Takapuna 1, Waiheke United 2
Taharoto Park, Auckland, March 25 2017
NRFL opening weekend is right up there with childhood Christmases when it comes to the excitement stakes. The closest thing I can think of to the feeling I get when I see the draw for the first time is opening a Christmas stocking to see what treats are hiding inside.
The only difference is with a Christmas stocking everything inside it is for you. With this year’s NRFL draw I could only practically pick one game to go to yesterday. This is a crime against humanity so great it makes you wonder why the UN is even there when it sits on its hands and does nothing about such atrocities. There should be Security Council resolutions drafted and a peacekeeping force deployed to AFF headquarters to ensure that the competition manager spreads the fixtures out a bit more. If for no other reason than it’s somewhat amusing to picture them turning up while she’s enjoying a cup of tea and a gingernut, bursting into the room mid-dunk…
This year’s was a really hard choice. Franklin at Oratia, Albany at Onehunga Mangere, Wanderers at Birko, Waitemata at Melville, Glenfield at Forrest Hill and Manukau at Western Springs were just some of the games I would love to have been at. But ultimately there was one choice that stood out above the rest. I simply had to go to Takapuna to see what the Taharoto Park faithful would make of La Banda del Pipazo!! And whether they would view it like Christmas or more like Halloween.
Eyebrows were certainly raised from the get-go when team and fans alike all emerged singing and drumming at full volume, not from a chartered bus service, but from the 813 from Devonport Wharf! Their fellow commuters must have been slightly bemused, and probably expressed a mixture of relief and disappointment, as these mad footballers disembarked at their stop.
As I myself arrived, the ultras were set up under the trees by Taharoto Road, an area they told me they were under strict instructions not to venture outside of. Although an exception to this was clearly made shortly before the game, when an emissary was sent up to the media box to read out the visiting starting line up over the PA system – as the ground announcer was apparently flummoxed by all the Spanish names! I don’t blame him – I would have struggled too.
Takapuna seems like a pretty conservative sort of club. The New Zealand flag always flies proudly pitchside, there are a lot of old timers around and the atmosphere tends to strike me as a little… staid. Not this time. It was a wall of noise from kick-off to the final whistle as Latin beats were drummed and songs were sung. I even caught sight of some of the Takapuna old boys tapping their feet and shaking their hips almost in spite of themselves in between mildly disapproving sorts of looks in La Banda’s general direction.
And the team certainly rose to the occasion! Waiheke started off a bit rusty looking, and deservedly went behind in the 7th minute when a Renta Yamamoto shot curled in from wide left after he had received a short corner. But the visitors also deservedly pulled level nine minutes later when Lautro Gauna steered one in. They could have had a half time lead a couple of times in the ensuing quarter of an hour and equally their a little rough around the edges defence was almost breached at least once, but as an enthralling first 45 minutes came to an end the scores were still level.
Waiheke seemed to grow in confidence as the second half wore on, and they got their second breakthrough when Kelly Escholme drove home the winner just shy of the hour mark and celebrated with an incursion into the crowd behind the goal for a moment reminiscent of Alessandro Florenzi’s nonna hug after a Roma goal back in 2014!
They never looked like conceding from that point on and after celebrating with their fans with a bit of pyro after the final whistle they were all dispatched back onto the 813 to celebrate some more with a fresh batch of unsuspecting North Shore residents, who I’m sure, truth be told, must have benefitted from a little extra colour in their day and a story or two to tell the grandkids. I know I did.
It’s going to take a lot of self-control for me to not give up my nomadic ways and watch Waiheke United every week. Because this is just how I like my football – with a side order of crazy!
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.