Birkenhead United 3, Miramar Rangers 1
Shepherd’s Park, Auckland, August 28 2016
I have never made any secret of the fact that I have a soft spot for Birkenhead United. But today, without wanting to go too mushy on you, I’m ready to declare my undying love. Allow me to explain why.
Exactly 364 days ago there was a Chatham Cup semi-final at Shepherd’s Park. It was Birkenhead United’s first ever and their opponents were Napier City Rovers. A huge crowd complete with samba drummers and flares watched as they came back from a goal down to level the scores at 1-1 as the game ticked over 90 and then 120 minutes. But cruelly for them, their fairy tale was destined to be snuffed out via a dreaded penalty shootout. It was a real heartbreaker.
But instead of giving up, they did as the banal old football cliché tells us all to do – “we go again”. And today they got their reward. There were no samba drummers or flares on this occasion – much to my disappointment – but the fireworks on the pitch more than made up for their absence on the Southern embankment!
The game was watched by a good couple of thousand candy cane stripped fans by my estimate – and I reckon a good 20-30% of those in attendance would have been young kids who really are a huge part of what makes this club so special. You simply don’t see children in these numbers engaged in first team football like they are here anywhere else in my experience.
And they are not just there because they have been dragged along by their parents. They are lining the sidelines, living and breathing every moment of the game, swarming all over the pitch at half time, and mobbing the players when they succeed.
They were really treated to a cracker of a game today, played at a furious pace throughout. Birko took the lead early when Jarrod Smith got his noggin on the end of a Sam Burfoot corner to send a mighty roar around Shepherd’s Park. The lead was short lived as Miramar’s Nico Kirwan had the scores tied back up a mere ten minutes later but it only took another four for the home side’s lead to be restored when Godwin Darkwa received the ball inside the area with his back to goal, turned and slotted.
From there we had a rollercoaster ride as Miramar went for broke trying to get themselves back on level terms and Birko, perhaps sensing their opponents’ potential to hit them at some stage, also pushed hard to extend their lead. Both teams left themselves exposed to the counter attack at various times as they hammered away at each other. As we headed into the last 20 minutes, it felt like someone was going to score and whoever did would ultimately be playing at QBE stadium in a fortnight’s time.
After a couple of stunning saves from keeper Damian Hirst at one end, it was Birko who found the sucker punch at the other with ten minutes left when Ethan Galbraith stabbed home from close range and history was made.
Talking to club President Dave Newick on the pitch after the final whistle, I think I saw a hint of a tear and well there might have been. It’s an amazing achievement for him, Paul Hobson, all the players and everyone who has worked so hard for this club. They have built something really special. Not just a winning team – anyone can do that – but a winning team that has brought scores of people, young and old, from outside football and inside it, along with them.
And that’s why Birkenhead United is officially my favourite club in Auckland.
Categories: NZ Chatham Cup
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.