Nerazzurri 5, Golden Barbarians 1
Kahoe Stadium, Kaeo, January 1 2018
It’s billed as ‘the dawn of football’. Kahoe Stadium, situated at the backpackers’ hostel that Stefano Virgili and his wife Lyndsey run, has hosted a four-a-side football tournament every New Year’s Eve for the past 26 years.
The evening culminates with the final kicking off as the clock strikes midnight – making it each year’s first football game in the world, given New Zealand’s proximity to the International Date Line. That is, of course, as long as nobody in Kiribati, Samoa or the Chatham Islands has thought to have a kick-about over the previous hour. I doubt they would have.
I first heard about this in early January last year, when I saw the photos on Stefano’s Facebook page and my immediate thought was “where has this been all my life?” I messaged my Interista amico that instant to book a room at the hostel for New Year’s Eve 2017/18.
And after looking forward to this a LOT for about eleven and a half months, the day finally came on Sunday for Gina and I to pile into the car and make the long drive up to the far north along with some professional camera gear for night shooting that was extremely generously loaned to me by the great man Grant Stantiall.
We arrived at about 3:30pm and after an espresso and a brief yarn about the state of calcio we were shown to our room in an old house built in 1870 by Lyndsey’s great grandfather – a Swedish whaler who literally jumped ship as it was pulling out of Whangaroa Harbour. I thought that was a cool story and it was an amazing house so I decided to temporarily suspend my eternal bitterness about Italy’s exit from Euro 2004 courtesy of Sweden and Denmark’s biscotto.
After a nice rest we headed back to the stadium for pizza and to meet our fellow combatants for the evening’s action.
The pizza options were all named after Inter players – I chose a Materazzi (quattro formaggi with onions, garlic and rosemary) and washed it down with a couple of glasses of Primitivo from Salento at the heel of the Italian boot. At least one glass of something was a condition of entry into the tournament unless you’re a non-drinker and I was more than happy to oblige.
Amongst the people I met at dinner was a Danish private equity lawyer who thought the biscotto at Euro 2004 was great… Thus ended the brief suspension of my bitterness about Italy’s exit from Euro 2004.
There was also a very nice Dutch couple. The wife tried to say she had sunburn on her foot so couldn’t play much football, but she subsequently turned out to be one of the best players in the tournament…
There was also a French sail maker who was passing through. Earlier in the day she had enquired if there was a room available and was told she could only stay if she played!
Then there was the ultra-competitive family of Manchester City fans who have been coming to this tournament every year for the past decade. Little Kristan, 10, has literally been here every year of his life and it was my privilege to have chosen to be here the year he finally got his first Virgili Cup goal – you could really see how much it meant to him. And the floodgates really opened for him after that too as he ended up with a haul of five on the night!
There were also a smattering of Kaeo Inter regulars and a more than handy ringer from Fencibles United who miraculously got placed in Stefano’s Nerazzurri team!
My Giallorossi side was not competitive at all – mostly weighed down by Gina and I. The two guys allocated to help us out put up a brave fight trying to carry us but they couldn’t work miracles on their own.
My performance was mixed to put it extremely kindly. Passing to me was an almost guaranteed way to give up possession. During the first game, at a point where I was doubled over and sucking in oxygen from all the physical exertion, I summonsed up my last ounces of energy just to verbalise the words “how much longer, ref?” He said “you’ve only been playing two minutes!”
I went in goal for a while just to get a rest and that went quite well as I pulled off some satisfying one-on-one saves. Then it all came unstuck after a crunching face save from a powerful biscotto loving Dane strike. Then I somehow managed to concede a goal directly from a throw-in…
But the highlight of the night, no bugger that, the highlight of the year, was my sweetly struck one-touch finish on the end of a cross to score past Stefano (who was in goal). It felt sublime and was one of only four goals the Nerazzurri conceded all night. Stefano described it as having “not only over glorified the name you had on the back of your Roma shirt [Džeko], but was a sweet finish worthy of the Emperor himself.” Thanks mate! We’ll keep you on.
I got a second too, a long range effort in the Giallorossi’s last game of the evening – but it was a keeper nutmeg so not quite as satisfying.
After a brilliant virtual semi-final that was 1-0 to the Manchester City loving ‘Grimble Sky Blues’ going into the last 30 seconds only for the biscotto loving Dane and sunburn lady’s ‘Golden Barbarians’ to score twice and advance, the scene was set for the grand finale.
When the clock struck midnight Stefano had the honour of kicking off and before you knew it he had the first goal in the world in 2018. Then the first double. Then the first hat-trick and the first four goal haul. The Fencies player chipped in with one and the Virgili Cup was triumphantly lifted by the Nerazzurri after a 5-1 drubbing. Revenge for Euro 2004 at last!
After a truly brilliant evening I’m already thinking about next year and, most importantly, wondering how many ring-ins I can get.
Does anyone have Albert Riera’s number?
Categories: Other Football Topics
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.