Papatoetoe 2, Wellington United 3
Murdoch Park, Auckland, March 5 2017
Keep your TV cameras and your coffee machines that I’ll never win. Keep your ground announcers and your glossy programmes. Keep your ten teams from up and down the country vying to win national supremacy and your 700 flags lining the pitch. Keep your numbers on shorts, your accurate team lists, and your comfy stadium seats. I don’t need any of those creature comforts anymore, because winter is coming and grassroots football is here! Huzzah!!
It’s hard to believe that my seventh winter blogging about the Northern League is almost upon us, seemingly a mere couple of weeks at the most since my sixth finished! But NRFL officially gets underway in three short weeks from now and for all teams involved, pre-season is already well underway.
Rumours abound about player movements, ranging from the plausible (Ale Varela and Federico Marquez to Claudelands Rovers) to the ridiculous (Emiliano Tade and Paul Gasgoine to Mangere United), but the difference this year is almost all the talk is about the blokes playing Musical Clubs!
By all accounts Women’s Premier will be relatively stable in comparison to recent years – even if I did see a photo of Tessa Berger in Glenfield colours today! The only cloud hanging over the league is the probability that local based Football Ferns will only be playing some games for their clubs, with a new NZF initiative to field them as a team in a boys’ league being something of an open secret. I’ll write more about that in a future post when much of what I know isn’t embargoed…
For now, I picked a cracking little game to head along to as my first taste of winter 2017. I suspected it would be – with Central League champions Wellington United up against NRFL side Papatoetoe AFC. Often when I have watched Central League football teams I have wondered how they would fare against a side like Papatoetoe. Teams from the capital often seem a few steps behind the more fashionable Auckland clubs that benefit from players who want to make the Ferns being strongly encouraged to live in the City of Sails. I got my answer yesterday.
It was a very even sort of contest with both sides dominating periods of the match. Of course this should be taken with a grain of salt given things are often more murky than that in preseason, with unlimited subs and combinations constantly in a state of flux.
But to confirm the rumours about the stability of Northern clubs, Papatoetoe looked not too dissimilar from previous years. The likes of Britney Cunningham Lee (playing the day after her 16th birthday), Jax David and Ally Toailoa are the spine of a solid side although the latter is likely to be one of the chosen few to be invited into the new Ferns setup and that will be a massive loss to the reds should it come to pass.
Coach Andrew Kirk joked in his after match speech that he’d still like a few new arrivals to bolster the ranks (perhaps in the vain hope of luring a few Wellingtonians northwards) so the good news is that while the no-vacancy sign might be up at most clubs, there are still a few first team places up for grabs in South Auckland!
As for the Diamonds, this was their third game in three days after facing both Glenfield Rovers and Forrest Hill Milford on Friday and Saturday, plus I’m told they had a few high octane hours at Snow Planet before their first game! So they must have been a bit on the buggered side, and it showed a bit, but they overcame that decided disadvantage to come from behind twice and take an impressive win.
For me, it was just great to be back in a gloriously tatty football ground like Murdoch Park, where nobody cares where you stand or what you do as long as you – in the immortal words of a former New Zealand Football media manager – “just don’t kick the ball”.
All that was missing was a healthy dose of rain, mud and freezing temperatures. I say bring on the full package!
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.