The brief for this article started out with a simple working title of "a day in the life of a football referee", with the objective being to track a top whistler in his winter Saturday duties.
Scroll down for video of the melee
But by 5pm on Saturday June 22, at Allen Hill Stadium in Devonport, that had all changed.
Turned out it was more a case of the bizarre "life in a day" of a ref.
Because Fifa-badged referee Nick Waldron suddenly found himself in uncharted waters as a keenly contested Northern Premier League match between North Shore United and Manukau United veered crazily off the rails in stoppage time.
Waldron, 37, a finalist for New Zealand referee of the year at the awards next month, dealt more cards than a Mississippi riverboat gambler and the match was eventually abandoned in the 96th minute because there were not enough eligible players to continue.
By the time the headbutts, choke-holds, punches and insults had settled in the gathering gloom after a mass brawl on the far side of the pitch, Waldron's total tally for the day was eight red cards, five yellows and sent three to the sin bin (temporary dismissals being trialled to help curb player dissent). That's believed to be a Northern League misconduct record, for a competition spanning 54 years.
For Manukau there were five reds, four yellows and two sin bins. Of the starting XI, all but one player was either sent off, booked, binned or had earlier been substituted.
For North Shore, there were three red cards, one caution and one sin binning.
Further, one Manukau fan - later identified as Manukau's groundsman - entered the pitch to join the action and there was a brief crowd scuffle by the terraced seats on the clubrooms side while the brawl festered.
"Nobody wants to see that," Waldron said after he left the pitch. "It's not football, and players and clubs need to take responsibility."
But responsibility is often a commodity in short supply in football.
Shore coach Malcolm McPherson would not comment.
Manukau coach Kevin Fallon did not go into the clubrooms (there was no aftermatch) but could be heard muttering to himself: "referees are a f***ing disgrace" as he left the pitch.
On his Facebook blog, Fallon later wrote: "... officialdom and player frustrations, coupled with the inevitable consequences of such stupidity as the 'sin bin' nonsense, wrecked a fine contest until tempers spilled over.
"I do not condone lack of discipline and am constantly seeking respect for officials and coaches alike but it has to be reciprocated. In the final analysis the game was not well managed and decisions were made that were not justified.
"Decisions that could only be described as a result of a "brain explosion". Decisions that could wreck our seasons (sic) work."
And a post-match tweet on Manukau United's official Twitter feed (later deleted) read: "The game ends with 6 (sic) red cards. The league needs to review its referees and its refereeing standard. Just disgusting to see calls one way week in, week out."
So it's not like there is any clear post-event consensus around the essence of the problem or where the blame lies here.
But there certainly is a problem when two of New Zealand's most experienced refs are on duty, you have two very weather beaten coaches in the dugouts, at least 50 per cent of the players can boast national league experience, and you still can't get a regional league game completed.
Waldron is one of New Zealand's most experienced referees, FIFA-accredited since 2013, controller of two ISPS Chatham Cup finals, one national league final, and has officiated at five FIFA tournaments. Next month he will officiate at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa. In August he will trial for Australia's A-League duties.
It's usually a toss-up between him and Matt Conger as to who is New Zealand's top referee (though Waikato's Campbell Kirk Waugh may also have something to say about that this year.)
So this is not Waldron's first rodeo, though even after 17 years at the end of a whistle, even he was struggling to draw a parallel with this northern league match day mayhem.
For that matter, so was his senior assistant, Mark Rule, who has 18 years refereeing under his belt and has held his international badge for over a decade. The third member of the refereeing team, Clint Van Eyssen, is a relative newcomer, in just his third season.
Minutes after the abandonment whistle North Shore captain Kris Carpenter and Manukau player-chairman Hone Fowler enter the referees' changing room to inquire what happens next.
Fowler, 34, is one of the most respected players in the northern league, a leader of men, and Carpenter, 28, is an alert, eloquent, engaging character.
But on this occasion they both stand there like errant schoolboys awaiting a verdict.
Fowler has his right boot and sock off. His foot looks like purple and red sausage meat - with a bloodied wound on top - legacy of a copping a brutal studs-up tackle in a collision which resulted in him being sin-binned for dissent in the 87th minute.
Waldron - who is about to spend the next hour sorting out misconduct report details - explains that he will be advising league manager Terry Hobin that the game was abandoned in stoppage time and it will be up to the league to decide if the result stands under its regulations. (The default position is they tend to stay with the existing score when a match is abandoned that late - and that duly happens.)
The captains jointly ask Waldron if he will reconsider some of those red cards if match video footage - a pre-requisite for games at this level - is made available to him.
