It’s been a very long footballing year for me. Even though you’d be tempted not to believe it due to the lack of recent posts on this blog.
Putting my laziness aside, and as 2013 comes crashing down amongst all the Christmas/New Year madness, I think it’s worth reflecting on a busy year, if only as a way to tidy things up and give something for my handful of followers to chew on over the summer.
I set this site up just as one of the most important footballing obsessions of my life so far was drawing to a close. Even though I’ve since got back involved with my club, the start of 2013 saw me feel compelled to hand over the reins at Matamata Swifts AFC to someone else. After giving so much of myself to the club for so long I needed to get out, refresh, do something else. That something else, initially, was producing content for this site.
I threw myself into it and as you can see (if you can be bothered looking at the stats) the first month or so of the local football season saw me get out and about, taking photos and movies, then tapping out quite a few words as my quest to become a recognised football blogger began in earnest. It was fun, different, stimulating. Watching a heap of different sides was very different to following the same side around every week. These efforts also had a pay-off, of sorts, when in April I was approached to take on a part time gig as the communications manager at WaiBOP Football.
The main reason I decided to get involved with the Federation is because they had taken over the licence for the region’s ASB Premiership side, the re-branded WaiBOP United. Being involved with the franchise right from the off has been fun and frustrating in equal measure, but I think we’ve done a half decent job so far. It’s been very much a swan like effort to this point (you know the thing… on the surface gliding smoothly along while under the water the feet have been going like mad in all directions). From what I’ve seen, however, there are some areas where we’re already well ahead of franchises that have been at it for a decade so, annoying results aside, it hasn’t been too bad a start.
One of the highlights for me this year was being in the crowd at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium for the Mexico game. The atmosphere was great even though the expectation was non-existent. It was great to catch up with friends before the game and also run into a bloke who was on the same tour to South Africa in 2010 as I was.
The hammering over two legs, however, wasn’t pretty to watch. The analysis of that has been done to death and I’d be late to the party, as usual, if I tried to rehash it here. What that series did was pretty much close the door on South Africa 2010 for New Zealand and, in a positive sense, it should now allow us to look forward and hopefully move that way as well with increasing confidence.
Having had a decent look at our game throughout 2013, from many angles, up close and from a distance, I’m convinced, more than ever, that football is the game to play. The masses are now getting it. Our country is slowly growing up, maturing if you like, as our population becomes more diverse. This will only improve as time goes on. The reaction to the Mexico result, and the ensuing discussion, proves that. But there’s so much more happening just under the surface, waiting to explode. I’m sure you all know what I’m on about.
I’ve been to many different football grounds during 2013. From Michaels Ave in Auckland, for Ellerslie AFC’s first game under lights, to Shoesmith Reserve in Warkworth, Rotorua International Stadium to McLean Park, Napier, and from Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford to Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. And many, many others in between. Each venue has their own unique attraction. They’ve all been fun in their own way. And I’ve so many new places to visit next season. I can’t wait for that.
I’ve seen first hand the work it takes, usually by a handful of unthanked and harassed volunteers, to keep clubs running and push them towards success. Not long ago, for instance, Birkenhead United was losing games at the Matamata Domain. Now they are flying high in the NRFL Premier League, their success having been mapped out over several years and their current strength coming after what, at the time, would have seemed like bitter disappointment. Matamata Swifts, of course, has gone in the other direction, a victim of being based in a small town with a lack of depth (in several areas). Both clubs are at different ends of the spectrum and both clubs, brilliantly, appear to be in very good heart. I’m sure this is the case up and down the country, in our country towns and urban sprawls.
My real highlight for the year, however, has little to do with my travels. A dream of mine disappeared in late 2012, which I’ll take a large amount of responsibility for, but which was also down to a certain amount of duplicity, but a new one has risen to take its place. I have two sons who are just starting out in their lifetimes of football involvement (correct, they have no choice…) and it was a pleasure to ‘coach’ them during the season (I say coach in inverted commas because, at this stage, I’m anything but a coach) despite the cold winter mornings, tantrums and scorn.
What I want for them is to find their own way towards worshipping this game as much as I do. They may make it as players (please, please, please…). More likely they’ll end up as fans like the rest of us. Either way it doesn’t really matter.
So, after clocking up the kilometres and taking literally thousands of photos, the best image of Football 2013 for me was taken less than five minutes from home. My son, with a smile on his face and a football at his feet. That sums up the year for me quite nicely.