Melville United 3, Glenfield Rovers 0
Gower Park, Hamilton, March 18 2017
Going to football in the Waikato is a time consuming business sometimes. Yesterday especially!
Not only did I have to drive for two hours to get to Gower Park for this pre-season fixture, but upon arrival I got the fright of my life when there was more sand on the number one pitch than North Harbour Stadium at its worst and no footballers taller than half my height as far as the eye could see!
After hastily logging onto Twitter I confirmed, much to my relief, that I hadn’t read the details of the game wrong. It was in fact set down for Gower, not 137km back down State Highway One at McFetridge Park. At that point it seemed only logical that there must be normal sized footballers out there somewhere over the wild blue yonder so off I trudged.
And trudged. And trudged. Past the number two ground which was also having work done on it, past the number three and four where an under 14 tournament was taking place, and past the five and six where there was Lacrosse being played. Finally, after asking myself some soul searching questions such as “how carefully have I paid attention to Bear Grylls” and “would I be prepared to drink my own urine if I get lost”, I found what I had come all this way for – almost literally on the doorstep of Waikato Hospital.
Why was this necessary? What could possibly be wrong with a sand carpet (on the number one) that is only two years old? Well, if I understood Melville United Chairman and occasional contributor to this blog Cordwainer Bull’s explanation correctly, the problem was too much grass!
No, that’s not a typo.
Apparently the turf was so thick that there wasn’t enough water getting through to the roots so they have to rip it up and sew it more sparsely. I always knew that the Waikato was famous for its lush and fertile pasture but my Horticulture qualifications, earned just a stone’s throw away from Gower at Wintec’s Hamilton Gardens Campus, didn’t prepare me for the possibility of too much grass on a football pitch.
But I digress. (What else is new?) The purpose of my grand expedition was twofold. First and foremost it was to conduct my annual pre-season interview with an important Northern League figure (which I’ll post the fruits of separately in a few days). And of course the second purpose was to see two interesting teams enjoy their final hit-outs before the season starts next weekend.
For Melville it’s the beginning of a new era. New coaches Michael Mayne and Sam Wilkinson have what Monsieur Bull describes as “the audacity of youth” bringing a new lease of life to a club that is not used to playing second fiddle in the region to their crosstown rivals. They will be looking to turn the tables as quickly as humanly possible on the Wanderers and the early signs are they look to be making an excellent start in that quest.
It was also a great chance to see Glenfield again, for the first time since my infamous bus trip last season. Contrary to popular belief, I do really like these lovable larrikins and it was nice to exchange a bit of banter and fight the impulse to smile at some of their more… how to put it… politically incorrect antics!
Of course pre-season form is often the opposite of regular season form so I am not reading anything into Rovers getting soundly beaten here. They are missing some important players who are still on National League duty and their trip to the Te Rapa Races after the match may well have been more exciting to them than facing a Division One team on a sub-par pitch.
But I was nevertheless impressed with Melville’s performance. They looked full of energy and confidence and I loved seeing them press hard and starve their opponents of possession. Welshman Marc Evans netted twice in the first half – the second of which was a lovely shot from the edge of the area that curled around the diving keeper’s outstretched fingertips to sneak in at the far post. Lachie McIsaac got the third midway through the second stanza.
This was Melville’s second victory in a row against Premier Division opposition having also taken care of Central United 3-1 last week – although, once again, beating Central while the National League is still going is quite different to beating them when all their stars are on board.
Nevertheless if they continue to play like they did yesterday they should at least be in the hunt for promotion straight back up to the top flight by season’s end.
With Ngaruawahia gone I have a vacancy open for a new favourite NRFL club and it’s very hard to look past ‘the pride of the Waikato’. Even if they sometimes make you walk more miles than a Proclaimer would be prepared to put in for the sake of love.
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.