He was among the smattering of "oldies" but Roy Stanger couldn't think of a better way to start his birthday celebrations than greet the rampant Napier City Rovers at the Hawke's Bay Regional Airport thisfreezing morning.
"All the best to the boys and, hopefully, we can build on this with the Central League next year to claim the double," said Stanger, who was marking his 70th birthday, just before the Thirsty Whale-sponsored Blues arrived with the Chatham Cup on their 8.25am flight from Auckland.
The James Hoyles-skippered side beat Melville United 3-2 at North Harbour Stadium yesterday with a three-goal blitz in the last 10-plus minutes of regulation time after trailing 1-0 for the most part of the national knockout cup football competition.
Stanger, a retired Napier tiler, was co-coach with Malcolm Wilson — who left with wife Jill for a holiday in England at the weekend — when the Rovers beat North Shore United 3-1 at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland, in the cup final in 1985. Sean Baxter, who lives in Rotorua, captained that side.
However, the club life member said they had enjoyed watching the game here and while it was "touch and go now and again" it was great to see the lads claim the fifth bragging rights on the heels of finishing league runners-up in trying to defend their 2018 crown.
"You know, we're not rich and a pretty small club in the country so they have put us back on the map again and we're extremely proud of them," Stanger said, after the Blues, under the tutelage of player/coach Bill Robertson and his assistant, Stu James, brought joy to the Hawke's Bay flagship club team who had fallen agonisingly shy in the 2011 and 2015 cup finals.
Their victory yesterday took them to equal acquisition with Central United, one behind Eastern Suburbs, Christchurch United and North Shore United's six crowns while University Mt Wellington hold the top perch on seven.
"I was pretty confident that if we got up pretty early we'd be okay because we've always come back at the end," said Stanger, echoing the sentiments of other club members who were either at work or studying but had gathered at the Park Island clubroom and the sponsors' tavern to watch the game.
He said some of the players were semi-professionals so they were park savvy enough to know when not to reach for the panic button.
Stanger said an early shower for midfielder Mark Jones in the 65th minute for a second yellow card was pivotal although he felt the Blues could still have done it even if Melville United had 11 on the field.
Hoyle said it was an "unbelievable feeling" for the team who appreciated the veteran club members turning up to greet them.
"The weather was terrible for a crazy last 10 minutes of the game so it was just an amazing feeling to come through at the end because we had shown so much character," said the grinning English defender.
Hoyle said the halftime pep talk was about "being a little braver" to go higher up the park while injecting Uruguayan striker Martin Bueno had made a difference.
"We just had one shot in the final so everyone needed to be braver and not give them too much respect," he said. "Whatever happened before that doesn't matter because we came through at the end."
Hoyle agreed Melville deserved the first half but, needless to say, the Aaron Scott-skippered Hamiltonians will be exorcising their demons throughout summer, if not longer.
Nevertheless, the players weren't brave enough to take the cup to for the late-night celebrations with travelling fans at a downtown Auckland bar but season's captain, Fergus Neil, had kept it in his hotel room.
The players intend to take a sip from the trophy and pass it around when they stage their annual prizegiving ceremony at the clubroom on Saturday, September 21.
James said he and Robertson had built a mentoring rapport in the past three years so he could make decisions while the latter marshalled the back line as centreback.
"A lot of it goes into the preparation before the game so we always have some preconceived ideas on what we can do so Bill goes to play and trusts me to make decisions when needed," he explained, after TV commentators had pondered on how the team functioned with Robertson on the field.
James said the Blues were perhaps more blessed with amazing depth on the bench than other teams.
"We had said at the start of the season that it wasn't the starting 11 who were going to win the cup but the entire squad and the same thing had happened in the semifinal."
A rash of Central League and cup losing coaches — no doubt, with the clause of anything can happen — didn't believe the Blues were good enough to make the final, let alone win it.
James said that wasn't surprising because it was hard for many to judge an infectious culture of belonging, encouragement and belief that was the common denominator. Retaining as many of the squad members is high on the agenda.
"You can see that we probably came up a little short but we saw yesterday, and in the semifinal, the character of the players and if we had kept going we'd keep winning games of football and that's exactly what happened," said the 46-year-old Londoner who now intends to enjoy the summer break while Robertson joins Chris Greatholder as player/co-coach in Hawke's Bay United's 2019-20 premiership campaign.
Forager Jonny McNamara deflected his 1-1 equaliser that had sparked the memorable revival to laud his teammates instead but acknowledged its significance.
"Once I scored I had known we were going to win that cup," said McNamara. "When we were even [in numbers] we were dominating [in the second half] so when they went down to 10 I knew we were going to win the game."
The 25-year-old Liverpudlian said it helped when Melville players started slipping and sliding, raising questions on whether they had worn the right type of sprigs.
"When they went down to 10 men they couldn't position themselves very well for us," he said, revealing his mother, Jackie, had loved watching the game on TV in England.
McNamara intends to stay in Napier with his new beloved club but dismissed any suggestions he was a shoo-in for Bay United this summer.
Man-of-the-match award winner Sho Goto had caught the flight back to Japan with his mother, Akiko, who had been in Napier on holiday for a fortnight and watched her son score the winner in the final in Albany yesterday.