The last time I watched a game of football at Wharepai Domain in Tauranga was in the mid-1990s.
That day, the match was a Chatham Cup tie between two clubs who have since merged with other clubs – Tauranga City and Waikato United. So it was fitting my next visit, nearly 20 years later, to this venue was for a cup tie between a Tauranga-based side and a Hamilton-based side. Old Blues, current leaders of Waikato Bay of Plenty Federation League Division 1, were matched up against Hukanui-Rototuna Clube Alegria (quite a mouthful), leaders of Waikato Bay of Plenty Federation League Division 2.
I’m not really sure what I was expecting from this one. I don’t really have any great feelings either way for either club, so I guess I was after a decent game of football and a fun day out with my youngest son.
It was a good opportunity to see the difference in ability between the two divisions and also look at the differences and similarities between Old Blues and AFC Fury, who look like the two sides who’ll fight it out for the Division 1 title. That’s probably not of interest to most readers of this blog, but it’s important in describing the narrative of local football in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions.
Firstly, the difference between the two divisions. The final scoreline – 5-0 to Old Blues – would suggest it’s pretty stark. But any scoreline is only that, and it quite often doesn’t describe the nature of the match. This one didn’t either, although I left when Old Blues went 3-0 up midway through the second half to go hassle some match officials* during the last half hour of Matamata’s match against Otumoetai, which was just down the road.
A relatively even 1st half saw Old Blues take a slender 1-0 lead into the changing rooms. They certainly had the better of the half, but not to the point where they looked like scoring from open play. Their opener came from the penalty spot. The visitors forced a couple of good saves out of the Old Blues keeper after half time, before one of Old Blues’ wide men blasted over with only the keeper to beat.
It was a much more open second half and it was not really much of a surprise to see Old Blues double their lead as time went on. They certainly looked more precise going forward and their second, a nice little free kick from just outside the box, pretty much put this one to bed. Their third goal, only seconds later, wrapped it up. Tie over.
Clearly there was more goal scoring action during the closing stages. Hukanui-Rototuna are a tidy young side with some handy players. Their number 12, who barely looked to be in his teens, moved smoothly past his marked several times and could have quite a future. They’re a work in progress, which will continue in the top local division next year.
As for Old Blues, their sights will be set on a more immediate target – a second league title in three years. They are quite a contrast to their main rivals, AFC Fury. Fury have more natural talent across the field but Old Blues look to be a better organised, more structured side. They play a defined 4-2-3-1 (well, that’s what it looked like to me) with a solid back six and a fluid front four. One of their wide men, Rueben, looked a decent player.
It’ll be a fascinating encounter when they take on Fury in a month. Even more fascinating will be whether Fury turn up with the same side I saw a couple of weeks ago…
Wharepai is a great gound for viewing football. It’s a natural amphitheatre surrounded by trees with a small clubrooms by the main gate. On the side of the field opposite the clubrooms is a rather sharp bank which lifts you a couple of metres above the action and allows for a rather unique view. On a sunny mid-autumn afternoon it was a very nice place to watch football.
This is Old Blues’ first season at this venue after moving over from Welcome Bay’s dire Waipuna Park. It’s a great step in the right direction by a club that looks to be building the right sort of base to maybe one day soon be challenging Tauranga City United’s position as the number one team in the Bay of Plenty. I’m not sure of their financial strength, which they would need to have right in order if the club is to progress from local league to Northern League football, but on the playing front things look good.
Ironic they’re doing it from Tauranga City’s old ground.
* Just kidding about the match officials. A joke at my own expense.