The season’s just two games old, but already I realise how much I have missed the newly branded Stirling Sports Premiership. Part of that is because when the competition starts, it means summer is here. Sunday afternoons with friends in the pub or the club bar, drinking cold beers out of chilled glasses. Swapping stories of the working week and getting on the case of the supporter of that weeks worst performing EPL team. Walking through the leafy suburbs of Sandringham on the way to the ground, shuffling into the shade in the stand as the sun wheels across the sky. Hot chips at half time. A curry at Paradise post-game. Checking out the YouTube highlights on a Wednesday.
The football isn’t bad either. Already the ten team league is shaping up to be a competition on another level to last years edition. Team Wellington look like a side playing the long game, eyes on retaining their title. The WeeNix seem stronger and savvier than the last year or so, as their academy players garner more experience. Eastern Suburbs have assembled a formidable squad, while Hamilton Wanderers mix of Waikato and Birko players are going to be dangerous. That lad Ifill at Tasman can play a bit too.
There’s also the dark horses. Brett Angell’s Hawkes Bay United were conspicuously absent from the pre-season hype (which was a new and exciting thing all by itself) but came roaring out of the blocks to wallop Waitakere United last weekend. Willy Gerdsen’s Canterbury United are also looking like a mean outfit, and Southern United appear to have the most competitive squad for years.
This weekend City play on a Saturday against Tasman United. The two clubs have been in contact regarding supporter hospitality, as the 248 Service are planning their annual big away trip to Nelson in January. In return, we’re hosting them at a pub in Sandringham from midday on Saturday before heading to the ground. This sort of engagement, bringing people from both sides together for a few beers and a laugh, is a part of the game that New Zealand Football’s Andy Martin talked about wanting to see more of – but don’t actually have any specific plans to encourage that.
That’s fair enough, it’s down to the individual clubs to get their supporters engaged and active and building a footballing culture in New Zealand is something anyone who loves the game and wants to see it grow needs to chip in on.
We’ve got another two home fixtures before the end of the year and at least one away day at Eastern Suburbs in mid-December, assuming we’re not facing Real Madrid in the Club World Cup Final. Shut up, it could happen.
But for now the summer stretches ahead of us. All of the things that make summer football great are here once again and whether you’re watching in Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill, Nelson, Wellington, Hamilton, Tauranga, Napier, Waitakere, Sandringham or Panmure this season, I hope you find your own little matchday ritual with friends and family and have a season to remember.
See you out there.
Categories: NZ Men's National League
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.