You thought I’d forgotten about this, didn’t you?
I hadn’t. I was just slowly taking my time to recover from the wrath of the Wellingtonians who accused me of not mentioning [insert random miserable enclave of their city here] when I did the five most windblown a few months ago.
To recap, way 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, windblown and inaccessible grounds along with the best and worst stadium food.
If it’s not already abundantly clear from the above wording of “MY five”, I should remind readers that unfortunately I can’t write about football grounds I haven’t been to. These are all, therefore, very personal lists and will of course be rather upper North Island centric. Sorry-not-sorry.
Having said that, it’s now time to dust myself off, remove the shards of shattered craft beer bottles from my back, and carry on.
So without any further ado…
Five of the most inaccessible
1 – Onetangi Sports Park
Why such a drag: Allow me to briefly summarise the rigmarole required for this epic journey. It consists of fighting your way into the heart of the Auckland CBD, finding and paying for all day parking, a one hour ferry ride, and then a one hour bus trip that winds its way from one end of the island to the other as the poor bus driver fields an endless stream of idiotic questions from moronic ‘mainlanders’. Then, when you’ve made it to the entrance to Onetangi Sports Park, you have to run a very large gauntlet of angry attack chickens at the start of a looooooooog driveway. By the end of all that you may or may not be fortunate enough to have made it to the actual ground in time for kick-off – provided Argentina aren’t playing rugby that day! (Yes – I’m still bitter) Then, after all of that, you are forced to repeat the whole lot in reverse to get home again…
Redeeming features: With great effort does come great rewards, of course. When you get there you will be treated to ultras, drumming, Spanish singing, flares, whistles, banners, flags, and free flowing South American football. This is without mentioning some of the real pleasures of the journey such as dolphins and orcas in the harbour and the odd slightly tipsy builder on the land… Waiheke Island also boasts great food and wine too if you fancy a more leisurely journey that doesn’t require photos to be processed and posts to be written before the weekend is out.
Is it a bloody hassle? Yes. Is it worth the trouble? Absolutely.
One word summary: Waves
2 – Links Avenue
Why such a drag: The drive to Tauranga is one of the road trips I find the most tedious of all. Going through Matamata and over the Kaimai Ranges is the fastest route in my experience, but the real downside of that is lots of looooooong straights where there always seems to be one car coming the other way at just the wrong time that stops you from passing that ignoramus doing 80kph in front of you… It’s at its worst in the summer months when you inevitably get stuck behind long streams of holiday makers towing jetskis, boats, driving campervans, and, when you are going over the Kaimais, trucks doing 10kph… What’s wrong with transporting heavy goods on rail? And who said the beach is relaxing??? Bah humbug.
Redeeming features: Links Avenue is one of the best set up grounds in the Northern League, if not the best. A real football facility, it boasts a spacious covered stand, nice clubrooms and even a ‘Koru Lounge’ for special guests where the beer flows and the chip butties are a welcome treat. Now back to being the only Western Bay of Plenty club in the Northern League, Tauranga City United has a whole city behind them and it remains a great place to visit where the hospitality is warm and there are plenty of other fun activities to tack on to the trip.
One word summary: Friendly
3 – Whangaroa College
Why such a drag: A 550km round trip taking three and a half hours each way, this is the farthest I have ever driven just to watch a football game and then turn around and come straight home again. Whangaroa College isn’t the northernmost football ground in New Zealand but it’s not too far off it. To get there you have to wind your way through some fairly remote and economically deprived parts of the country. It takes real commitment, not least considering the level of football on display when you get there is Northern Football Federation – Northland Division 2… Think I’m mad? Well, yes, I probably am.
Redeeming features: Not really though. The rewards are plentiful. The trip is long and it also passes though some of the most beautiful parts of the country. The highlights include the Hundertwasser Toilets, the farmers market at Kerikeri, and you simply cannot miss ‘Get Fudged’ – a fudge shop that is to die for. I heartily recommend the ‘crème brulee’. If you want to extend your journey just a tad, the Bay of Islands (the historic cradle of New Zealand) are a short detour away to the East or, if you take the more leisurely Western route, Rawene is a magic little spot. Then, when you get there, there is the purpose of the whole ordeal – Stefano Virgili’s fabled Kaeo Inter which is quite simply grassroots football at its absolute best.
One word summary: Passion
4 – Massey Park
Why such a drag: It’s Auckland Jim, but not as we know it… The formal geographical textbook lexicon typically employed by experts on the subject to describe a place like Waiuku in strictly non-emotive scientific terms is – “the wop wops”. Technically it’s part of the Auckland Council area but in reality it’s more like a small Waikato town that hasn’t seen much benefit from the amalgamation of Franklin District with the rest of the ‘Super City’. It’s not the longest football journey I embark on by any stretch of the imagination, but it sure does feel like it. It seems to take forever to get out there!! I suspect that all of the above is interrelated. When your brain is conditioned to trips within city limits taking a certain amount of time, any prolonging of that seems like a particularly diabolical form of cruel and unusual torture.
Redeeming features: There is also definitely a correlation between far-flung football grounds and nice people and the Waiuku faithful are some of the best. From the metaphorical ‘golden haybale’ reserved for football bloggers to rest their weary buttocks on, to the way the locals use rich lashings of sarcastic country wit as they go about the business of beating the odds against big city teams – this really is a great place to visit. The town itself is a colonial diamond in the rough too. Don’t miss the “Waiuku Weatherstone Forecasting Service” overlooked by the Mordor-like Glenbrook steel mill menacingly spitting fire off in the distance.
One word summary: Charming
Bolter – Madills Farm
Why such a drag: It’s the bolter because at only 30km away from my house, it’s by far the shortest excursion on this list in terms of raw distance. So what makes Madills Farm so inaccessible? Three words: Tamaki bloody Drive. If you think you’ve given yourself plenty of time to make it to an Eastern Suburbs game by kick off, think again. Whatever amount of travelling time you have planned for – double it. By the time you have picked your way through all the sightseers, all the rollerbladers, all the Ferraris and Porches crawling along at speeds infinitely slower than their engines are built for, all the teeming hoards streaming into Kelly Tarlton’s, all the kids crossing the road with their ice-creams at Mission Bay, and all the hipsters on vespers, you’ll be lucky to make it by half time.
Redeeming features: It’s a bit of a struggle to come up with too many of these… For such a historic old club in a decile ten part of town, there’s not a lot at Madills to speak of really. It’s just a patch of mud with modest clubrooms. They are one of the few Auckland football clubs that has a coffee machine that spits out half decent lattes so there is that. There’s also the opportunity to join the kids at Mission Bay and collect one of those ice-creams on the way home… Or maybe to give a friendly wave to Michael Joseph Savage – New Zealand’s First Labour Prime Minister – entombed high above the route on Bastion Point. He must be suitably bemused at the crazy scenes that unfold below him on a daily basis!
One word summary: Bourgeois
Next time: Five of the best refreshments
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/