Soccer: Moves afoot to bring back mystique of Chatham Cup

By Kris Shannon

VICTORY: Central United celebrate their 2012 win. Photo / Getty Images
VICTORY: Central United celebrate their 2012 win. Photo / Getty Images

Ninety years ago on Friday, the crew of the HMS Chatham gifted a trophy to New Zealand Football to kick off one of the country's oldest competitions.

The Chatham Cup was once the most coveted prize in domestic football but it has lost its lustre thanks to professional ambitions for players and changing priorities for clubs.

But footballers like Ivan Vicelich are ensuring the tradition of the knockout competition is passed on while NZF plans to revitalise the romanticism associated with a cup run.

"We do think it's very important," said NZF chief executive Grant McKavanagh. "It's a bit of a challenge because the way the ASB Premiership works, it's probably why people consider it probably not as high as it was.

"But the thing about the Chatham Cup is you have the giant-killer thing, the dream run. Different leagues and championships will come and go but the Chatham Cup will always be the Chatham Cup.

It's the same as the FA Cup, and it has the same importance for us."

Vicelich, who won his fourth Chatham Cup this year, holds it in high esteem despite a heavy diet of football with the All Whites and Auckland City.

"I think, domestically, it's still a great trophy to win," he said. "It still builds that emotion within players and clubs as well. For us at Central United, having a big year with our 50th jubilee, going into that season we had that high on the wish list.

"The younger players take time to learn and understand what the cup run is about. The older, more experienced players understand it more and know how hard it is to win it."

That is something Steve Sumner can relate to, though it could be argued he found it easier to win than most. Sumner won six Chatham Cups with three teams - including a hat-trick of titles for Christchurch United from 1974-76 - when the competition was at its peak.

Sumner recalled fondly the halcyon days of the cup but he was pragmatic about its current state on a crowded sporting landscape.

"It was the most enjoyable tournament to play in, with the do-or-die aspect of it all," he said. "It was the focal point, really, of your football season back in the '70s and probably the '80s. And before that time, too - I've seen photographs of the Basin Reserve in the '50s when the place was packed.

"All your best players aren't playing in the Chatham Cup these days. Back in the days when I played, if you were any good you were playing in the national league. Now they play all over the world.

"It's not the top end of trophies now like it used to be. But for those teams left in, it's worthwhile winning."

Sumner thought the only way the competition could return to its former glory was for a professional league to be established in New Zealand, something he said he won't see in his lifetime, but NZF does have designs on improving the trophy's current standing.

"To try to do something that emulates what happened 30-40 years ago is always difficult in any sport," McKavanagh said. "We certainly want to get people out to enjoy the sport and enjoy the romance of the Chatham Cup.

"We want to get as many clubs involved as we can. We certainly want to build it again."

- APNZ

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