Cambridge 2, Waiheke 3
John Kerkhof Park, Cambridge, May 13 2018
I lost track of the number of people who asked me if I was going to the McLeod Road derby (HNK Auckland Croatia v Waitemata) for my Chatham Cup fix this weekend! As tempting as that intriguing little contest between two extremely close neighbours featuring Kransky sausages on the BBQ undoubtedly was, I had other ideas. My German groundhopping friend Florian was keen to add a Waikato ground to his collection of obscure football locations that he’s visited all over the world – and that was more than a good enough excuse for me to take him on my favourite road trip to visit my very very very good friends at Cambridge FC!
It was also a great excuse for me to catch up with Waiheke United for the first time in 2018! And what a difference a few months make. It seems a lot has changed at that colourful little club we all love out on the Hauraki Gulf.
On paper, the first noticeable thing is they have a new coach. With Nick Saunders having decided he had taken them as far as he could, he has made way for Malcom McPherson – who took Eastern Suburbs all the way to the National League and now has clear ambitions to do the same for Waiheke.
And now that they are playing at a new level it’s a big step up so it’s time to get serious. No more shenanigans!
Along with Malcom and his “no nonsense” style, has come a host of new players who are no stranger to top level club football in New Zealand. Players like Tom Shaw, Rhys Ruka who have won the Chatham Cup/NRFL Premier double and Marc Evans who was a prolific goal scorer at Melvile. Most of the Argentinian players we have grown used to seeing them field are either playing reserves or have run into visa difficulties and left our shores.
It’s probably not altogether surprising that after all this, we have seen a more than noticeable drop-off in the noise and colour from La Banda. To the point that the famous YUGE banner was at Cambridge yesterday but nothing else. No drums, no singing, no pyro. Silence.
I have been told that there is some resentment below the surface. It’s nothing against the new players, who everyone speaks very highly of, or the ambitions of the club. It’s just that the “family” has been split up. All but a few of the players who got the club to this point have been sidelined and isolated from the first team. The reserves don’t feel like part of the project anymore, and in previous years they were the ones who provided a lot of the vocal support.
The La Banda motto is “this is a feeling” but it seems that the trade-off for a win at all costs approach is that feeling gets watered down somewhat.
They got a good win today, coming back from a 25th minute Callum McLeod goal down in long serving Cambridge coach Mike Woodlock’s last game in charge. The equaliser was struck by Jamie Lamb in the 31st minute before Ramiro Vilar gave the visitors the lead just before the break.
Cambridge looked done when Marko Memedovic extended Waiheke’s lead in the 53rd minute but despite that a trademark Josh Clarkin header in the 73rd minute set up a grandstand finish. But whle there were opportunities for Cambridge to send us into extra time, they weren’t taken and 3-2 was the final score.
Through to the second round of the Chatham Cup, in previous years the Waiheke players would be revelling with the ultras. But yesterday they walked off with barely a grin. It was just a case of job done.
Talking to some from Waiheke yesterday, they are happy with where things are going. They seem to view this as inevitable progression as the club evolves and becomes more professional. Many of the supporters were there before La Banda and they will be there after it.
I should wait until I see them play at home before I properly judge but I have to say, at the moment, I am seriously worried that it’s not “a feeling” anymore. It’s just a bog standard garden variety football club like all the others. And that would be tragic. Because, sure, winning is important, but they weren’t just winning before. They were changing football for the better and that’s worth so much more than trophies in my book.
Florian put it best for me after we had finished talking to a range of Waiheke people yesterday – “It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, big clubs and little ones, fucking money always ruins everything”.
Categories: NZ Chatham Cup
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.