Birkenhead United 3, Waitakere City 2 AET
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, September 11 2016
What a fantastic day!
What an absolutely fantastic entire weekend of football I had, as a matter of fact. There are many stories to tell, but I’ll save a lot of them for later – because this post belongs only to Birkenhead United.
Young whipper snapper that I am, I haven’t seen Chatham Cup finals dating back as far as a lot of people reading this might have. I haven’t seen the great Christchurch United v Mount Wellington 1972 final that a lot of people rate as the greatest ever – I wasn’t born. I can only talk about what I’ve seen, and from what I’ve seen that was the best Chatham Cup final in my living memory. Two sides going at each other hammer and tongs with no quarter given, and almost as incredible a comeback as you’ll ever see. It was shades of the great Liverpool vs Milan Champions League final of 2005 – and no, this is not Jeremy Ruane writing this having stolen my login and password.
Of course, it was the result I wanted to see – that’s no secret. I even wore my Birkenhead United shirt proudly as could be during the day. Poor old John Bennett, the Waitakere coach, kept shaking his head at me – I’m sorry John, I love you too and I promise to make it up to you next year…
My allegiances weren’t entirely with Birko though, if you can believe that. Just before kick-off I was in my own little world down by the side-line fiddling with my camera settings when a Waitakere fan yelled “ENZO!!!” – he was alerting me to the fact that a pitch sprinkler was moments away from giving me a very expensive drenching! I briefly considered jumping ship in light of this generosity of spirit, but as the game got going, it became clear that my heart only belonged to one team on the pitch yesterday.
It wasn’t too stressful, the first 80 minutes. Birko ran out to a two goal lead in the first half and never looked like relinquishing it. The only question mark was the 5,687 yellow cards that had been dished out already. It was a feisty one and the chances of both sides finishing the day with eleven players always looked to be close to zero.
With just ten minutes to go in the 90, the group of Birko supporters who were way up in corporate hospitality had their shirts off twirling them in the air Phoenix style. The sun was so bright and in such a position that the only place to get good photos was down the end of the ground where there were no fans and none of the goals were being scored. I decided it was time to move to at least try and get some shots of the inevitable full time celebrations that were surely just minutes away.
I got halfway around the pitch when the first Waitakere goal went in. I stopped in my tracks. Should I keep walking and risk jinxing things any further? I looked up, and saw the Birko fans up in the Gods hastily putting their shirts back on – they weren’t taking any chances… But ultimately I decided that I don’t believe in silly superstitions so I kept walking. Then, just as I reached the Birkenhead fan zone, the referee pointed to the penalty spot. What had I done???
The game was back to all square and what was more – it was Waitakere who were making all the running… I walked as fast as my legs could carry me back to the spot I was standing in when things were going so much better.
In my defence, I wasn’t the only one who was caught out tempting fate. During the break between full time and extra time I was shown a photo of an NZF official taking the black and white ribbons off the cup to get it ready for the presentation. It was lucky for them they hadn’t started engraving!
The next half hour was as stressful for me as I’ve felt watching Roma in big games. I almost couldn’t watch. I really thought they had blown it. Waitakere had all the momentum, while Birko looked out on their feet especially after the inevitable happenned and they went down to ten men. Then, in the second half of extra time, came the match winning goal from Ethan Galbraith. I think my scream may have been loud and high pitched enough for Jim from Twitter to hear me down in Taranaki and question my manhood some more.
But I don’t care. I don’t care what Jim thinks, I don’t care that every single goal was scored at the opposite end from where I was standing and I don’t care if people think I’m a dick for loving Birko so much because that was bloody awesome!!!
After the game I was extremely privileged to be invited into the dressing room to celebrate with the team, take some photos, and even drink some silver polish tinged beer out of the cup. A once in a lifetime experience for me, and that fabulous team of guys who earned that win in every way possible – by holding their nerve when nobody expected them to, never giving up, and putting the theory to bed that you need to lose a final before you can win one. It was inspirational.
Congratulations to everyone involved with Birkenhead United – you made a lot of people – men, women and children – very happy yesterday. You should be immensely proud of what you achieved and I know you are.
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.