Timaru City AFC celebrate their 50th anniversary this year (2018). Their major honour was in 1971 when they won Southern League Division Two. This year, City finished 8th of 8 in South Canterbury Division 1.
However, for South Islanders outside of South Canterbury, the club is renowned for its annual five-a-side social tournament. Held on the Saturday and Sunday of South Canterbury Anniversary weekend (near the end of September) at Timaru City’s home field at the Caledonian Ground. The field is divided into 4 widthways fields, with a small goal. No goalkeepers, no offsides. Goals can only be scored by touches within the final third of the field. Pool matches are 7-minutes each way.
The pitch is surrounded by a cycle-track, outside of which are grass embankments, a grandstand (uncovered), and clubrooms.
This year there were 16 men’s teams, and 16 women’s teams. Saturday and early Sunday games were pool-play where the emphasis was on doing things with style. Backheel volleys into the top corner rather than boring tap-ins from 30 centimetres.
The teams range from premier league players to Sunday League / ageing social-masters players. Teams are often associated with winter clubs, but usually don’t bear the club name; a suitably silly name is used by the teams. Although, these names will often persist with team for many years. Stylish dress / costumes are encouraged for on and off-field wear, including the Saturday-night function at the clubrooms where the theme varies from year-to-year.
After pool play, the competition is divided into cup and plate competitions. With the cup competitions often containing teams with first team players, youngsters, or locals (more rested), there is often an intense fight to qualify instead for the plate. One match had both teams wanting to lose to qualify for the plate. It didn’t take long for it to descend into an own-goal competition! Somehow it ended even at full time; a penalty shootout was started but was soon abandoned after several balls were dispatched over the fence!
While the pool-play, plate and much of the cup competitions have the focus on fun and stylish football, some of the rivalries in the later knockout stages can result in fast-paced, entertaining, physical matches.
Nobody seemed to know (off the top of their heads) when the first tournament was held, but it’s been going for well over twenty years. One of City’s regular volunteers told me that fifteen years ago she was pregnant and working at the tournament on the Saturday, and on the Sunday gave birth. This year her son celebrated his fifteenth birthday and made his debut as a player at the Tournament.
The tournament is City’s main regular fundraiser. Barry (MC and public face of the Tournament) told me about how the District Council own/maintain the field, but the Club maintain most of the facilities (clubrooms / grandstand). The funds have been used to maintain and progressively enhance these starting with the kitchen, then the bar area, then the hall.
I first played at the tournament in the late 1990s and returned a handful of times with clubmates when I was at Rangers AFC of Christchurch, who had been sending teams to the tournament for many years before. One of the benefits of the merger of Rangers and New Brighton to form Coastal Spirit was the tradition of New Brighton hiring a bus to travel for the weekend. Several of my teammates from the 2018 tournament had travelled on the bus since the mid-1990s, and I’m told the bus had been travelling for several years before that. Vim Fuego told me his memories and significance of the Timaru tournament:
Timaru to me is a post-season pilgrimage. My club has been going for over a quarter of a century and this year was my 21st. Very similar to my own 21st party, Timaru is filled with lots of friends, music, and laughter. The football is just a bonus.
When I first started travelling, I was in my late teens and it was great to go to another town and play some football. The bus down and the party atmosphere was an added extra.
After ten years, and a few retirements from others, it fell to me to organise. The bus down evolved to a party bus, and the 2-hour trip extended to an 8-hour extravaganza. We stop in such beautiful and welcoming places such as Dunsandel, Vegas and Hinds. It serves as a fantastic end of season trip for our club and others.
Highlights of my 21 trips south are making the final twice (losing both times ☹️), scoring some cracking goals and successfully managing up to 50 people being at the same place at the same time.
Until next year!
For the record, the 2018 Men’s Cup Winners were West End Wringers (South Canterbury team) who beat the Snark Hunters in the Final. The Women’s Cup winners were Possums who beat Possums 2.0 in the Final. Possums have attended the tournament for many years and contain some familiar faces to those who would have seen Mainland or Canterbury provincial sides from years gone by. They appear to have now spawned a second team.
The Men’s Plate was won by Muchachos, who brought it back to Christchurch on the bus.
It was another fun weekend in Timaru. You should consider it for your end-of-season trip next year. See the facebook page for Timaru City AFC for details.
Phil Clayton's feet are registered with Brooklyn Northern United but—despite having moved back to Wellington from Christchurch in 2011—his heart is still bonded with Coastal Spirit FC.