532 Words on: Waikato United v Central Croatia

They say ‘everything happens for a reason’ and maybe that’s true – even when, at the time of the thing, the reason can be harder to identify than a likable footballer in a Lazio squad. Take my childhood for example. At the time, it was pretty hard to decipher how getting the snot beaten out of me at school on a regular basis was going to serve me later in life.

And looking back now I’m still not convinced there is any one big grandiose redeeming New York style pepperoni pizza-sized reason for that, or even a cumulative equivalent tonnage of Wild Bean southern style chicken bite-sized reasons that make up for it either.

Yeah. I’m writing this on an empty stomach. What of it??

There is one thing that, in a roundabout way, I can thank those bullies for though – my first local football love.

Primary school in Huntly was a particular brand of dystopian free-for-all for me, but the prospect of Huntly College was quite another Darwinian nightmare altogether – one I doubt I’d have survived. So mum did the best thing she could think of to protect me. She lied about where we lived so I could go to Hamilton’s Fraser High School – which was no picnic either by any stretch of the imagination but it at least came with a hamper and one or two soggy tomato sangas…

It was a long walk “home” (AKA my mother’s workplace, where all bosses and staff had been fully briefed to play along if the school rang) from Fraser to Avalon Drive that, depending on the route I chose, often took me past Muir Park. On one such trek the ‘upcoming fixtures’ sign captured my imagination:

“Waikato United v Central Croatia”

When I got home (my real home) I rang my older brother in Auckland: “Hey, you’ve got to get down here this weekend, there’s a visiting team from Croatia playing!” Nando, wisely, wasn’t convinced. “It’s probably some Australian outfit. Not worth a trip”.

Fortunately though, my grandma was a much easier sell. She agreed to take me, ply me with hot chips and brave the cold at the Northern end of what the two of us came to lovingly refer to on frequent subsequent trips as ‘Manure Park’.

I have those trips to thank for the knowledge that Central Croatia was another name for an Auckland club called Central United who would eventually go on to win all the things ad infinitum. And while they were getting good, I got used to Waitakere City winning everything, usually by crushing my hopes and dreams as cruelly as possible along the way.

Then I came to terms with my favourite teams disappearing on me… Waikato United were replaced by a new national league love – Melville United – until they in turn got replaced by another new love, Waikato FC, until they were wound up and replaced by the greatest love of all – WaiBOP United until… until… and so-on…

And maybe that was the big New York pizza sized reason for my entire childhood. The valuable life lesson of ‘don’t allow yourself to love things too much – it only sets you up for heartbreak.’ Thanks toerags.