Soccer: Shhh not R' word, please

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor

Wgtn Utd v Rovers

Newtown Park, Wellington

It's up there in sporting parlance with other dreaded words - such as "receivership", "evicted", "suspended" - that no one wants to see or hear in a season.

The word, "relegation", that is, which no one ever wants to utter in the solitary confinement of the locker room after a season-defining match.

The pain and the agony that follows from such an act of banishment is something no club or player openly ever wishes on another for fear of having to deal with it someday down the road.

It's the lowest of the lows. The absolute bottom of the mother of all pits of despair. A long drop to going no where, if you get the drift.

Just ask Wigan, who early this year became the first soccer club ever to win the FA Cup (knockout) before slipping into nothingness in the space of three days with an inglorious exit from the English Premier League in the same season, after eight years of footing it at the topflight level.

Okay, so they were went down to the second-tier, 24-team Football League Championship, but in the lucrative world of the beautiful game that might as well be a one-way ticket to oblivion, even though Wigan had won their first piece of silverware.

In the world of promotion/relegation, there's no nirvana, even though there's the promise of "we'll rebuild to get back there again someday", or the team going up finding themselves back on the seat of their pants after a two-season fling, as Cru Bar Maycenvale United, of Hastings, did last season in the region's premier winter competition, the Lotto Central League.

Today, when Wellington United kick off at 2.30pm against Bluewater Napier City Rovers at Newtown Park, there'll be a sense of emptiness for coach Graham Little and his men who will be relegated in a fortnight regardless of today's outcome.

When contacted late yesterday afternoon, Little, understandably, had another pressing issue on his mind - of the 6.2 Richter scale variety that originated at Seddon, south of Blenheim, at 2.31pm and left Wellingtonians in a state of disarray.

"Right now there's broken glass everywhere from broken windows and water from broken pipes so it's hard to talk about the game tomorrow," said the 40-year-old coach in the brief phone interview.

Hawke's Bay-born Tai Barham is in the hosts' squad, but he has played only two games due to an ankle injury after joining their campaign late last month following a futsal stint abroad.

"The CBD's closed. Apparently there's been a few car crashes, too," Barham said from his Mt Cook flat in Central Wellington.

"Our flat was shaking wall to wall, mate, so it got quite intense for a while," the 20-year-old Victoria University geography student said.

He revealed Wellington United had to stomach their relegation last weekend, when they succumbed 4-3 to Upper Hutt, after leading 3-0.

"The boys were pretty down but we realise we've had a pretty bad season," he said, adding he hadn't played last weekend and wouldn't be in the mix today because of an ankle injury.

"I wanted to play Napier City Rovers but I can hardly walk."

The hosts are determined to register a win today to take confidence into the Capital Premiership next year in a bid to regain promotion to the Central League.

"Next season I'll have a look at Western Suburbs where Tom Biss is," Barham said.

In the match on June 8 in Napier, the Rovers had beaten Wellington 2-0, after the referee sent off two visiting players and evicted club chairman Anthony Mumby from the dog box.

Rovers coach Grant Hastings is grateful not to be contemplating relegation but emphasises every team's goal is to end a season with some conviction.

"All year our aspiration has been to finish in the top four. As a club I'd like to think we should be able to win it," he said, as the Blues sit in fifth place on an inferior goal difference below Wairarapa United, who host Petone tomorrow in Carterton.

"If they [Wairarapa] drop points and we pick up ours then we'll be good for a top-four finish," Hastings said before an away catch-up game against Lower Hutt City on August 31.

"With all the disruptions we've had this season it's not flattering for a top-four finish but it's a must for the region."

The big game that the city slickers will likely gravitate to today is the match between table-topping Miramar Rangers and second-placed Wellington Olympic who will be kicking off at 2.30pm, a stone's throw away at Dave Farrington Park.

Rovers, who upset Miramar 2-1 here last Sunday, are no strangers to relegation in the Central League whose origins go back to the late 1960s.

In 1977, the Rovers, under coach Bob Strong, were relegated from division one to two at a time when the league was played under three divisions although they returned to the top tier in 1980.

In the late 1990s, the Blues, under coach Roy Stanger and assistant Terry Parkin, were on the brink of losing their perch but staved off relegation with an awe-inspiring result against Western Suburbs who needed at least a point to become the champions.

Trailing by a staggering 6-1 with about 30 minutes left on the clock, the rejuvenated Rovers clawed their way back to clinch a 7-7 draw, which was enough to send both teams into jubilant bouts of celebrations.

Even the most parochial types must have sympathised with the poor souls glued to the radio only to find they were relegated.

Try as Stanger and Parkin may, they can't remember who the relegated side were that year.

"I supposed we were more preoccupied with not getting relegated ourselves," Stanger said.


NAPIER CITY ROVERS: Bill Robertson (c), Shaun Peta (GK), Aaron Jones, David Gearey, Scott Henderson, Harley Rodeka, Josh Stevenson, Cole Peverley, Stu Wilson, Andy Pickering, Patrick Pilz, Jett Hogg, Bradley Perks, Reece

Brew, Regan Cameron, Ollie Chapman, Lesley Taylor, Jonty Underhill (RGK).

Coach: Grant Hastings. Ast coach: Bill Robertson. Manager: Brian Hollands. Physio: Alex Gardiner.

WELLINGTON UTD: Jamie McKay (GK), Hamish Smylie, Nick Grice, Matthew Balmforth, Jake Harris, Mike Swinburn, Stu Lawrie, Johnny O'Driscoll, Chris Arceo, Kieren Putt, Sam Greene, Andy Groom (c), Andy Paterson, Ali Nazari, Grant Robson, Lachie Waugh.

Coach: Graham Little. Manager: Bobby Minshull.



- Hawkes Bay Today

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