THE WAIKATO CHRONICLES
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The Waikato Chronicles: An anthology of football columns since 1991 by Bruce Holloway.
This publication presents about 200-odd columns - some of them award-winning - from Waikato United, Melville United and Waikato FC programmes, reflecting on Waikato football, the northern and national league, and the state of the game in NZ. It was named as Publication of the Year at the New Zealand Football Awards in May 2012.
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REVIEW FROM IN THE BACK OF THE NET:
Wonderfully rich themes run through the 478 page work as Bruce asks all the important questions of our time, such as: Why are New Zealand football fans so tight with their money? Are we the most boring fans in the world? What would be the all-time worst XI in the history of the National League? As well as insightfully dissecting the most serious of issues such as the slow motion train wreck that was the demise of Waikato United – moving through the collection, the reader relives this sad journey to oblivion through well-reasoned thoughts on the issues as they were grappled with and colourful reports from the club AGM’s year by year.
Yes – I just used colourful and AGMs in the same sentence – read the columns about them, you’ll see. Chart the rise of Melville United as it rose from the ashes and filled the void. Follow New Zealand’s transition from National League to the NZFC, our summer franchise based competition, and the creation of Waikato FC to compete in the brave new era.
In between times, through a series of traveller’s tales, we are whisked off to far flung corners of New Zealand for Chatham Cup, National League and Northern League ties, told in such a way that makes you feel as though you are part of the fabric of the club...The many obituaries of prominent Waikato football stalwarts, detailing the hard work and sacrifice to one of the most thankless causes in New Zealand sport are as inspirational as they are guiltifying (if I might be permitted to make up a word) – we should all be doing more.
-- Enzo Giordani
A sample excerpt from the Waikato Chronicles...
The Last Trip
Cordwainer Bull recollects the day Waikato United played its last match in the national league (away to Napier).
Sunday, April 28, 1996:
I am a Numpty. I am an anorak. I am a masochist.
Why else would I choose to spend 16 hours travelling to, from, and puddling round at Napier following a team which has proved to be Waikato United's worst-performed, worst-behaved, and er, worst paid ever in the national league?
Actually that's not fair. I know why I am going. I'm on the bus because it seems destined to be the last trip to be made under the handle of Waikato United, perhaps any Waikato national league team if Soccer New Zealand decides to dispense with the region's presence next summer.
I'm one of just six hardy fans electing to do so. There is no bus fare, but equally, there are no freeloaders. All of us have paid our dues in one way or another.
Before the bus leaves, at 7.30am, Waikato chairman Paul Collins addresses everyone on the future of the club. Agreement has been reached on amalgamation with near neighbours Melville AFC. He hands out copies of a definitive national league re-entry application the soon-to-be merged "Melville United" club will put to Soccer New Zealand.
"It will be a much stronger application than we made for this season," Collins summarises.
There is a ripple of applause. On the trip south we digest the document Melville United: A partnership for the future of Waikato soccer.
But Darren Melville and Paul Nixon do not travel on the bus. This is Melville's last game. He is continuing on down to Dunedin, starting immediately after the match, to take up a new job on Tuesday. The pair drive down in his car.
That leaves secretary Peter Hollister as club leader on the bus. "You can keep your strip after the match but we need the tracksuits back," he tells the team just south of Tamahere.
"Oh no, not another trip home naked," comes the groan from the back of the bus. Uproarious laughter from the team fined $4000 for -- among other things -- having a player fly nude from Woolston to Hamilton in February.
Kettle hands out statistics on players' appearance and goalscoring records.
Some are worthy of respect, even on a bus trip. Darren Fellowes: 87 goals from 130 appearances (five as sub). Paul Gemmell: 231 appearances, six goals. That's on top of Archie's national league career with Hamilton AFC and Manurewa and overseas stints.
It prompts Kettler and me to amuse ourselves by nutting out our best Waikato XIs.
Try it yourself. Our teams turn out to be very similar. Biggest question, where to play skipper Brian Hayes? It highlights one point: we've had some great strikers and great defenders over the years, but comparatively speaking midfield has been a talent-free zone.
It's a natural progression to the next time-killing exercise -- the worst-ever Waikato team. Here we are talking an XI so bad not only would it never score, it would never get anywhere near goal. Indeed it would not get out of its own penalty area without scoring an own goal.
Kettle brings himself to the boil by staring ominously at Brian Chisholm while he does his team. Chisholm smiles back, daring him.
