Away days are an integral part of football culture. You only need scan the multitudes of Twitter and Facebook accounts focusing on the travels of supporters from the very pinnacle of the game to the lowest and most local levels. It’s hard to quantify exactly what it is about ‘the away’ that captures the imagination, but I reckon it’s down the sense of ‘your lot’ and your team going to ‘their place’ and trying to come away with three points and a decent performance, on and off the pitch.
It’s also to do with socialising, having a few beers and travelling together. That tribalism, that sense of identity.
It’s not easy doing away days in the Stirling Sports Premiership. WaiBOP and Waitakere are relatively close, although the wandering nature of the Waikato Fed rep did alter the distances required to travel occasionally. Last year City played Waitak up at the QBE Stadium which was neither home, nor away. It was nowhere for both teams.
This year is different and today saw the start of an entirely new rivalry between high-flying newcomers Eastern Suburbs (Yes, yes they’re not new shhhh) and Auckland City. The game was played at Bill McKinlay Park, which ranks as one of the best grounds in Auckland without a doubt. Some internet discussion had christened it the Gridlock Derby, as it’s Auckland – the traffic is terrible.
My wife, Roz, fancied coming along to this one. We’d visited Bill McKinlay for Sacred Heart’s college game against St Peters earlier this year, meeting top drummer Jono Baker – who has since provided the beats for the All Whites and arrived today toting his drum. It’s a good ground, it’s got a great stand which was perfectly positioned for shade – and it was a beautiful day.
We met up with others at Britomart, sunk a few cold beers at No.1 Queen Street before heading by train to Panmure. The train discussion was lively, based on the idea that the ‘Premier League’ manager the Nix have had a C.V for is Sam Allardyce. Hamish Watson as Kevin Davies? You heard it here first. It was bloody hot at this point. It wasn’t going to get any cooler.
City were changed from their Club World Cup adventure. A centre back pairing of Marko Dordevic and Mario Bilen brought height, while new father Takuya Iwata watched from the sidelines as the impressive Alfie Rogers took the left back spot. Up front the Tade, Moreira and De Vries trio were as familiar as slapping on sunscreen in December.
For Suburbs there was a familiar look to the midfield with Tim Payne and Sammy Burfoot buzzing around as they had once in Navy Blue. Up front Armin Pasagic was a threat and the Lilywhites looked staunch at the back with All White Luke Adams marshalling the troops ahead of Silvio Rodic in goal.
Both teams played an expansive game in possession, hugging the touchlines but compressing the space when they were on the defensive. This Suburbs team rolled over City in pre-season, looking very Ramonesque as they did. Stood on the bar decking, handles in hand, it was clear this was going to be a grind.
Up in the stand the 248 were augmented by the drum work of Jono Baker. Jono was also the drummer at the most recent All Whites game and is part of the Sacred Heart supporters group. He also invited ITBOTN along to their opening game, also at Bill McKinlay, earlier this year.
Half Time 0 – 0
There are a LOT of blade flags up at Bill McKinlay. Suburbs obviously have a fair amount of dollar behind them, but the placement of the flags directly in front of the decking meant that our little group were leaning one way and then the other to get a line of sight on the action. Chances came at both ends with De Vries’ daisycutter only narrowly passing the far post with Rodic beaten.
The heat bore down and the sunscreen was reapplied, $5 handles of Wild Buck reordered. Tim Payne gave away a corner, complained and was reprimanded by a supporter who will remain nameless, and then insisted that he hadn’t touched it to onlookers. According to Jeremy Ruane, stationed on the sweltering media balcony, he hadn’t. Oops. Sorry Tim.
He had though. You don’t get that in the pro leagues, kids.
Then the penalty. City had been probing down the left for ten minutes with no success. A pinging penalty box ball walloped Finn Cochran’s arm and the ref pointed to the spot. After some keeper jiggery pokery and repeated warnings about encroachment, Tade’s penalty was saved. In the immedate aftermath players crunched into each other with Tim Payne and Joao Moreira getting tangled up. Moreira was booked, Payne needed treatment.
And then the penalty was retaken. The consensus was that there was encroachment or that the keeper had come off their line. Tade placed this one high and past Rodic, no mistake this time. But the delay between the save and the retake, due to the stramash of rebound chasing players, gave the whole thing an air of ridicule. Well, that and the heatstroke/beerstroke we were beginning to suffer from. More sunscreen.
Having conceded just two goals all season, City weren’t in the mood for slackness at the back. Clayton Lewis had a late break which could have doubled the lead, but the game was competitive until the end. Like the traffic, the engines were running but neither team were willing to take the handbrake off.
Full Time – Eastern Suburbs 0 – 1 Auckland City
It was a good day out. Bill McKinlay’s one of those grounds that should be used for National League games, as the thousand or so inside fitted neatly without being swamped by empty seats. Roll on the return leg at Kiwitea St and here’s to more away days in the future!
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.