Soccer: Goals assured when great rivals meet

By Terry Maddaford

Tomorrow's ASB premier grand final the latest tussle for Pritchett and Pearce

James Pritchett (L) and Alan Pearce have been competing against each other for over a decade.  Photos / Brett Phibbs
James Pritchett (L) and Alan Pearce have been competing against each other for over a decade. Photos / Brett Phibbs

You could be excused if you thought Allan Pearce and James Pritchett are sick of the sight of each other.

Tomorrow's ASB Premiership grand final between Pritchett's Auckland City and Pearce's Waitakere United - the greatest rivals in recent domestic soccer history - is the story of two players who have played with and against each other for a decade and a half.

They first lined up as 14-year-old opponents in their schooldays - Pearce at Mt Albert Grammar and Pritchett at cross-town rivals Auckland Grammar.

Not much later they pulled on New Zealand shirts as team-mates at the 1999 Fifa Under-17 World Cup, playing every minute of every game as strikers including the epic 2-1 win over Poland (in which Pearce scored the crucial goal for a 2-0 lead). That victory was the first by a New Zealand team at a Fifa tournament.

They went on to again play for New Zealand, for Pritchett his adopted country after arriving from England as a five-year-old, in the 2004 Olympic qualifiers.

Further on, Pritchett played six times for the All Whites, debuting against Malaysia in February 2006, and Pearce once, against New Caledonia in September 2008. Both were members of winning teams on debut.

They have also played at Fifa Club World Cup finals and along the way have had spells in the UK.

Sunday's local derby will be the 39th time, in all competitions, the two clubs have lined up against each other. Surely they must have had enough of the hype and build-up surrounding such battles.

"Not at all mate," said Pritchett. "It is always special in football to have rivalries like this. They are our biggest rival. It is the biggest game of the season. To be the best you have to beat the best and that's what these games are about."

Yet, in a perverse way, Pritchett played a part in Auckland City's first loss to Waitakere.

After winning the first seven such clashes, Auckland City won the eighth 1-0 at Trusts Stadium only to find themselves subject to a protest around Pritchett's eligibility.

"The week before the game I strained my quad and at the airport [coach] Stu Jacobs pulled me out of the New Zealand A team who were going to Vietnam," said Pritchett. "The injury came right - I never felt it was an issue anyway - so I played for Auckland City."

Subsequently it was ruled that as he was unavailable for international duty he should not have played for City and the three NZFC points were given to Waitakere who went on to claim the minor premiership before losing to City in the first of what, in two days, will become the fifth all-Auckland final.

Pritchett claims his All Whites' debut and playing the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi in 2009 when City scored two big wins to finish fifth as the highlights of his career and a goal he rifled into the top corner of the Team Wellington net away in the 2005-06 season as his best goal.

For Pearce it is another chance for him and his team-mates to test themselves against their greatest rivals.

City, under coach Ramon Tribulietx, have grown more and more into the style of soccer he grew up with, the emphasis on a short-passing game and ball retention.

"When we play each other now it is like a battle between Barcelona and Manchester United and the different styles they bring," said Pearce. "For us passion is the greatest driving force. Marshy [United coach Paul Marshall] is all about motivation but for these games I have never needed any motivation. They are games I always look forward to."

Of his long association with and against Pritchett, Pearce has no doubt they remain really good friends "apart from the time we are inside the white lines."

"There is always a handshake before and after the game and a beer upstairs afterwards," said Pearce. "I would say that Pritch, Jake Butler and myself are the three most passionate players around. We are really passionate about our clubs.

"The time we beat them to win through to the O-League final against Ba and then going on to the Club World Cup is probably the highlight of these clashes for me but I also remember that game when we were 3-0 up and lost 4-3 when Foxy [referee Neil Fox] dished out 19 cards. He was the worst referee in the world that day."

Tomorrow's final promises to be another thrilling chapter in what has become a saga in local soccer and one which will surely produce goals. In 38 such encounters, there has never been a scoreless draw and only rarely has one goal decided the outcome.

And, for those keen to predict the score, 3-2 appears the way to go. Three of the previous grand finals have been won 3-2 with the other 2-1. In two Charity Cup clashes the margins have been 3-2 and 2-1 and the most recent meeting, in February, Waitakere won, you guessed it, 3-2.

ASB Premiership Final

Who: Waitakere United v Auckland City

Where: Fred Taylor Park

When: Tomorrow 2pm

Referee: Peter O'Leary

TAB: Waitakere $2.25 Auckland City $2.75 Draw $3.30

ASB Youth League

Who: Auckland City v Otago United

Where: Fred Taylor Park

Tomorrow: 10.30am

Referee: Bryan Botha

James Pritchett

DOB: July 1, 1982, Watford, England

Position: Right back

NZFC/ASB Premiership club(s): Auckland City

NZFC/ASB Premiership matches: 125

International: NZ Under-17, NZ Under-23, All Whites

Allan Pearce

DOB: April 7, 1983, Wellington

Position: Striker

NZFC/ASB Premiership club(s): Waitakere United

NZFC/ASB Premiership matches: 136

International: NZ Under-17, NZ Under-23, All Whites

- NZ Herald

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