Ngongotaha 0, Waiheke 7
Stembridge Road, Ngongotaha, July 8 2017
It’s a 242 kilometre journey from Onetangi Sports Park on Waiheke Island to Stembridge Road in Ngongotaha on the outskirts of Rotorua. According to their Facebook page, that’s the longest away trip in Waiheke United’s club history. And they weren’t the only ones celebrating a milestone. Ngongotaha was, until yesterday, the only club left in the NRFL that I had never visited.
Given the fact that this was going to be a first for everyone, I wanted to do it in style. So I asked the good folks at Waiheke if I could have a seat on the bus with them. That was an inspired call, even if I do say so myself!
It meant a long day of course. And a loud one! I met the team at the downtown ferry terminal as they disembarked at 7:30am. The bus was pulling away by 8, and not too long after that we were rocking along the motorway in fine voice…
I spent a lot of the journey marvelling at first team goalkeeper Hirotaka Aso, who somehow managed to spend most of it curled up snoozing on the seat in front of me in spite of the high decibel party that was going on at the back of the bus!
This is my second bus trip with a football team, my first being a jaunt down to Hamilton with Glenfield Rovers last year, and the contrast between the two trips couldn’t be more stark. For starters, the Glenfield bus was a luxury vehicle made for opulent distance travel, whereas this one seemed to be one of the older suburban commuter models in the Howick and Eastern fleet.
But the lack of comfort was more than made up for by the friendly and welcoming atmosphere. There were a number of women and a child travelling with us and while I don’t speak Spanish I am fairly confident that none of the songs contained lyrics that would make any of them uncomfortable and to the best of my knowledge none of the ditties were about Birkenhead United (or any other opposition club) either!
By the time we pulled up to Stembridge Road, the gang had well and truly built themselves up to a crescendo. The bus was literally rocking on its axels as our arrival was announced to the opposition club, the surrounding neighbourhood and potentially the far side of Lake Tarawera…
It was quite amusing to watch the handful of Ngongotaha players standing in the middle of the pitch, staring over at us, wondering what on earth was about to hit them!
After we piled off the bus, the ultras got straight to work taking over the place, hanging their massive banner between two trees that looked as though whoever planted them put them the distance apart they did with this exact day and purpose in mind. While that was happening, I chatted to a couple of the Waiheke players about how La Banda del Pipazo came about. They said it started in 2015 with one guy and his girlfriend standing under an umbrella in the rain at Onetangi Sports Park. At the next game, someone joined him. At the next game after that, there were five, and on and on it grew.
There are more than a few great lessons in that, I thought!
My first impression of Sembridge Road was that it’s a gorgeous, picturesque little spot. It reminded me a little bit of Ngaruawahia in that it’s in some ways a colonial enclave in an iconic place of significance to Tangata Whenua. It’s bordered on one side by a suburban street and on the other three sides by farmland complete with a Shetland pony grazing on the hill immediately behind the clubrooms.
I’m not sure La Banda was a universal hit with the locals though. Some of them didn’t seem to know quite what to make of the “racket” as I overheard more than one person describe it as. One guy even asked me “what country is this??” in an incredulous tone. I replied “New Zealand! Isn’t it great?” No answer. Oh well, you can’t please everyone!
Both the Waiheke first and reserves teams won and won comfortably. The ‘ressies’ scored all their goals in the first half and conceded a penalty in the second for a 3-1 victory. Then the first team put on a show, absolutely demolishing their orange opposition.
The first goal came in just the fifth minute off the noggin of Emiliano Candia after some lovely trickery by Lautaro Gauna to create enough space to deliver the cross!
Then with about 25 minutes gone came the game’s most important moment. A rush of blood to the head of Ngongotaha’s Josh O’Sullivan saw him throw an elbow at Chino Ramirez to earn himself a straight red card and leave his team at a numerical disadvantage for the hour and a bit ahead of them. And they began to pay the price just a couple of minutes later when Candia nabbed his second after shaking off his defender with a pretty nice little Cruyff turn!
Gauna netted himself in the 34th minute after getting on the end of a long ball…
And with that, 3-0 was the half time score.
Things only got worse for Nongie in the second spell. An own goal in the 58th minute…
Was followed by this from Juan Miche in the 67th minute…
And this from Mathais Britos in the 84th minute…
Before Miche summed up Ngongotaha’s day by nutmegging the keeper…
And, of course, this…
No pyro, no party!
I am not normally one to stay for after-match functions but, while I didn’t have a lot of choice for this one, it was definitely worth the extra hour or so!
The highlight was part way through Waiheke coach Nick Saunders’ speech when he mentioned the title race. The Nongie player who had been sent off interjected with “go Fencibles!” This was met with the deference it deserved – a La Banda song sung back at him at full volume!
On my arrival back at the bus, I asked the driver how he had enjoyed his day. “Bloody marvellous” he enthused. “I’m a rugby man but I enjoyed that. They were so skilful!” But when I enquired how Waiheke United compare with other sports teams he had driven around, it became clear that he wasn’t a total convert. “I want to listen to the Lions test on the radio on the way home but I don’t suppose I’ll be able to hear it over this lot…”
As he irritably fiddled with his radio dial around about Maramarua, the answer to his question was an emphatic “no”!
Through it all though, Hirotaka Aso, who barely needed to wake up for the game for all the action he saw, still somehow managed to get another forty winks!
And Waiheke United, a gulf between them and their opposition (that pun is copyright Rod de Lisle), well on course for yet another promotion, continue to prove time and time again, in a multitude of ways, that the famous Mohammed Ali quote is absolutely true – impossible is nothing!
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.