We compare teams, then laugh when Chisholm points out we both left out Mike McEvoy. (McEvoy was signed as an imported goal-hungry 6ft striker. On arrival he turned out to be a 5ft-nothing fullback of modest pedigree but with staggering ability to consume alcohol.)
Rod Campbell disagrees about Paul Evans’ inclusion. He has to really, he had the lad as a boarder. But Evans was another from the stable of exceptionally poor Waikato imports, whose only turn of pace came in getting into the queue at McDonalds.
"What was this Evans like?" asks Taffy Roberts. Reply: "A Welshman who coudn't sing or play football."
Taffy, who can sing and play equally well, nods his head understandingly. End of conversation.
The bus stops to let Jeff Sole vomit at Tirau. Who knows what sort of a night the lad has had.
But at least he turned up: no small feat for Waikato's fringe players this year.
Two weeks earlier three players failed to front, then a fourth turned down the call-up. Perhaps the worst was the case of Matt Williams. The promising 18-year-old preferred to play reserve team soccer for Ngaruawahia in a match he wasn't even eligible for, rather than accept a last-minute call-up from the Bulls to face defending national league champions Waitakere.
Today Darryl Ward, Gavin Pooley and Scott Granville have failed to front.
However Darren Melville and Paul Nixon double back in their car and drag Granville out of bed. Nixon later gives Granville an 8 (see match ratings) "for playing while stoned".
We stop at the Summit Kiosk on the Taupo-Napier Rd for an early lunch, prearranged by Kettle. After a feed off eggs and baked beans the players debate who should get their votes for new Zealand Players' Player of the Year.
"Bunce has played well," offers Chisholm. Nobody listens. Paul Halford, Andy Taylor and Danny Hay pick up the most support.
John "Madman" Lawler is popular choice for Personality of the Year, Linda Black is the Crazy Gangs' referee of the year.
Meanwhile Waikato's amalgamation plans get the nod from Darren Melville, who has made the rendezvous.
"You're losing one Melville and gaining another," he says. "As long as national league stays in Hamilton for the next generation who cares what the club's called."
We arrive at Napier just after 12.30pm to strains of MOR 60s rock on the loudspeakers. There are no cheerleaders this year. The Mamas and the Papas are the closest we get to pre-match entertainment. But there is lots of rabbit over the tannoy on how the crowd must get behind the Blues -- the pride of Hawke’s Bay.
The Rovers Return (their clubrooms) reeks of soccer. It's one of the few places in New Zealand where soccer attitude and soccer culture rules. Their souvenir shop is a soccer trainspotter's delight. Ominously, I buy a Super Blues pen. It's as if I know I will be writing the blues later.
It is an extra $1 to sit in the stand at Park Island. I pay. I have second thoughts on the wisdom of this when I snag my trackpants on an upraised staple on the wooden seat I have just paid extra for.
But it would be unfair to conclude Napier is full of pricks. If Napier know how to fleece the punters of a few extra dollars, good on them. Getting money into the game is the biggest challenge for New Zealand soccer. And the average New Zealand soccer fan, if that is not too strong a word, is a tight-fisted git.
The Napier programme is excellent. It lacks the stroppy edge of Waikato's, but is thoughtfully complied and a good read. The only thing missing is an up-to-date table.
That's understandable with the previous round of games played on Thursday (Anzac Day), but it is only afterwards the full implications of the outdated table become apparent to home fans.
As the teams walk out onto the field Shane Gillies showers former Bull Che Bunce with the contents of a water bottle.
It seems riotously funny at the time. But as Paul Collins later points out: "If we get kicked out of the league it will be as much for that sort of nonsense as anything to do with criteria."
Gillies has earlier had another ping at Bunce. Before the match Bunce is wearing something akin to the type of brown garberdine suit farmers used to wear to town. Gillies, North Shore heart-throb and would-be gigilo to the women of Auckland, tells him: "Even unshaven and in a T-shirt and trackpants I look tidier than you."
Matt Perry and Rod Cooper start their first matches for Waikato. They have both played full northern premier league games the day before. Kettle names himself as third sub.
In the circumstances Waikato puts up a reasonable show in the first half.
10 minutes in Nixon glides the ball past Bunce. Bunce stands on Nixon's toe. Just clumsy, not purposeful. But it is the cue for Melville to go nuts. In the very next play he kicks Perry Cotton yards in the air. He should have been sent off. He gets away with a booking and heaps of booing from the sideline.
