To a country boy like me there’s one thing about Auckland football that stands out, maybe more than anything else: how many football clubs there are and how close most of them are to each other. Ridiculously, fantastically close to each other, particularly on the Shore.
Okay, there’s the population base to cater for, but you can literally kick a football from one ground to the next.
This proximity clearly gives rise to any number of real derby matches. And it also gives the neutral fan the opportunity to shop around. On this Saturday afternoon I chose to do a bit of shopping while taking in a derby along the way.
I’d never been to Bay City Stadium before. As the East Coast Bays versus Birkenhead match was the standout Premier League fixture of the round and the ground was literally just down the road from the in-laws’ I thought I’d better at least have a look. I was impressed (not too hard, admittedly). It’s a great little football venue and I could even see the sea from the bank.
The game wasn’t exactly what I expected, although that’s not surprising. Quite often big matches fail to live up to the hype. Both these sides spent the 45 minutes I was there basically trying to kick the crap out of each other. The intensity was good and the pace much, much quicker than the second half of my afternoon, but the impression I was left with was of a big brother trying to beat up on his little brother, with all the ultimate success that usually brings (not much).
Bays had their chances but looked hypo in front of goal. Rushed, eratic, nervous. If only they could have been more like the Fonz. The flappy Birko keeper got off lightly.
Birko won a stonewall penalty just before the break. Perfect timing. Hobson-McVeigh sent the keeper the wrong way and it was 1-0 as they went in for their oranges.
Time to fly. A quick dash down the motorway had me at Beecroft Park just in time for the second half of Forrest Hill-Milford versus Ngaruawahia. As it turns out I probably shouldn’t have bothered, but that’s the joy of hindsight.
Narra scored just after I pulled up at the ground, their fifth after a strong 1st half. But the signs were already there that the sting had gone from the game. The hosts got one back before the end but there wasn’t really much in this for the neutral to get enthused about. The game was well over – Narra had taken care of business early and FHM were long gone by the time I showed up.
All that was really left for me to do was fire off some photos and add another One Minute At… to my library.
I spent most of my time with one eye on the match and one eye on the social game going on behind me. I expected to get nailed at any moment, by either an errant ball or, more frighteningly, an errant, over-sized player. I’ll have to put in for danger money on my expense claim.
So that was my afternoon in the big smoke. I still had another appointment to keep (more on that here) but I could at least reflect on the massive contrasts on offer in this game of ours. The skill, intensity and athleticism was vastly different. The Premier League is a step or five ahead of lower level football but each and every game has its points of interest. It’s just a shame I appeared to miss most of them.
For the record, Birko ended up winning 2-1 and Ngaruawahia won 5-1. I saw three of the nine goals. Better luck next time.