this paragraph. Instead I’ll note that the very chic industrial style of the flash new rusty iron and concrete architecturally designed clubrooms here, coupled with the surrounding suburban cityscape, make this quite a cool place to hang out and watch football. As long as you like Soviet era nuclear fallout bunkers. And honestly I do! I swear.
One word summary: Hipster
Bolter – Seatoun Park
Why so blustered: You guessed it – it’s Wellington innit! If you are sick of getting buffeted by Southerlies in Wellington – I have some great news for you… You can come to Seatoun and cop a Northerly instead! Although the one time I visited this ground, it wasn’t any warmer… You would think that being sheltered from the South, this place would be like some kind of tropical paradise by Wellington standards but actually the weather here is so bad that it has been known to sink ships including, famously, an interisland Ferry on the nearby Barrett Reef in 1968. The club also has Lazio memorabilia on display which drops the temperature a few extra degrees below freezing…
Redeeming features: Contrary to the tone of the bulk of this piece, I do love Wellington and Seatoun is a part of it that I’d love to live as much as any other. I’d have to win Lotto first though, as property here is very highly sought-after. It’s a gorgeous part of town, its own little world on the other side of a tunnel that emerging from resembles exiting a portal into another dimension. Seatoun is also one of the strongest Women’s football clubs in the lower North Island, their ladies first team having won the Central League four times over the past decade. So we might forgive them for the Nazio memorabilia…
One word summary: Wahine
Next time: Five of the most inaccessible
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/