I realise that no matter how hard I try to appear unbiased, anyone who knows of my association with Matamata Swifts will instantly wipe that away and zero straight in on my biased-ness. That goes double for any attempted constructive criticism of the match officials. So how should I call this one?
Bugger it. I’ll just call it as I saw it.
For me, this was actually a great afternoon out because I got to be a fan again, if only for an afternoon. I’m almost horse from shouting, mostly in frustration but often in support of my team.
I had a foot in each camp, however. I’m always pleased to take up an opportunity to watch the Swifts. This will probably become rarer and rarer as the weeks go by. I was also fascinated to see for myself just how good the WaiBOP Federation Division 1 leaders, AFC Fury, are.
I have no worries about the Swifts as they have a very young squad this season and are taking the first steps on the long road back to competitiveness. They’ll be a mid-table team this year and have been unlucky to begin the season with matches against three of the top four sides in the league. This side, should they stay together for a while, should be a lot better in the years ahead. That they lost this match 5-1 was only really relevant to the visitors, who look an excellent, very experienced side but one which, according to the vocal home crowd, had some outside help in ensuring the margin of their victory.
Fury should probably have been down to ten, if not nine players, before they opened the scoring midway through the first half and were also lucky not to be a goal down. One of their wide men kicked the back of a grounded Swift, then not long after another Fury player got booked for a late challenge, soon after having been penalised, yet not booked, for an obvious shirt pull. The Swifts also hit the cross bar from a free kick.
The visitors’ opener was a swift counter attack, pieced together with excellent movement and precise passing. As a neutral it would have been very nice to watch. Great goal. Their second was a shonky penalty when the Swifts keeper appeared to have the ball under control on the ground only to have it kicked out. The first spot kick was well saved, only for the officials to give the visitors another go after whistling for encroachment. It seemed like players from both sides were in the box. Fury were three up within seconds when a clearly frustrated home side failed to clear another goal threat and the visitors rolled the ball home. It’s not the first time in the history of football that has happened to anyone.
That first 45 minutes had enough in it to keep anyone entertained. There were plenty of opportunities for the fans to open their lungs and it was highly competitive football, despite the scoreline.
The second half was tame by comparison. The players and officials had clearly taken some of the good stuff at half time as everyone had calmed right down. Matamata scored almost immediately after the re-start – another penalty. That award was probably as shonky as the first one, but it was good to get one back from the officials. There was no need for a re-take this time. The Swifts got another one back when Fury’s centre forward (more on him soon) drilled home a great header only to be flagged for off-side. It, er, probably wasn’t.
The visitors got their last two goals in the last ten minutes after having been subdued for most of the second half. Good sides will do that. For my Swifts, however, this would have been a great learning experience so I hope they take the positives out of the exercise.
Fury are an interesting case study. The side that was on display at the Domain today would be a match for anyone up to the lower reaches of NRFL division 1. The match day programme showed they were loaded with non-Kiwis (the rule used to be you could only field three non-resident New Zealanders. Is that still the case…?) and they looked to have half a dozen players, or more, who should be playing at a far higher level. That they aren’t clearly says something about the state of football in Tauranga.
Their centre forward, Lee Garnham, should be on the radar of every Northern League side in the region, and beyond. He’s big, strong, awkward, excellent in the air and a good finisher. Why is he not linking up with Jack McNab in Tauranga’s NRFL division 2 side? Those two would be deadly together at that level. Or even playing at a higher level?
It will take a very good side to beat Fury to this year’s WaiBOP Federation League title. Already, it appears only another Tauranga side, Old Blues, stand any chance of doing so. The Fury team I saw today would likely win any play-off to get in to the league, but then what? Would these players want to travel to Auckland every second week? If the answer’s yes then why aren’t they doing it already?
As a club Fury doesn’t seem to have anything resembling a solid player base. Their reserves sit at the bottom of the lowest league in the Bay of Plenty. So they have no depth. And they’ve never really had any depth on their slow yet steady march to the pinnacle of local league football. That will be a concern for all the Auckland clubs who whinge about the WaiBOP teams not fielding NRFL reserve teams. It should be a concern for Fury themselves as you succeed as a club, not as a single team.
They don’t seem to have a coach. The model appears to be to get a good bunch of players together, throw them on the field and they’ll get results. That works fine at this level but the cracks start to appear the higher up you go. When you actually need to train regularly, prepare properly and travel great distances life becomes far more difficult. I know this because that’s the model we used at Matamata as we made our way from the Waikato leagues to NRFL division 1. A club based in a city the size of Tauranga is likely to have a better chance of making this approach work, but still…
Finally, Fury appears to be the work of one man – Dave Cook. Cookie has a fair amount of crap thrown at him but his focus on what he’s doing is frightening. He doesn’t have a great reputation around the traps, but that’s clearly not of any great concern to the man himself. What should concern him is the fact he seems to be so central to everything at Fury. What happens when he goes? He will, one day. We all do in one way or another. Eventually. Is there anyone else to continue on with this mission? Does the club have a base to use to bounce back when someone so important is no longer there? Or will there be nothing left but a memory? Is that healthy?
Whatever happens, the AFC Fury journey will be a fascinating watch. They’ve come a long way since they were knocking around in the Waikato Sunday League. How much further can they go?