Yes, Rovers can, says Stanger

By Anendra Singh

Roy Stanger is a bricklayer by trade, albeit one who has to try a little harder these days as he gets longer in the tooth.

Now mention soccer and it's a totally different story.

The 62-year-old Bluewater Napier City Rovers stalwart is in every sense of the word an architect when it comes to taking stock of his labour of love with the beautiful game.

He was part of the Roger Wilkinson-coached Central League-winning team in 1981 before going on to co-coach with Malcolm Wilson in 1986 to etch the illustrious Hawke's Bay club's name on the silverware for only the second time in its history.

No doubt, it'll be the third time if incumbent coach Grant Hastings' side beat Miramar Rangers at Bluewater Stadium, Park Island, in tomorrow's 2pm kick-off in their must-win season finale.


Grant Hastings

"If we play like last week, we'll win because I can't fault anyone," Stanger said yesterday of the Bill Robertson-captained Rovers who he feels knocked the ball around with some authority in beating arch-rivals Wairarapa United 2-1 here to show they had acquired a degree of mental fortitude not so prevalent last winter when they tearfully bowed out of the Chatham Cup final in Palmerston North.

The Valerio Raccuglia-coached Miramar, though, will be satisfied to hit the State Highway 2 with a draw with two less-challenging games in hand to clinch the Central League bragging rights barring any colossal upsets.

Wellington Olympic and Wairarapa United have finished an 18-match campaign and sit on 37 points each with the former above on a better goal average.

The Rovers are in third place on 36 points but a victory will see them leapfrog the table toppers by two points for their third title.

In defeat tomorrow, Miramar's 31 points will only take them to 37 points, relegating their remaining two matches to dead rubbers.

It pleased Stanger that Hastings pushed centreback Robertson into a midfield role to solidify the spinal chord as well as provide the impetus to feed balls up front from broken play.

"That's why Grant is a top coach. He changes people around but also instils that confidence in players to do that."

Stanger felt if former All White striker Jarrod Smith hadn't been coming off a two-match suspension into the Wairarapa clash the previous Sunday he would have scored the goals that cruelly found no love with the woodwork.

"He'll get into the All Whites again. He's only 28 so he got a bit of time on his side."

With a stalemate situation not an option for the Rovers, Stanger said the Wellingtonians would be a tough proposition tomorrow.

The visitors, playing a crisp passing style game under their Italian, beat the Rovers 3-2 in the capital city on May 27.

They are blessed with speed and skills on the wings in the form of Michael Fifi and Allen Chote who are not shy to use their licence to thrill while they have a crop of starry-eyed youngsters itching to impress Raccuglia for game time.

"It won't be easy but I [know] Napier City Rovers will do it - Come on the Blues," Stanger said with a laugh.

It will be a dream season for the Rovers whose Chatham Cup campaign was derailed by a youthful Lower Hutt City.

Like a race-savvy jockey, the Blues have occupied the top three rungs of the ladder throughout the season and are now ready to shift gears come business end.

How they will perform in the home straight will be a season-defining moment that they will carry into next winter.

Stanger, Wilson, Graham Hill, Terry Parkin and a swag of "decent imports" were pivotal to the Rovers' maiden success in 1981.

"For me, the teams we played in those days were much stronger than ASB Premiership sides these days," he said, adding teams such as Gisborne City and Wellington United Diamond were imposing.

"You wouldn't get any easy games. We were the only other team from Gisborne to travel down to Wellington for games.

"I don't know how Gisborne did it because we travelled for four to five hours but they had to go for almost eight hours," he said of the Kevin Fallon-coached Gisborne who boasted five 1982 World Cup players.

Furthermore, the Rovers of his era played for nothing and attempted to attain as high a standard as possible.

Parkin had played the most games of the four still living in the Bay who had more than 150 games to their name - Parkin had 219, Stanger 209 and the other two were just shy of 200.

Needless to say, it was a great team sport in his heyday.

After the games, the players would converge at one of their homes to share a pint or two and a laugh.

It did help that the Rovers were "knocking on the door" for a couple of seasons before that.

"We wanted to get back into the National League because we were all getting a little bit older."

In 1984, coach Wilkinson "got the sack" and Malcolm, who is the manager of the Hastings-coached team, had picked up a career-ending knee injury.

Englishman Stanger had come from Nottinghamshire in 1973 when an advertisement in the Charles Buchan's Football Monthly caught his eye.

"The Wairoa Soccer Club was looking for a soccer tradesman. They had so many applicants that they passed some down to the Rovers," he said, emphasising the Rovers had just amalgamated that year although he arrived in August to play only in five remaining matches.

A centreback, the coach felt he was a big lad so he would be well-suited to scoring goals as the Rovers' first import.

"I scored five goals from as many games so I was pretty happy."

The other arrivals from that Wairoa club advertisement were Ian Gearey - the father of Richard and David Gearey - and former Hastings Rovers player Peter Simpson.

"If I had gone to Wairoa Soccer Club maybe I would have ended playing and living in Gisborne, who knows."

In 1986, Stanger and Wilson co-coached the Rovers to their second Central League title after clinching the Chatham Cup the year before, one of four the Rovers club have to their credit.

For the Central League campaign that team, who had lost their perch in the National League, had lost the services of Greg Brown to Miramar, Steven O'Donoghue to Wellington United and Terry Milligan returned to England.

Wilson pulled an ace from under his sleeve when he secured the services of striker Gary Parker, who was already in the country from the Hearts of Millennium in the Scottish division two league.

"The first he said was, 'I'm sorry I'm not six foot one'," Stanger revealed, adding the striker was short but fleet-footed and knew how to put the ball into the back of the net.

Parker broke the club's Central League record with 35 goals, eclipsing the record of 34 set in 1981.

In 1986, the Rovers won 17 of their 19 games and drew one and lost the other to accumulate 52 points.

Another catalyst, albeit a tragic one, spurred on the Rovers who had players such as Paul Halford, Harry Clark, Phil Jackson and Sean Baxter, all with former National League experience.

"We had an Irish player, Dean Irvine, who was stabbed in Napier one night and he was taken to Wellington Hospital where he died a few days later," Stanger explained - the defensive midfielder came out on the wrong side of an argument at a take-away joint while out with a Gisborne City player on a Saturday night.

The then team manager, Barrie Hughes, had phoned Stanger to break the news at 2am.

The following day Gisborne thumped the Rovers 5-0 in the Chatham Cup, third-round clash. The Rovers dedicated the rest of the season to the slain player.

Stanger said the Rovers had good players such as goalkeeper Clive Holmes and Karl Bauerfeind, the father of Reiner and Rudi Bauerfeind in the current squad.

The other major drawcard was John Russell, a player from Rose City, a club in Palmerston North.

"John was small man but he packed a great tackle. He blended in well and had a great attitude," Stanger said.

No doubt, the Hastings-coached Rovers will also be able to turn back the time in a couple of decades if they win tomorrow.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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