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Ten Years On: That Tackle

Warning: Contains Graphic Content.

There was an overlooked reunion in this year’s OFC Champions League Group B. The match itself was a surprisingly tight game between Western United and Auckland City, decided by a late, hotly contested, Emiliano Tade penalty. In the technical area of the Solomon Island side however, was a man who knew Kiwitea Street and Auckland City all too well

If you google Commins Menapi, the results are mixed between a talented Solomon Islands international who is top scorer for his country, once scoring a brace against Australia in a 2004 OFC Nations Cup draw. And then there’s the other thing. As the results have it, the ‘Horror Tackle’ worthy of making ‘The Top 11 Worst Tackles’.

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The 2006/07 NZFC Grand Final was played on a rain troubled night at North Harbour Stadium. Auckland City were on the trail of their third successive title, but cross-town rivals Waitakere had dumped them out of the OFC Champions League earlier that month. The animosity between the two sides was established, simmering and about to boil over.

In the words of Riki Van Steeden;

“We see it as an Old Firm-type rivalry,” explains van Steeden, who says he would never cross town and join Waitakere. “It’s not on such a massive scale and you won’t see any crowd violence but, for the players, it’s just as important. There’s definitely a bit of hatred between the clubs. We want to be the best team in Auckland and, as it turns out, if you beat them, you tend to be the best in the country as well.

Under the floodlights, the game showed its edge just four minutes in. Ben Sigmund’s heavy, elbow infused challenge sent Menapi sprawling – a cut to his head would later require stitches. A yellow card for Sigmund.

With the scores locked up at 1 – 1, Menapi the goalscorer after Ross Nicholson’s attempts to outwit the striker with his feet failed, it happened.

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Referee Peter O’Leary had blown for a Waitakere United free-kick after a clash between two players at the halfway line. The ball had run towards Riki Van Steeden, whose right foot clearance downfield mean his leg was straight, exposed and headed to the ground.

The video footage is what really makes this The Tackle. Menapi has a good foot and a half between his legs and the ground, leaping in with his right leg extended. His studs make contact above Van Steeden’s hitched up socks, his full body weight behind it as the City defender’s studs chew into the turf.

Menapi lands, Van Steeden crumples, and the Waitakere player turns towards the referee and raises one arm in an apologetic manner. A broken leg for the defender, an instant red-card Menapi.

Initially Peter O’Leary’s report classed the tackle as Serious Foul Play, which would have warranted a two match ban. Van Steeden himself had copped a two match ban for a late tackle on Waitakere United’s Dan Koprivcic earlier in the season. The referee’s assessor, John Cameron, agreed with the decision.

However, the three different angles of the tackles available on video caused referee’s boss Ken Wallace to press for the incident to be upgraded to Violent Conduct as Menapi was not challenging for the ball and the referee had stopped play for a free-kick immediately prior to the incident.

In the end, Menapi’s ban was extended to six matches with NZF’s competitions manager Glyn Taylor stating, in regards to the upgrading of the incident;

“You can’t condone tackles of that nature. We are entitled to rectify obvious errors”

While also noting that Menapi’s excellent disciplinary record had ensured he’d avoided an eight match ban.

That wasn’t the end of it mind you. NZF’s deputy chief-executive Mike Kernaghan had informed Waitakere United’s legal counsel that the Disciplinary Committee should not accept the amended referee’s report, but that the Committee would still meet and Waitakere United and Commins Menapi were not invited.

Rex Dawkins, Chairman of the West Auckland franchise, was ‘bitterly disappointed’ that the on-field decision of the referee had been altered post-match due to NZF “…acting on a report from an outside source” – in this case, the television footage –  and vowed to defend the charges and take all possible action to appeal the ban.

By early August, Menapi’s ban was reduced to one match. By October he had been designated Waitakere United’s ‘Marquee Player’ and played in their successful 2007-08 NZFC/OFC Champions League double winning season.

A decade on, the tackle is shown again and again and again. It makes most of the lists of the worst tackles ever committed to film, ranking alongside Roy Keane’s assault of Haaland, Harald Schumacher on Battison and Benjamin Massing’s brutal takedown of Claudio Caniggia.

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On a happier note Van Steeden recovered from his broken leg and scored one of the most important goals in Auckland City history, the winner against African Champions League holders T.P Mazembe in the 2009 Club World Cup. You can watch that epic 3 – 2 win here.

Categories: NZ Men's National League

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John Palethorpe

John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.

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