Auckland City 1, Team Wellington 0
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, April 1 2018
For the third year in a row it was Auckland City vs Team Wellington in the final of the New Zealand national league. And for the third year in a row I was predicting a comfortable Auckland City win. For the first time in three years I was at least partially correct!
In 2016 I didn’t even bother attending, so sure was I that it wouldn’t even be a contest. I missed an absolute classic that took until deep into extra time to be settled 4-2 in Tee Dubs’ favour. Last year I had learned my lesson and was at North Harbour to witness a great tussle that finished 2-1 to the Wellingtonians – and I emerged with some of my best photos of the year.
This year’s final may not go down as an all-time classic, and it was a proverbial dog to get decent photos of with the poor light and so much of the play in the middle of the pitch, but on the plus side it was also a real dog fight (to continue the canine metaphors) that was compelling in its own way.
I have seen a few of the perennial grizzles about North Harbour Stadium in relation to this game, and calls to play finals like this at the home ground of the top qualifier. I’m torn on this a little bit. I agree that North Harbour Stadium is less than ideal for a crowd of a little over 2,000 but then again at that attendance figure (or higher because a lot of people boycott NHS) some might have missed out at Kiwitea Street.
Auckland, like pretty much everywhere else in the country, is crying out for a compact 5,000 capacity venue that would be perfect for an event like this and would look great on TV as opposed to an empty seated concrete wasteland. Somewhere like Trusts but without the athletics track… Maybe Ngahue one day when it’s fully developed? “Oh but the wind!” You can’t please everyone.
Like it or not, North Harbour is the headquarters of New Zealand Football, and there is a certain gravitas that comes with playing all the big games at HQ, like the old days of Newmarket Park, if you care to think about it that way.
The other story of the night was the sensational performance by young Callum McCowatt who bagged the winning goal and with it became the first ever recipient of the Steve Sumner Trophy for most valuable player in the final. At only 18 years of age, this product of Declan Edge’s Ole Academy is pegged for a big future.
But, of course, the season is far from done for both these sides, who will in all probability be getting to know each other even better in the coming weeks. After the quarter-finals next weekend, they will almost certainly face each other over two legs in the Oceania Champions League semi-finals starting in a fortnight.
At stake is a place at the Club World Cup – a tournament Auckland City have represented New Zealand as well as Oceania at for the last seven straight years. I suspect if you forced these two sides to choose which they would rather win – the New Zealand national league or the O-League, they would both choose the latter. Interesting times ahead then as the summer season continues.
But for now, congratulations Auckland City FC! Worthy national champions for a record seventh time, surpassing the six titles of Mount Wellington and Christchurch United. They haven’t conceded a goal since mid-January. The best team on the day, over the course of the season, and in the history of New Zealand club football! To quote Admiral Percy Fitzwallace, and in the spirit of Bucketman – “beat that with a stick”.
Categories: NZ Men's National League
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.