On the third of July 2011 I covered my first Chatham Cup game for this blog – a 2-0 victory for Waitakere City over Central United at Fred Taylor Park. Ten months after that, I saw my first ever NZ Women’s Knockout Cup fixture – a 3-0 victory for Lynn Avon over Papakura. Since then I have watched, photographed and written about approximately 50 women’s and men’s national cup games over the past six years.
With a massive cup weekend coming up in just a couple of days, I thought now might be a good time to have a little sift through them and choose some of my personal favourites to re-share.
So I’ve picked one stand-out clash from each of the past five years to summarise below for your reading pleasure. I hope you’ll agree that it provides quite a useful snapshot of a special part of the fabric of New Zealand football.
I’ve developed a special affinity for Manukau City over the years. I put that down to the club ticking a lot of boxes in terms of values and attributes I admire. They are underdogs, multi-cultural, working class, community focused and, most importantly, they want to achieve something bigger and more noble than just splashing cash to collecting trinkets – they are trying to contribute to the growth of the game.
But the first time I ever saw them play, in a Chatham Cup Round of 16 derby against local rivals Papatoetoe, I never imagined that I would see so much to like in Manukau City. Especially considering the only thing I knew about them at the time was the fact that, a few games earlier, they’d had a player banned for life for breaking a referee’s jaw…
Manukau were near the bottom of NRFL Division 2 at the time, while Papatoetoe were a mid-table Division 1 side. For both of them, making it through to the National rounds of the Cup would be a massive achievement. Before the game, Papatoetoe keeper Jason Mann was in a squat position in front of his goal deeply contemplating the task ahead – you could see how much it meant.
Manukau City came from behind against the run of play to level the scores at 1-1 in the second half. My overriding memory of the day was coach Ricky Espinoza’s team-talk in the huddle before extra time. “IT’S A BATTLE! IT’S A WAR” he roared at his charges. After that, they showed enormous grit to hold out to send the game to penalties. Manukau’s keeper, Sergio Bustos (who tragically suffered a broken leg in the next round), was given the responsibility of taking the penalty that would send his team through – and he coolly slotted.
The pitch invasion was epic!
Then reality set in and the club had to launch a major fundraising effort to get to the Deep South for their quarter final against Caversham. They won that battle but the war was lost in Dunedin. They won a lot of admirers along the way though. This one included.
How often do you see a referee get down on his knees and literally bow down in worship to a football player? I’m willing to bet you’ve never seen anything like it before in your life! But that’s exactly what happened at Shoesmith Reserve, on May 26 2013, after Claudelands Rovers had defeated Warkworth 6-0 in the opening round of the New Zealand Women’s Knockout Cup.
And here’s the even crazier thing – given that scoreline, you might be forgiven for thinking that the sudden display of awe would be directed at a player on the winning side, probably a striker who scored all six goals. But it wasn’t. It was in recognition of an incredible display by the goalkeeper who conceded six!
Claudelands had a super team that year, packed with Ferns, future Ferns and National League players. Their NRFL fixtures up until this point had included 13-0 and 14-0 thumpings of their opponents. They had scored twice as many goals as anyone else in their division, averaging seven per game, and had only conceded 4 in total. Warkworth, a mid-table side from two tiers below Claudelands, were not supposed to stand a chance.
And the reason why a 6-0 win makes a list of classic cup games, boils down to three words really – goalkeeper Fiona Mann. An outfield player her whole life, she only played in goal in 2013 to fill a gap. I have no idea where she is playing (if she is playing) four years later, but I hope it’s in goal because it’s fair to say she’s a natural there.
Claudelands basically spent 90 minutes using Mann as target practice, taking pot-shots at her almost at will. Yet, on all but six occasions, her and her fellow defenders came up trumps.
And that’s what prompted referee Chris Casey’s act of reverence after the final whistle. I wish I’d thought to take a photo so I could prove it really took place, but like most things of this nature, I was too busy soaking up the moment with my own eyes.
The early rounds of any cup competition are all about seeing David meet Goliath and play out of his skin in the process. Sometimes, if Goliath is having an off day or taking matters too lightly, David gets a win. But even if the giants still manage to come out on top, watching their lesser ranked opponents push them all the way can be almost as fun to watch.
In 2014 I did the classic football writers’ odyssey, in both the men’s and women’s cups, of watching a preliminary round game, then following the winner of each subsequent tie all the way through to the final. My preliminary round Chatham Cup game saw Te Kuiti Albion well beaten by Bucklands Beach. Then the AFF/NFF Conference side came face to face with their Goliath – NRFL Division 1 heavyweights Mount Albert Ponsonby.