Waikato creates three excellent scoring oportunities in the first half. Nixon hits the post. Melville, two goals in his previous match, should have scored when put through by new-boy Cooper. Chisholm, who has not scored all season -- a poor return for a senior central midfield player -- makes an 'orrible hash of his best opening.
Darren Melville and Laurence Fitzpatrick go off injured within a minute of each other in the second half -- bad-boy Melville to generous boos from the Park Island crowd. Napier respond by potting two quick goals.
Then Paul Halford scores a classic third. It's bizarre to later hear him announce his retirement when still in the peak of form.
Napier win, but only programme buyers are cheering. An updated table reveals they have missed out on the playoffs due to other results around the country.
Beaten 0-3, the Waikato lads enjoy a few jugs of beer afterwards in the dressing room. For many this is a farewell party, perhaps the last time together.
Melville is off -- he doesn't even go into the clubrooms -- Taffy is returning to Wales, Nixon is threatening to retire. So is Paul Gemmell.
There is a blackboard in the visitors dressing room at Napier with a soccer field drawn on it. It's there for teams to pore over tactics, team formation, match strategies.
On the board Waikato has Kettle in goal and three across the middle: Nixon, Pele, Melville. The author has obviously tired of the joke before it has run its full course. Readers can find their own symbolism in that.
The standard of aftermatch speeches in soccer is usually nothing short of appalling. Some, like Mt Maunganui godfather Dave Cook, argue they are an anachronism which should no longer be tolerated.
But in New Zealand it is a quaint practice which helps compensate for the lack of media coverage the game gets here. This is how fans learn what the coach or manager think. As a bonus, they can respond with their own applause or boos.
Peter Hollister uses the Park Island podium to model the aftermatch speech as an art form. To the growing bemusement of the locals -- and irritation of those with bursting bladders -- Pete speaks for a shade over 11 minutes. His tour-de-force shows what is possible when someone has got something more that polite platitudes to offer.
He gives a potted history of Waikato's recent soccer history, presenting a rationale for amalgamation, the challenges of making a national league work in the New Zealand context, and the problems of running a club operation for 12 months of the year.
This was the speech everyone had expected after Waikato's final home game against Wellington... and never came. But it's a little out of place and over-indulgent at Park Island. There are so few here to vouch for the accuracy of what he says.
The aptly-named Mick Waitt is next up. He describes Pete's speech as Churchillian -- and apologises because he plans to go on a bit as well, with a valedictory adress for Paul Halford.
By contrast with the speeches, the trip home takes next to no time. It helps that beer is loaded into the back of the bus in mind-boggling amounts.
Nobody discusses the match. Or where Waikato soccer goes from here.
Neil Mouncher, former Newcastle United trialist and veteran of a host of non-league clubs in north-east England, says Waikato's team spirit is better, more staunch than anything he has ever experienced.
In that respect Kettle is the ringleader on the way home, lurching around in the back of the bus. "We love you Kettler," the players sing.
Before we reach Te Pohue Taffy Roberts is belting out a raucous version of Flower of Scotland. Archie supports and everyone comes in on the bits they know.
Then Paul Nixon starts the airplane song. You know, the airplane song. There is a chorus of "The pilot is a wanker, a wanker, a wanker. Next verse it's: "the chairman is a wanker, a wanker, a wanker." More laughter.
Just when I'm wondering where it will end, skipper Nixon exhausts the routine with "the captain is a wanker, a wanker a wanker." Huge laughter. More beer. Piss stop.
Through all this Sunderland fan Mouncher is a troubled man. It’s been a great year for the Roker-men, but the Mad Makem has been caught out.
Ladies and gentleman, for your amusement we present a man with Sunderland tattoos who cannot name their 1973 cup-winning team.
Taffy offers sarcastic sympathy. "It must be hard remembering all those successful Sunderland teams of the last 30 years. So many cups, so many titles..."
"I was only five at the time," Mouncher protests.
Joe Fraser, a Kiwi with no love of Sunderland at all, effortlessly names the team for the embarrased keeper.
Many cans later there is a food stop at McDonalds in Taupo.
But not for the lads the comfort of the restaurant. They stand around outside in the cool night air. When they get back on the bus it will be time to sleep for the final two hours of the journey.
Eating crappy hamburgers in a parking lot with a can of lager... Was this how it was always destined to end for Waikato United? As the bus pulls out of Taupo I peer through the darkened window.
A 300kg lady is entering a karaoke bar.