If you run a search in Google Images for ‘football+pantomime+villain’ you’ll find photos of Luis Suarez, Mario Ballotelli, Diego Maradona and even Robbie Savage, among others. If you added ‘+Tauranga’ to your search you should really come up with a photo of Dave Cook (you don’t, but that’s probably because there just aren’t too many images of the man on the web).
Cookie is the man football people in Tauranga, almost to a man, love to loathe. They’ll tell you he is the dictionary definition of dodgy and, if you let them, will regale you with tales of his myriad dubious dealings. “He’s been at it forever,” they say. This and this may give you a small glimpse into that world.
And yet he keeps boxing on.
I should really have been in Hamilton for the Chatham Cup round 3 fixture between Hamilton Wanderers and Mangere United on this spitefully gloomy afternoon, but the backstory supporting Tauranga Old Blues versus AFC Fury was utterly compelling to the local football watcher. So there I was, along with plenty of others. With Tauranga City United not in NRFL action this weekend, it seemed like the great and good of Tauranga football were all on hand for this one. They were either out in the open or leaning on one of the many trees surrounding Wharepai Domain. Heck, some even appeared to be using the foliage as cover. And you can bet almost all of them wanted to see one thing and one thing only…
These are two clubs in the Waikato Bay of Plenty Federation League that, I think it would be safe to say, don’t really get on. Until very recently it looked like the title would go to one or other of them. It still may, but the recent form of both sides has been decidedly average, giving the hunting pack a good whiff of blood.
Old Blues suffered their first league defeat of the season last time out, which came on the heels of consecutive draws. In that defeat, at Ngongotaha, they had their coach, ex-All White Grant Turner, sent from the bench. Turner subsequently retired from the game citing genuine health issues while also being handed a lengthy ban.
So the hosts didn’t enter this match in the best of shape. But neither did the visitors. AFC Fury had suffered consecutive 2-0 league defeats, which bookended a home pummelling in the Chatham Cup. They’ve had players jumping ship and rumours of unrest. And they have Dave Cook.
Throw in a large and vocal crowd and a young set of match officials and you had a stage that was well and truly set in front of a bunch of fans with no idea what would happen next. This performance didn’t disappoint.
The first act warmed thing up nicely. There was just the right amount of action, spite and dispute during the first 45 minutes to leave things simmering ahead of a dogfight of a second half. The only disappointment was the match was goalless at the break. The two teams looked like they were cancelling each other out so you wondered where the first goal was going to come from. But you knew this was Old Blues versus AFC Fury so it was pretty clear something was going to happen.
And it did.
Fury’s English striker, Lee Garnham, opened the scoring with a neat finish, not long after he’d hit the upright. The second half was much more open and Fury looked the more likely during the first 20 minutes or so of it, so the goal wasn’t completely unexpected. The Fury players celebrated wildly while the crowd gave it to them.
Old Blues came back with their first equaliser from an Andrew Cooper free-kick from the edge of the area. The Fury wall jumped over Cooper’s shot leaving Neil Mouncher, in goal, with no chance and the six men in the wall comically disappointed. Cooper tried the same thing later on but the wall stayed put at the second time of asking.
Fury’s second goal was sweet. Nice work down the left saw the ball pulled back to Juan Basso who drilled the ball home. It was a great strike, particularly given the rather pungent quality of the shooting in this game up until them. The Fury celebrations were even louder, as was the response from the crowd.
To this point the match had never been completely under control but neither had it boiled off the Richter Scale. It seemed like just about every Fury player bar Mouncher had found their way into the ref’s notebook, though, mainly through naughty or niggly stuff rather than anything too vile and it caught up with them when Francisco Lopez Blanco (one of six Latin names in the Fury starting line-up) received his second yellow with not long to go.
Old Blues hadn’t threatened Mouncher’s goal as much as they’d have expected so the odds were still on Fury holding on to their hard won points. Then Cooper took a quick free kick and Mike Barton struck the ball home from a long way out. Was an unlikely victory on for the home side?
Nope. Fury kicked off. Garnham worked a one-two with substitute, Santiago Hassan, before playing in Fury’s other sub, Shane Jenkins, who clipped home the winner. “Merde!” said the home fans (or words to that effect).
Then it was over. A long slow lead-up was finished off by the grand crescendo of a twisted finale. And the villain still standing, as strong as ever. George RR Martin couldn’t have scripted it much better.
I went to this match with, as much as anything, a morbid curiosity about what would happen and an expectation to see something wild or eccentric. The plot lines were thick and rich and the potential for quality material predictably promising. I shouldn’t really have been that interested but the story dragged me in. I didn’t leave disappointed and I expect this show will run right until the curtains are drawn after the final encore at the end of the season.
Match Day Movies
Old Blues’ 1st goal
The Grand Finale
This week’s image gallery
Note: the gallery includes a few photos from the curtain raiser, which saw Hukanui Rototuna defeat Old Blues reserves 7-1 in a Federation Division 2 fixture. I need the extra images in this gallery as I a) had a shocker with the camera, and b) spent much of the closing stages filming rather than shooting.