I have deliberately kept my distance from Tauranga City United, despite their home ground being probably the closest NRFL venue to where I live.
It’s no secret that I was centrally involved at Matamata Swifts AFC up until early this year. It’s no secret the club was forced to pull out of the NRFL due to a rapid and shocking depletion of the club’s playing stocks. And it’s probably no real secret as to what one of the main reasons for that mass exodus was.
So, it’s taken me a while to feel ready to go and watch, and write about, a team coached by someone I was very close to for eight years, who I believed shared my vision for the future of my club and who I thought was a friend.
That whole ‘divorse’ process was a real jolt for me. But not for the surface level reason you may think. I pretty quickly came to terms with the fact we had lost our coach. At face value it made sense. From a football perspective. He lives in Tauranga. Tauranga is (was?) a big club. It was a logical move. The challenge of restoring a sleeping giant to past glories is tantalising. I could rationalise that.
What I struggled to reconcile was how this had happened on a personal level. Man to man. I was played and I was lied to by someone I believed was a friend. Even worse, my ex-colleague traded in his values by going to work with people he had openly despised for years. My left-brain way of thinking had me struggling to understand. I guess I felt betrayed. That’s probably the best word for it. That’s how I internalised it. Pretty selfish, I suppose, but then that’s me.
Yes, stuff like that happens, both in life and in football. I should put my violin back in its case, throw my hanky in the wash and move on. I have, I think, but it didn’t make any of that easier to take back then. I feel it’s important, however, to describe the context in which I viewed this match.
Thankfully, time has moved on and we all now have our new challenges in the game. I can write dispassionately about it now. I have no real lingering resentment and am thankful I can analyse, with detached hindsight, something that has taught me a great lesson about how humans can operate and, more importantly, how I react.
So, on a brighter note, the time was right for me to head over to Links Ave and have a look at Tauranga versus NRFL Division 2 new boys, Oratia United.
Right from the off you could sense this was going to be a grim afternoon. It was a wet, cold and grey day. Most un-beach-like weather, but very kiwi winter sport conditions. All that was missing was the haka at the beginning and the three cheers (and one for the ref) at the end.
At the start it looked like the visitors would be the ones in for a rough day. Tauranga were sprightly, energetic, creative and went ahead reasonably early. Some good work down the left led to a cross along the deck that was passed, cool as you like, into the back of the net by new Tauranga signing, Ollie Wright, one of many Matamata connections in the Tauranga side. It was a nice move, an excellent finish and it was coming, even so early on.
Then… not a lot happened for much of the rest of the first half. The home side had long since lost their zest as the clock ticked towards half time, although they had a couple of manufactured half chances to extend their lead. Top scorer, Jack McNab, was pretty much leading the line by himself, while Wright had his moments down the, er, right.
As for the visitors, not one of their players left a lasting impression. They were solid, organised, efficient, boring. And then they scored a few minutes before the break. It was a good finish (no lumps or bundles with that one), but it looked like there was a little help from some lax Tauranga defending. So at least we had a couple of goals to ponder going into half time, but not much else to warm our frozen extremities.
The second half wasn’t much fun to watch. Both sides ran around, hustling and bustling, chasing and being chased. But they had to, otherwise they’d have frozen to the Links Ave surface. Come to think of it, that’s what must have happened to the Tauranga defence when they allowed the visitors to go ahead. Oratia worked their way past several stationary men in blue to fashion an opening that neither side looked capable of creating. “We’re defending like statues,” came the call from one of Tauranga’s fans.
The third and final goal for the visitors was what is described these days, quite accurately, as a coach killer. Tauranga’s keeper basically passed a clearance straight to one of Oratia’s front men, giving him a clear run back at goal with only said keeper to beat. The job was completed with a minimum of fuss.
That was about that, although Oratia did hit the upright late on, which would have turned a bad afternoon for the Links Ave faithful into a nightmare. Tauranga were a shadow of their first 20 minute selves and were never getting back into it. Three points for the visitors and a fun bus ride in store.
So how, given the intro to this article, did I feel about this result? I’m always interested to analyse how I react in situations like this. Well, honestly, I can say I was surprisingly ambivalent. Any pseudo-jilted-lover emotion looks like it’s well gone, so that made me happy. I’ve moved on, as I should have.
I spent most of this match with my focus on Tauranga and some of their players, but that’s only natural. It’s because I know them personally, like them as individuals, and was genuinely interested to see how they were faring in their new environment. Unfortunately, it didn’t look good. If they put black and white shirts on Tauranga could easily haved passed for Matamata Swifts circa 2011/12 (we were ordinary). That’s probably the best way I can frame it and it’s how it looked to someone on the outside. Same ****, different season. I’m sure they’re aware of it and it must disappoint them. I know it was just one match, but recent results probably suggest this wasn’t a one off.
Sorry, Oratia, if I’ve rather glossed over this very significant win of yours and may appear to be treating it with less gravity than you will be. That’s just me and that was just this day. I promise things will be different when I finally make it out to Parrs Park.
Life would be easy if you didn’t have to work with people. It wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, though. I could have been in a very different place on this chilly Saturday afternoon, and doing a very different thing. But I wasn’t and I guess there’s a reason for that. As a famous centre-half once said, “There’s nowt as queer as folks”. He was dead on.