532 Words on: Real football

“The game is for the players” – Eastern Suburbs AFC

It’s easy to focus all your attention on the top of the pyramid – too easy. Everyone likes the highest quality football available, creature comforts, and to be part of something big. There’s glory in it and there’s opportunity. But first teams are but a miniscule minority of people who play the sport more New Zealanders participate in than any other. There’s a whole other world out there with a lot going for it and, what’s more, without it we would have nothing.

Many social footballers and their families have given decades upon decades to their clubs. They coach kids, they volunteer for working bees, they sit on committees. They buy the tucker at the sausage sizzles and they probably cook it too. Chances are they’ve never aspired to play for a “bigger club”, never made a rep side and never chased a pro contract – to put it simply, there’s nowhere else they would rather be than out on a humble patch of mud with nothing in it for them other than their love of the game, a bit of fun and a beer afterwards.

Their team budget has nothing whatsoever to do with their success or failure. And not only have they never received a cent for their services, but they have paid many thousands of dollars in subs over the years. They don’t just fund the competitions they play in, they fund the NRFL, they fund the national leagues and they fund our national teams as well as things like junior futsal and Whole of Football programmes. At many clubs they contribute towards funding the first teams too.

To give you a tangible idea of this, one budget I’ve seen from a large Auckland club shows that social footballers contribute 59% of the club’s federation and national body levies (including the first teams’, who don’t pay subs), with juniors stumping up the other 41%. In raw figures they pay $125 in affiliation fees out of their $299 sub in exchange for no coaching, no referees, and the last social team (from a different club) I watched was still playing in kits that were at least five years old when I’d watched them five years prior. They don’t take, they only give.

They might not play joga bonito but they play with smiles, banter and the tall tales afterwards are always things of beauty. And they aren’t just players, they are the fans of the game who pay to get into Kiwitea Street, English Park, North Harbour Stadium and the Cake Tin as well.

One hot Twitter topic (that I want to be absolutely clear I don’t give a flying fuck about) is whether the home of football in New Zealand is Auckland or Wellington. I humbly submit that before you can even begin to answer that, you have to ask “what is real football?” Is it the elite players or the people who fund their win bonuses?

Either way I’ve decided I’m going to capture and share the beauty of social football with you a lot more this year and, partly as a result, elite football a lot less. Sorry not sorry.