At the end of 2019, Melville United ended their campaign in the Chatham Cup final, losing to Napier City Rovers in the final minutes of the game, also at the time signalling the end of coaches Sam Wilkinson and Michael Mayne's reign at the club.

The two coaches, who had returned Melville United to the premier league after the club was relegated in 2016, left to pursue other ventures with Wilkinson taking up a role at the Wellington Phoenix football academy

Fast forward eight months and into an environment that has been severely hit by the impacts of Covid-19, Wilkinson has returned home to lead Melville United for the 2020 season.

Wilkinson became one of the many people in New Zealand whose job had been affected by the virus.


"I was working with the Phoenix U20/Reserves before Covid-19. We had a talented bunch of lads in that group and I loved working with them daily.

"Unfortunately, when Covid-19 struck it placed a great financial strain on the club. As a result, myself and the rest of the academy were informed that the club were not in a position to renew any of our contracts," Wilkinson said.

Although he missed working at Melville United, he had no regrets on making the jump to Wellington.

"I did miss Melville, and in particular the first team aspect of the job, but I wouldn't say I regretted the decision to leave. I had some great experiences in my eight months at the Phoenix.

"Leaving Melville gave me a greater appreciation for what we had set up there and probably gave the club a greater appreciation for some of the work we had done - everything happens for a reason."

He has ruled out a co-coach partnership with Michael Mayne again for this season, saying Mayne has other commitments but will be available in an informal capacity.

Wilkinson said that dependent on what capacity the league runs this year, there should be no relegation or promotion and just get players playing again. He said New Zealand Football should also use the Covid-19 break to now look at resetting the state of the game in the country.

"I think that depends on the format NZF puts out. If the season ends up being run in a significantly reduced capacity, I don't believe it is fair to enforce promotion and relegation.


"We obviously have a lot of issues with all of our football competition structures in New Zealand - the priority right now is to just get players back on the pitch. Longer term we should be using Covid-19 to reset footballing structures in New Zealand.

"I have my own views on player development and coach education. I've been particularly vocal recently because I still think we are not fulfilling our potential as a football nation and I believe Covid-19 has presented an opportunity to fix a lot of the issues in our game.

"People won't agree with everything I say but I believe it's important to speak out when you think change is required.

"Unfortunately New Zealand Football has a history of trying to minimise the voice of people who call for change - time will tell if the current football hierarchy in NZ are any different.

"I have always tried to implement my ideas at Melville - some work and some don't, others are blocked by the structures that are in place.

"Trying to bring my ideas around player development and coaching to life at a club is a challenge that I love."

He said it was frustrating that other codes had pre-emptively set up a framework for an increase on the limit around gatherings, but New Zealand Football had nothing on the way.

"We have a number of full-time administrators across football in New Zealand. Many sports were able to foresee the restrictions being lifted on Monday and were ready to go with their return to action plans straight away.

"I'm not sure why NZF have not worked at the same speed. We all want to get back into regular training and playing and there is responsibility for our governing bodies to work efficiently to support this."