Hamilton's football scene is on the rise after three years of disappointment.

Hamilton Wanderers have begun a new lease of life under young coach Kale Herbert, and their women's side is challenging at the top half of the table.

Across the other side of town Claudelands Rovers, under Mark Cossey and Shane Comber's guidance, are pushing for promotion in their first year with the club.

It is Melville United however, that is attracting the eyes of Hamiltonians and outsiders, under coaches Sam Wilkinson and Michael Mayne.


The dynamic duo and best friends took the reins last year and despite failing to be promoted from division one, brought a style of football entertaining for spectators.

This year, they're running away with the league, undefeated at the half way point, and 11 points ahead of second place.

"We are really pleased to be unbeaten through the first half of the season. That said, there are still areas of our play in possession that we can do better with," Wilkinson said.

He praised the impact of senior players who had signed on with the club this season, including Mark Jones and Wade Moloney.

"Our younger players are also managing games better than they were last season — they have learned from the experiences of last season which is pleasing."

Mayne said they are picking up points at venues where they struggled last season.

"We have probably won a handful of games this year that we would have definitely dropped points in last season. Our young players we backed again this season seem more comfortable in tighter matches, which has been a major factor in going through unbeaten to this point," Mayne said.

Melville's success is not limited to their on-pitch performances. Off the pitch the team is also working on aspects of their club that would not look out of place at a professional level.


"We've got some really good people behind the scenes doing some really creative work on the media side of things," Wilkinson said.

"I think we've shown as a club that you can do some really clever things in the media without having a budget or huge resources.

It's an area we want to continue to grow and develop — the more people talking about what we are doing, the better."

Seamus Marten, who was venue general manager for the Hamilton patch of the Fifa U-20 World Cup, has helped boost Melville's status off the pitch. Photo / Marc McMullan
Seamus Marten, who was venue general manager for the Hamilton patch of the Fifa U-20 World Cup, has helped boost Melville's status off the pitch. Photo / Marc McMullan

Mayne said Melville wants to be as professional as possible on and off the pitch, and the key has been volunteers with real investment.

Last year the club started its own academy led by the two coaches. In just over 12 months they have a roll of over 100 youth players.

"I have been a bit surprised by how quickly it has gown. We initially planned to add about 15 players to the original intake of 30 players we had in 2017.

We've ended up taking around 80 new Academy players on this season," Wilkinson said.

The two coaches are intent on creating a development pathway for Hamilton footballers, so they are not being forced to move from one place to the next to get that opportunity.

"We think we are close to getting a couple of them in the first team squad already," Mayne said.

"The academy is there to future-proof our club and have a stream of players who have developed at the club and who bring some of the traditional loyalty back to the game, instead of the club hopping and negotiating we see with so many fairly average players these days.

Our hope is that at some point in the near future, all of the first team player are products of the academy."

Hamilton Wanderers currently hold the ISPS Handa Premiership license for the summer league, considered New Zealand's top league.

However, Wilkinson said it is not ideal having his players take part.

"It's definitely not ideal having our players go down the road for the summer league. They don't end up getting a proper off-season and most of them come back in worse shape than when they left us," Wilkinson said.

"We are currently looking at putting in place our own off-season games programme from September to December to give players an alternative to playing summer league."

"That said, if one of our players gets an offer to go and play in the national league it's hard to tell them not to. It is not an ideal situation all round — the sooner there is alignment between the national and regional leagues the better."

Melville United is half way through their season with promotion on the horizon. They are also still in the Chatham Cup, which holds a bit of magic for Wilkinson.

"It's the 30 year anniversary of the last time a Waikato team won it and that was my old man's team. There's something a bit romantic about history repeating itself, so who knows," Wilkinson said.