My overriding memory of this game, that will stay with me forever, is of a guy by the name of Yu-Ping Huang…
MAP scored the first goal early in the match. When Bucklands Beach managed to scrape together an equaliser on the stroke of half time, it seemed like just a temporary setback for their illustrious opponents. But it turned out to be a little bit more than that. Because, try as they might, MAP just couldn’t hit the back of the net. I’ve seen teams fail to convert numerous opportunities before, but this was on another level. It was almost comical! They missed just about every which way it’s possible to miss! They missed wide, they missed high, they hit both posts, they hit the crossbar. This led to a large number of goal kicks and each time he took one the Bucklands Beach defender, Yu-Ping Huang, lengthened his run-up by another two paces. By the last few minutes of regulation time he was pushing off the back fence like an Australian fast bowler pushing off the boundary at the MCG!
The game went into extra time and the higher quality side ended up prevailing, perhaps when less fit bodies ran out of oomph.
It was a wonderful game. But part of me wishes that it had never finished. And, while everyone at Rogers Park waits patiently, somewhere around about Timaru is Yu-Ping Huang – getting ready to take another goal kick…
It’s always a bit awkward when a player or a coach who has been with a club for a long time and won titles there, leaves and comes back the next season with a new team. Awkward doesn’t usually really cover it though, when a championship winning coach and pretty much the entire championship winning team decamps to a rival club and comes back the next season for a cup quarter final! There isn’t really a word in the English language for that much awkward.
But that’s what we saw at Maddills Farm when Rico Wilson’s new club Western Springs took on his replacement Paul Marshall’s Mount Albert Grammar Scho… I mean Rico’s old club Eastern Suburbs in the 2015 Women’s Knockout Cup!
The rumours swirling around at the time were that Wilson had been pushed out of Suburbs by board members who for whatever reason wanted a change. Most of the team followed him and if all that was true then they must have felt they had a point to make upon their return to old surroundings…
And what a game it was. Springs drew first blood against the run of play midway through the first half. Suburbs hit back right before the break with a penalty to level the scores at 1-1. The second half ebbed and flowed but it was Suburbs who took the lead and looked to have sealed the tie in the last ten minutes of the 90. But then the 90th minute saw a Springs leveller and it was 2-2 heading into extra time!
A penalty for Springs five minutes into the first half of extra time went on to be the decider and Wilson’s charges had their victorious return while the club that lost their services was left to lick its wounds. Suburbs also lost 2-1 on aggregate and finished 14 points below Springs in the league.
Springs went on to be well beaten by Glenfield in their cup semi-final but their point had been made nonetheless!
I’m going to cheat here. Rather than pick one game, I’m going to choose a day on which my two favourite cup games of all time took place. Fair enough? It is when it’s cup final day 2016 we’re talking about! A day when men and women alike gave us a double helping of crackers from start to finish, that was finished off with a mouthful of silver polish flavoured beer for me not to mention two fresh names engraved on trophies for the first time in both clubs’ respective histories.
It’s hard to decide which game was more exciting. But I think the Knockout Cup derby between Forrest Hill Milford and Glenfield Rovers just takes it by a hair as the better contest, while the male equivalent was my favourite of the two results, and the aftermath of the latter was the experience of a lifetime for me personally.
The women’s game had everything. Absolute golazos, super saves, tension, extra time and death strikes. The Swans had to come from behind once in the regulation 90 minutes and again in the 30 minutes that followed that. Then we had a penalty shootout that went deep into sudden death before Tayla Christiensen finally polished off the Rovers.
And then, on the men’s side we had Waitakere City come back from the dead – 2-0 down to Birkenhead with ten minutes to go, and the New Zealand Football officials were tying red and white ribbons on the cup! The Westies scored two goals, one from open play and one from the penalty spot, to bring us back to level and force extra time. Birko looked absolutely done but somehow they managed to summons up the energy for Ethan Galbraith to find the winner in the second half of extra time.
What makes Birko’s triumph so special (and why it tops my list of all-time favourite cup games) is, like Manukau, they are one of those clubs that I greatly admire because of their greater purpose. They engage their community and inspire so many young kids to get in behind them. That was no more evident than in the aftermath of this win, when the looks of joy on the candy cane shirt wearing kids’ faces was magical, to say the least, as they got to touch the trophy.
There’s no question that those kids will be football lovers for the rest of their lives after that! And that’s the real magic of the cup.
Oh, and this was quite cool too:
A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/