Until last week, when people asked me who I support in the Northern League my reply has always been “I love all the Waikato teams equally, but Ngaruawahia is more equal than the others.”
I’ll have to get a new line now, because on Thursday we got the news that everyone was expecting but hoped would never come – after more than 40 years as part of this great competition, the Green Machine have withdrawn from the NRFL.
It seems as though the coach they had lined up to take the first team this year had to pull out for family reasons, and this crippled their ability to attract players leaving them in a situation where they simply didn’t have the numbers to compete.
That makes three WaiBOP teams pulling out of the NRFL in recent years. We lost Matamata at a similar stage in 2013, AFC Fury pulled out just a few rounds into last season, and now this. I also heard rumours during the course of last season that Claudelands were experiencing some difficulties – I’m told they are now on a much stronger footing, to some extent at the expense of Ngaruawahia…
Should we be starting to ask questions about whether this is a coincidence best ignored or a problem worthy of discussion?
The NRFL is arguably the best football league in New Zealand and in my view the teams from the Waikato and Bay of Plenty play a big part in making it so. Without them, it would be simply an Auckland metropolitan league that would still be of high quality but would lack a sense of geographic legitimacy.
But while, for Auckland teams and supporters, away trips to places like Hamilton, Tauranga and Rotorua are enriching experiences, for the teams from those provincial cities travelling to Auckland every second week can be a big logistical and financial burden.
Taking one team is one thing but there is also the reserves league, which adds the additional trouble of rounding up two squads worth of players to spend a day on the road. And spare a thought for clubs like Claudelands and Hamilton Wanderers who have to do it with four teams – two men’s and two women’s.
I do wonder sometimes why Auckland clubs are so insistent on the requirement to field reserve teams. I mean, I understand why they want reserves teams but I don’t get why they need to be compulsory. Costs could be significantly reduced for WaiBOP clubs if this requirement was waved, and instead there was an optional reserves league.
If a resulting reduced number of games is the problem here, perhaps the league could be topped up by Auckland clubs who would see the benefit in having two reserve teams, or non-NRFL clubs who might like to enter.
Would this have stopped Matamata, Fury or Ngara from withdrawing? I doubt it, but it may stem any potential tide in future.
Now comes my next axe to grind here… You guessed it… Ngara’s replacement.
It has been announced that last year’s beaten playoff finalists (Lynn Avon) will play last year’s relegated side (Northland) for the now vacant spot without any mention of last year’s WaiBOP Premiership runners up – Cambridge.
Word on the street is the lads from John Kerkhof Park have a very good squad this year, and would be well placed to compete at a higher level. Why not give them a shot?
When it comes to promotion to the NRFL, section 30 of the current competition regulations gives AFF “absolute discretion” – so they can literally make up the rules as they go along each time. I reckon that instead there should be clear guidelines so everyone knows where they stand.
If it’s a meritocracy then we should adopt a similar process to the one that saw Claudelands promoted in 2013. The next cab off the rank from WaiBOP should play the next cab off the rank from the Conference, home and away, with the winner facing the previous season’s relegated side in a one-off match at a neutral venue.
That way the best team wins, which in turn gives NRFL Division 2 the strongest possible competitor, and hopefully reduces the prospects of us finding ourselves in need of the rule again in the future!
It may seem like a contradiction in my arguments that WaiBOP clubs are struggling but let’s chuck more WaiBOP in there – and it is, but I still think we should do both! Make it easier for teams from down the line to compete and ensure that the Northern League remains a great pathway for players right across the entire Upper North Island – not just Auckland.
Regardless, Cambridge can take some solace from the three protagonists from that epic (and it really was epic) promotion battle in 2013 all being in the Northern League now – thus proving that things do work themselves out in the end (for better or worse).
And to prove another old adage – that every cloud has a silver lining – at least I won’t be struggling to insert Ngara as a homophone for narrow into three post titles a year for a little while…
Categories: NZ Northern Men's Division 2
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.