Matamata Swifts AFC is my club because Matamata is where I’m from. Simple really.
I played my junior football at the club. I played football there as a callow youth. I played most of my senior football there. And I’ve held just about every committee position known to man there. It’s fair to say I’ve done my time and I’ve done it willingly.
Matamata Swifts is a small country club that has occasionally punched above its weight. Often over the years the club has struggled to field even a couple of senior teams, while at other times we’ve succeeded way beyond what such a small club should realistically expect.
Over the years my connection with the Swifts has frayed my emotions, ripping them from one extreme to the other. That’s because I’ve been so involved. I remember less than a decade ago literally dragging a player off the street on the way to a local Waikato league game in Hamilton just so we could get eleven players on the field. I also remember taking a team up to Auckland and beating Eastern Suburbs, one of the biggest clubs in the country, to secure a place in winter football’s second tier.
Such is the diversity of experience handed to you when you sink so much of yourself into an organisation such as Matamata AFC.
I’ve had some top moments with the club and also some real lows.
The van rides back from Auckland after our Northern League games in the 1990s were something else. That afternoon at Suburbs was great because it was so unexpected. My second son, Theo, was born on the morning of the game we needed to win to clinch the local Federation league title we had been fighting for three years to claim. Theo’s timing was perfect, as was the result.
I remember travelling to Sydney with my high school first XI, a team full of mates I played with right through the juniors, and winning a secondary schools tournament (then getting my first real taste of rum and Southern Comfort. Bloody horrible stuff…). Geez, I even remember being smacked in the face by the football in a game as a junior down in Tokoroa then getting up and scoring the winner.
But I’ve also been let down, probably because I let myself care so much. (Actually, I should say that I’ve allowed myself to be let down because I’m a believer that you can’t control what other people do, you can only control how you react.) I did what I thought was necessary, when required, to get a team on the field but that meant carrying on my shoulders the monkeys of some pretty unattractive people. I found my personal values were often compromised and that always felt horrible. I rationalised it by telling myself to look at the big picture. But now, I don’t know…
Over the years the club and more pointedly, some of the people I worked with there, wore me down to the point that I felt my only option was to walk away. I even considered running away to Australia to escape.
That’s probably the flip side of investing yourself so much in something, personalising your goals while having to rely on other people to help make them happen, then ending up falling short.
Not that I could ever completely walk away, of course. Almost immediately after I officially severed my ties with the club I was fielding phone calls from people at other clubs operating at a similar level. I didn’t even remotely consider any of these overtures because they didn’t feel right. Why? I didn’t have it in me to submerge myself into someone else’s club.
All this – the ups and the downs, the good and the bad – has helped me grow as a human because I’ve learnt some pretty important stuff. Mainly about myself, but quite often about others. That’s another reason why I’ll always be in debt to my club.
I’m actually back involved with the Swifts this season in a low key management committee role. I’ve got certain skills I can offer that will help keep the club on track, even though the visible leadership responsibilities now fall on other people. My kids are starting to play football and there’s no better place for me to teach them the game than out on the Matamata Domain so I find myself morphing from hassled administrator to doting coach. That’s a nice antidote and is bringing me rapidly back to my Swifts happy place.
As a contrast, which many people may be able to understand, let me say this: I’ve been a Tottenham Hotspur fan since 1981. I’ve followed their results ever since and never considered switching allegiances. I’ve experienced the joy of waking up in the morning and finding out they won while I was sleeping and being pissed off when they lost. I can, vaguely, remember the odd cup win (yes, even Ricky Villa’s goal, which is probably the main reason I became a Spurs fan in the first place). I always hold out hope that this season will be different.
But Spurs haven’t mattered as much as the Swifts because I’m not from Tottenham. I don’t share the same sort of bitterness towards the board/manager/chairman/whoever that other Spurs fans do (quite noticeable this season) because I’m not there. I don’t hate the Arse, even though I quite happily call them the Arse. Sure, I’ll have a laugh when they go another season without winning a trophy but that will be about it. I don’t care enough about them to hate them. Just as, while I do care about Spurs, I probably don’t care enough to spout some of the mindless bile you see quite often on the message boards.
Basically the highs aren’t as high and the lows aren’t as low as they are with the Swifts.
So, there’s a difference, even though I’ve been tied to these two clubs since I was a kid. And that’s down to, you guessed it, where I’m from. Which is why Matamata Swifts AFC is my club.
This article was originally prepared for and appeared on Enzo Giordani’s fantastic In-The-Back-Of-The.Net blog as part of his ‘I Love My Club’ series.