Stalwarts of marquee New Zealand club Napier City Rovers are not fussed about Hawke's Bay United's "ambitious" plan for the 2019-20 national summer league but what they are adamant about is ensuring they are in a position to relay the baton in case the premiership football franchise falls over.

They say their bullish members want the "prodigal son" to duly return home to its rightful home and parents.


Napier City Rovers FC is applying for credentials to become the back-up custodians in a bid to protect the Hawke's Bay province's rights to retain its presence in the national summer league.

"The reason we're doing that is because there are aspiring Auckland and Wellington clubs [one each] who have applied for B licences so we've done the same," says club finance manager and board member Graeme Sole.

"That means if Hawke's Bay United, for any reason — be it their reasons or New Zealand Football's ones — can't make the national league it won't be lost from Hawke's Bay because we'll have a licence to take over if we need to."

The 71-year-old retired sport administrator of football, rugby league and pony club riding clarifies New Zealand Football has a two-tier system which demands a C licence from clubs to compete in the Central League (winter) and a B licence for the summer premiership, which the Rovers club has applied for.

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Sole says the Rovers club has had three meetings with Central Football, which seems supportive of their initiative to become insurance policy holders, as it were, in case of a calamity.

"I think they are quite pleased that we are prepared to put ourselves forward to be there if required, to put it in a nutshell."

If the Napier club assumes that mantle then its board will guide it on what the criteria will be to recruit players although embracing the Bay talent is their priority.

Rovers club president Barrie Hughes echoed the sentiments of Sole, revealing a lion's share of its 348 membership was behind it.

"There's been a groundswell of opinion among the grassroots club membership to see the return to national league soccer for Napier City Rovers," says Hughes who also sees himself as an "ex-officio member of the management".

The marquee club in the Bay has been competing in the national league since 1982 but "were disqualified" when the Hawke's Bay United franchise was established in 2005.

Hughes prefers to see the loss of the premiership franchise as the prodigal son returning home.

"Basically, what happened, the son of the parent left home and became involved with a lot of people outside of City Rovers and that's why nobody from Napier City Rovers is involved with Hawke's Bay United," he says. "The grassroots opinion now, within the club here, is that they'd like to see the son come back home to its parents."

Hughes, who is a former Bay United chairman and general manager, says the Rovers weren't eligible to continue in the now national summer premiership because franchises weren't available to clubs.

The 77-year-old juxtaposes the club's position with Central United (Auckland), which mutated to Auckland City FC, and Waitakere FC which metamorphosed into Waitekere United.

"At that stage we became Napier City Soccer to re-establish ourselves into a completely different organisation, the same as Team Wellington and all those other clubs."

Napier City Soccer then eventually transformed into Bay United.

"So Napier City Soccer was formed by Napier City Rovers for the sole purpose of getting a franchise to keep national league [premiership] football in Hawke's Bay," Hughes explains.

Sole says to obtain a B licence was simply filling out a pile of forms outlining its club structure as well as its aims and aspirations in relation to its budget and facilities.

He has attended every Bay United meeting of late and agrees the franchise club is in the throes of pulling itself out of the financial doldrums.

"In the least meeting one of their members has put forward a plan — a very ambitious one — to take Hawke's Bay United forward so I don't have an opinion on it either way, to be honest.

"If that's what they want to do then that's fine."

Sole says the Rovers will continue the tradition of providing the Bluewater Stadium facilities.

"There's no way we're going to turn around to say, 'No go away, we don't want you here'," he says. "But we're not going to take them over. Nobody can although New Zealand Football can take their rights."

The Napier City Rovers flagship team are religiously putting the Hawke's Bay club on the map with their accolades, not just nationally but internationally. Photo/file
The Napier City Rovers flagship team are religiously putting the Hawke's Bay club on the map with their accolades, not just nationally but internationally. Photo/file

Hughes says the 4000-seat venue at Park Island has national recognition and approval.

"Back in the early 2000s, the Rovers had the facility which was lauded as about the best in New Zealand and the cornerstone of the franchise," he says.

Sole says another thing the Rovers have that Bay United doesn't is volunteers.

"That makes the job so much easier," he says.

The Rovers received NZ Football's one-star "developing club" Quality Club Mark award (2016-18) in 2016, becoming one of only five of the 170 clubs in the Central Federation catchment area to do so.

The club's intentions were to strive for professionalism from day one when the Napier Rovers AFC and Napier City AFC amalgamated on February 6, 1973, to give birth to Napier City Rovers.

It's flagship team have been crowned national champions in 1989, 1993, 1998, 2000. They etched their names on the Chatham Cup (national knockout champions) in 1985, 1993, 2000, 2002.

They have been Central League champions (major winter league winners of the Capital Football competition) in 2012, 2015 and are defending champions this year. The Blues have made just one appearance in the in Oceania Federation Cup competitions, finishing third after AS Vénus (Tahiti) pipped them 3-2 in stage four in 2000-01.