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Deus Ex Machina

It was the ultimate anti-climax. Just two minutes into the second half of Southern United’s absorbing ISPS Handa Premiership clash against Auckland City at the Caledonian Ground yesterday, play was halted.

It had been raining steadily throughout the afternoon and the rain got heavier as the match commenced. As the half-time whistle sounded and the players jogged off to the comfort of the changing rooms with the score still locked at 0-0, an absolute deluge struck the ground.

The rain eased slightly as the second half got underway, but the halftime barrage had taken its toll. With standing water in some patches of the ground, referee Cory Mills consulted with both captains, before leading everyone off the field.

Confusion abounded in the crowd. Eventually, it was announced that the match would be paused for 10 minutes. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what was hoped for in this short a period of time. So it was no surprise that just a few minutes later the match was officially abandoned.

Hurriedly walking back to my car minutes later in what was now only a light drizzle, I couldn’t help but feel like the visiting reigning champions had been saved, as if by the beard of Zeus, by that most contrived of plot devices;

“When they don’t know what to say, and have completely given up on the play,
just like a finger they lift the machine, and the spectators are satisfied.
– “Thesmophoriazusae”, Antiphanes

Except in this case, the spectators certainly weren’t satisfied. The crowd’s confusion had turned into frustration as it dawned that the preceding 47 minutes of football were now irrelevant.

Auckland City had been outplayed for the best part of the 47 minutes of football, and it would be hard to argue that they were the happier team with the abandonment. The visitors never reemerged outside, while the home team had returned seemingly in vain hope of play resuming, before only being able to applaud the crowd for sticking it out in the horrible conditions.

Of course, you could contend that the conditions had been a leveller and aided the home team against their classy opponents (although I would suggest that Aucklanders should be more familiar with the rain than us southerners!). But anyone casually glancing through some photos care of Adam Binns would never guess conditions were that bad…

Oddly, New Zealand Football’s media wrap-up of the competition round said nothing more than “Match postponed due to rain / flooded field”; not a single mention that more than half a game of football had even been played.

The match hadn’t exactly been a classic, but it had at least been intriguing; Southern United had been the more threatening side, and had gone close to scoring on a couple of occasions. Danny Ledwith had a powerful effort tipped over the bar by Enaut Zubikarai. Striker Garbhan Coughlan and winger Abdulla Al-Kalisy, up against his former club, both had their moments in attack.

Southern’s structure was solid, and it’s nice to see the team so confident in playing the ball out from the back, even in such dreadful conditions. There were times when the team’s shape was a bit stretched, leaving the front three isolated, but this also ensures that with the likes of Al-Kalisy and Omar Guardiola they’re always a danger on the counter-attack.

Meanwhile, Auckland City had barely a sniff at goal, and struggled to break down the disciplined home team defence. They came closest when an Alfie Rogers’ effort was cleared off the line by the outstanding Erik Panzer. Striker Javier Lopez, impressive in his opening matches for the champions, was largely anonymous.

We’ve all seen football played in worse conditions, and It would be easy to criticise the officials for calling off the match, but it probably wouldn’t be fair. Hindsight would suggest that with the rain quickly easing, play could probably have been re-started within a reasonable time-frame. But hindsight is unfair when player welfare is concerned.

Although the majority of the Caledonian surface was actually quite playable, there were a couple of patches that caused particular concern. Those particular sandy patches had apparently been under repair by the council’s contractors earlier in the week. It’s a mystery as to why those specific patches were so unfit in the first place; in preparation for this match, football hasn’t been played on the field for months, and although the ground is home to local athletics, these weren’t areas that would have any obvious traffic. Regardless, they weren’t repaired as well as they should have been.

It’s another example of the apparent disregard of our city’s council/contractors to get our fields in a state fit for national league football. Only a day earlier, our National Youth League team had their match against Auckland shunted to Forrester Park. The field was in such a poor state that Southern’s coaches and substitutes were on their hands and knees prior to kickoff trying to fill the countless potholes with sand. Nevermind a surface promoting quality passing football – could we please have some fields that aren’t a danger to the safety of the players?

Our new turf facility really can’t come soon enough. Of course, it seemed like a cruel joke that as Sunday’s match was abandoned due to heavy rain, the roofed Forsyth Barr Stadium was barely 300 metres down the road. But that would simply be papering over the problem of the state of our fields.

Anyway, back to the Caledonian, where 47 minutes of football were both played, and yet not played, consigned to the trash heap. The match will be re-scheduled at some point, which to be honest I can’t imagine either team would be particularly fussed about; Auckland City already have a crowded schedule given their OFC Champions League commitments, while Southern United will see the abandoned match as the one that got away, a chance for an elusive victory against a genuine bogey team.

Categories: NZ Men's National League

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