Whilst players, supporters and administrators from most winter clubs have been enjoying a nice relaxing summer break, it seems that all hell has been breaking loose in South Auckland. Franklin United, which is barely a year into its existence, has suffered an acrimonious divorce as of one of its marriage partners – Waiuku AFC – has split the scene.
It was Waiuku’s place in NRFL Division 1 that Franklin took up in the Northern League last year, but in 2017 the senior men’s team from that club will play in the AFF Championship, after their application to join the Conference was stymied by the federation deciding to leave the Northern league feeder competition in its current eleven team format.
Meanwhile, the place they earned in Division One will be filled by a Franklin United ‘cluster’ now made up of the other foundation member, Pukekohe AFC, along with their new partners Drury United – neither of whom have earned promotion to that level.
This has got the backs up of some of the other clubs in the league, some of whom are understood to be considering a joint appeal to AFF, asking that Franklin be removed from the NRFL. This would be a move that at least one Franklin loyalist that I spoke to insists is rooted in bitterness because these same Auckland clubs have been skimming off the cream of Franklin youth for years – enticing them out of the area to play.
It seems to me as though the marriage between old rivals Pukekohe and Waiuku may have been doomed from the start. When I visited Massey Park very early in the 2016 season it was clear that there was a lot of discontent around the Waiuku club.
At the centre of the controversy was the number of players from outside the region that had been brought in from other clubs and little secret has been made that they were being financially compensated – although Franklin insists that this was all above board.
This went against the grain for some Waiuku members. The Franklin concept had been sold to them as a pathway for local players yet some of them now see Franklin United as having, in their opinion, drained money out of their club and used it to pay mercenaries.
But, for Franklin’s proponents, the raison d’être of the joint venture was and still is that neither Waiuku nor Pukekohe had enough depth or player numbers to sustain NRFL football on the path they were on. This was never going to change overnight and they continue to believe that Franklin United will be fully sustainable in the near future.
Either way, matters were brought to a head in a mid-season meeting called for Waiuku members and attended by Franklin United club officials to discuss the situation. Grievances were aired, explanations offered, and following this a vote was held by the Waiuku committee with a 9-2 majority resolving to stick with the project until the season’s end, at which point the issue would be revisited upon the yearly review and possible renewal of the arrangement.
Following this, Mr David Johnson (WAFC member) submitted a complaint to AFF alleging that Franklin United have been illegally paying players. He told me that AFF have established an independent three person judiciary panel that has been conducting fairly intense hearings on the allegations he has raised.
At the end of the season, as resolved at the mid-year review, Waiuku’s members met again to revisit their participation in the Franklin United concept. A petition was presented and the committee’s final vote to pull out was unanimous. According to Mr Johnson the committee’s view was, having participated in the AFF judiciary hearings, the club didn’t want to be seen as guilty by association and instead chose to stay focused on the Waiuku community and its sporting needs.
Franklin United were advised via e-mail of the decision, which forced their board to find a new partner to keep the concept afloat. It’s understood that the AFF board met, ratified the new cluster and confirmed Franklin’s NRFL place in two November board meetings.
The outcome of David Johnson’s complaint is still pending.
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 1
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.