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Red, white and Gray

Nelson Suburbs 0, Birkenhead United 2
Saxton Fields, Nelson, August 27 2018

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It seemed like a perfectly sensible idea back when I booked it, a 6:05am Sunday flight to Nelson for a Chatham Cup semi-final. But when my alarm went off at 4am yesterday I must admit that the thought did cross my mind to turn it off, go back to sleep, and chalk the lost plane ticket money up to experience.

But I didn’t. Something deep within the deep, deep, deep recesses of my brain took over and forced me to get out of bed. And thank goodness it did! Because instead of sleep I got a wonderful day out and an incredible new chapter of the Birkenhead Chatham Cup story – already a truly epic journey, but once again it has proved to be one where each episode somehow manages to outdo the last…

As I am sure you already know, not least because you read the score at the top of this post, Birko have made it to their second final in three years. That’s a feat by itself, but it’s the backstory to this year’s run that is the big talking point.

There are precious few survivors in this Birkenhead team from the one that lifted the cup two years ago and that is because the beginning of this season heralded something of a purge. After three wins at each of the prestigious Napier and ACFC Youth tournaments, they had a big crop of young talented players that they had been developing from very young ages. This success created a dilemma though. The time had come to either bring the younger players through to the first team or risk them finding other clubs.

Paul Hobson and his coaching team chose the latter option, which meant some agonising decisions on cutting loose some of the older players who had also been with the club since they were knee high to a grasshopper. And rumour has it that some of the guys, who had won the Chatham Cup for their club, found out that their services were no longer required via the quintessential bad breakup communication method – text message.

At the start of the season, after all that upheaval and with a new and green squad, the aim was simply to avoid relegation and for a while it looked like they would have a fight on their hands to do so. But come September that hard and risky choice is looking like a masterstroke. Last year, with their strong experienced team of older players, they finished 12 points adrift of the NRFL Premier champions and were knocked out of the Cup at the quarter final stage. This year they are still in with a chance to win the double, even though the league is Onehunga’s to lose. And the best part is this side is only getting started! Their best years are ahead of them in spades.

Sure, they were a bit lucky to win in Nelson yesterday thanks to two Christian Gray penalties, both of which the Nelson Suburbs keeper went agonisingly close to saving – guessing the right way in each instance and getting his fingertips onto both.

The first one for hand ball on the hour mark was a somewhat debatable call. I’ve watched the video 200 odd times and am none the wiser from the exercise.

The second one, in second half injury time after Suburbs had been reduced to ten men for a second yellow card offence, is clearer cut for me. A definite clip to the ankles.

I was told that Birko struggled a bit with the pitch, which was soft and bobbly. Excuses aside though, it was certainly a game that Nelson could have won for the impressive several hundred strong crowd in attendance for the occasion.

But instead we have a final between two clubs, in Birko and Declan Edge’s Western Suburbs, that have a couple of things in common. They both play in red and white, but most of all they both have very young and very talented teams that showcase the fact that the future of our game in New Zealand is very bright. And the same goes for the Kate Sheppard Cup final too by the way.

September 9 can’t come soon enough!

Categories: NZ Chatham Cup

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: http://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/

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