The National Youth championship win for the Wanderers National Youth League team probably surprised many outsiders. Competing for the first time at this level, neither Wanderers youth or first teams were expected to fare particularly well. Especially given the track record of Waikato based national league teams who tend to be damp squibs, having never threatened to supply any business to local trophy engravers. Till now.
Hamilton Wanderers have always been known for its elite pathways for young aspiring footballers, orchestrated by Mark Cossey. The under 17s won the Auckland Metro title 4 years ago, before being banned from competing north of the Bombays at that level (to give the Auckland teams a chance we reckoned). And the Premier Reserve team won the NRFL Prem reserve league in 2014, both teams under the auspices of coach Peter Davies. Many of that crop of youngsters featured in this season’s youth team success. The green Waikato grows more than just grass it seems.
The other key ingredient of the title win can be attributed to coach Michael Built who ran the WaiBop version of this team last year. Suffering a long term knee knack he has been off the pitch for over a year. So, diverting his energies, Built worked tirelessly with his dad Steve, the manager, scouting players all winter and building a decent squad.
The league win probably also came as a shock to Declan Edge, coach of the Wellington youth team. When his lot beat our team at Porritt, (ok it was a thrashing, 7-1) I had the ignominious job of driving the winners back to airport. I congratulated him on the big score. Edge was rather disdainful. “It wasn’t a surprise to me as my team are Professional Players” he sniffed, perhaps insinuating that we were a pack of half-baked amateurs. His air was that of one who has the trophy safely tucked away already. Er, no. That blip turned out to be the only loss for Michael Built’s Mighty Mini Blues as they strode away to win the league comfortably with Declan’s boys back in 4th place.
With the final game away to bottom placed Hawkes Bay United, and only a point to gather, the chickens were already being counted by many of us and it was suggested to Built that tee shirts had been pre-printed to announce the title success. “Aw no, don’t jinx us guys” replied the level-headed coach.
At this juncture I’ll pass you over to Shane Campbell, Wanderers stalwart who offered to travel and help organise coaches Built and Adam Luque with the logistics:
“On Saturday afternoon most of the squad met at Te Awa mall to get some supplies for the long 5 hour trip and then we were on our way with a few stops to collect players here and there. The trip was pretty plain sailing until young Mr Nixon opened his plastic container of mussels on the bus much to the other young lads horror and disapproval.”
“Once in Taupo we picked up Cassey Garner and stopped for a bite to eat. Team orders were 20 minutes max boys, make sure you’re back on the bus. Well 20 minutes in a young man’s mind must be a hour as we had to track players down …yep they were sitting down eating at the golden arches.”
“Once we were all back on the bus it was off to Napier. Ten minutes outside of Taupo we almost crashed – the car in front decided to pull over and with not enough space for us to stop the bus driver had no other option but to go over the centre line. As he did a car travelling the other direction come over the brow of the hill …sheeesh! But the bus driver, to his credit, managed to miss both cars.”
Campbell continues… “Arriving in Napier we found our digs at Kennedy Park, Steve Built, the good manager that he is, had sent a list of which boys were in each room and we reminded them if there was any damage they were paying for it as he (Steve) had put up a $500 bond. Steve had also organised a roast dinner which was awesome, but no pudding much to Liam Hayes’ displeasure. As they got no dessert the boys all decided to trek 20 minutes to the supermarket, as they had not eaten enough crap already.”
That’s the pot belly calling the kettle fat Shane?
“Remember how I said that Steve Built had paid a bond? It was nearly on his own head as he decided to burn our unit down. I had just got out of the shower on Sunday morning, only to be welcomed by a unit full of smoke and Steve jumping up and down barrelling expletives. In short, he decided to brew a cup of coffee but accidentally knocked a stove element on: with a plastic chilly bin sitting on a heating stovetop there was only ever going to be one outcome – a chilly bin fire and flames leaping high.”
Shane tells me the conflagration was doused and the unit tidied to a bond-saving condition.
He continues… “So onto the bus and then off to Patane Domain as apparently the clubrooms at Park Island had been booked for the Napier City Rovers Christmas party that evening. On arriving we were shown to our changing rooms which unfortunately were not very tidy so out came the broom and five minutes later it was looking primo.”
“The pitch was average with plenty of grass but a bit bumpy, but what got me was the size of the goals which were rather small. I could stand flat footed and touch the cross bar! These were portable goals that were about 10 cm’s too short on height. On talking to the official’s, apparently the size of the goals is only a recommendation and only if it’s a FIFA game do the goals have to be a regulation size (must talk to Cossey about using six a side goals next year – Rod). The penalty spots were bare dirt so, in their infinite wisdom they were moved to the side, meaning they were not in the middle.”
Shane was short on actual report detail, but we know that Paul Clout scored the only goal of the game in the 26th minute and that was enough to secure the win. So what happened afterwards, Shane? A big party?
“After the game, arriving at the clubrooms, we were greeted by platters of Subway and the GM from Hawkes Bay. No one else, no opposition coaches, players, spectators, officials or NZF officials.”
Really, Shane? No open bus tour of Napier was expected but you’d think there’d be a little pomp. And the opposition team at least?
“Agree. So having won the title this was a bit of a let-down for the lads. But no worries it was on the bus back to Hamilton which was a fantastic trip home with lots of banter dished out: not a single person was spared. The biggest highlight for me buspool karaoke, there were some very talented singers …and a lot of not so talented ones.”
“Once back in Hamilton it was off to Goochies bar where we were joined by some of the first team and supporters to celebrate what was a fantastic day for the club. What is so great about this team of young men is that they are a mixed bunch, mainly players from Birkenhead, Melville and Wanderers, they all got on so well and perhaps this is what cemented the title.”
Shane concludes… “Monday wasn’t such a flash day for me….”
So kudos to the team, coaches, manager and club. The win for Wanderers seems to be the first national league football title won by a Waikato side. That’s league, as opposed to cups and tournaments. I approached the oracle, Yoda Holloway, about it. He said “Waikato women won a national title twice, circa 1989, 1990, but in those days it was a tournament format over a week. The very first national title to come to the Waikato was Huntly winning the national primary school comp, 1926 from memory. But season-long league formats are a very recent thing apart from senior men.”
So a noteworthy achievement for a group of talented youngsters from the Waikato. The senior team followed up with a 6-4 (drubbing?) of Hawke’s Bay United that day. Like most Waikato stalwarts, Enzo included, we agree the season has been surprisingly decent, (especially for a Waikato club!) so far. And the Mini Blues? Expect to see a few of these players gracing the senior stage before long.
Categories: NZ Men's National Youth League
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.