Waldron says he is happy to look at the footage (though later clarifies that by saying any change to his report would have to come through the appeals process on the grounds of mistaken identity or errors in the Laws of the Game).
Waldron: "That was really ugly, yeah? We can't have that. Officially the match is abandoned because we've had too many men sent off... and we're at 90 plus six or seven anyway, so I've abandoned. You (Manukau) have got one in the bin and one, two, three, four, five off."
Fowler says everyone should review the footage.
Carpenter says Shore's Godwin Darkwa should not have been sent off.
Waldron: "As it was happening I was recording. I've recorded 5 Red (Darkwa). Jama (Boss) thinks he didn't do anything as well, so just send in the footage. If I'm wrong, I might have recorded 5 or 7 on the wrong side because there was a lot of shit going down." [Rule was also recording.]
Fowler: "On all sides there could be things we could do better..."
Waldron: "I will own up if I think I am wrong. After the match we can look at red cards, but we can't rescind penalties. Mistakes happen for refs just like players."
Fowler: "And that's a shame. (Pointing at his foot). That's the studs in my foot that you sent me off for. It's those frustrations that escalate."
Waldron: "I was focused on the upper body and didn't look at the feet too much."
Fowler: "I got frustrated because you didn't call anything."
Waldron: "If I could have that again, maybe I would blow the whistle (looking at your foot)."
Fowler: "No one is perfect in that situation. So let's all cross the floor, see what we can do and reflect upon ourselves."
Waldron: "But you also both need to take responsibility for your players and team."
The players leave. It's weirdly disorientating to hear the thump of victory music and laughter coming through the wall from the Shore dressing room while Waldron and Rule brood over getting the misconduct report details bang on, from an event which has so sullied the game's reputation.
But Shore are very happy because they know they will be awarded the points that will leave them top of the table.
As it turns out the video footage is of limited use. At the peak of the violence the camera has panned off elsewhere and when it returns it does not zoom in very much.
But for those of us who saw the action live, it would take a very special camera angle - of Hollywood standard - to diminish the culpability of players such as Shore's Marko Memedovic, who has head-butted Manukau's Paul Day in the chest.
Rule and Waldron talk their way through the origins of the brawl.
Rule: "4 White (Paul Day) has used his body to protect the ball, between his legs and 12 Red (Memedovic) just bounces off him."
Waldron: "Did you think it was a foul? I didn't give a free kick for the challenge. For me that was just strong body contact."
Rule: "Then they break off. 12 Red has taken exception, and out of nowhere powers in with what looks like a head-butt to the chest. Five White (Reece Day) runs across and grabs him around the head and throws him on the ground. The goalkeeper (Keegan Ashdown-Inia) runs from the goal line at full tilt looking to absolutely smoke someone."
After Reece Day has grounded Memedovic in a choke-hold, reinforcements arrive from both camps to join the party. Shore reserve keeper Josh Dijkstra runs off the bench to join in, as does Manukau's Jeremias Perez. Boss (Manukau) and Darkwa (Shore) are also fingered as culprits, in the interim at least.
It's a perverse ending for Boss, who before kick-off has welcomed Waldron as a personal good luck charm, noting his history of score hat tricks every time he is reffed by him.
All the players carded for violent conduct and can expect a minimum of three match suspensions and $75 fines.
Three minutes earlier Manukau's Sanny Issa has also been sent off for violent conduct: inventively using a football as an assault weapon in fiercely kicking it at an opponent when the ball was out of play.
But to fully contextualise this melee, we need to back track to an equally controversial moment in the 85th minute.
Waldron awards Shore their second penalty of the day, on the advice of Rule, and this sends temperatures rising.
"It's hit his thigh and then made contact with his hand which is in an unnatural position," Rule calls - crisp and decisive - on his referee communicator system, feeding into Waldron's ear piece.
That firstly prompts Manukau skipper Paul Day to run 15 metres to object and is sin-binned for dissent (eventually getting back on the pitch for the final act).
Another Manukau player complains and Waldron retorts: "Hey, you always back your team - I back my team."
A voice from the crowd shouts at Waldron: "You'll have to apologise again - just like you did last year."
That's a goading reference to a Manukau match Waldron refereed in 2018, where he awarded a penalty against Manukau but after reviewing footage felt his decision was incorrect. He duly contacted Manukau, acknowledged he had made an error, and apologised.
The penalty is a big call from Rule, but in his defence he is well positioned to make it, and calls it confidently.
Rule, a 38-year-old Palmerston North podiatrist, is perhaps New Zealand's top assistant referee (linesman), having held his international badge since 2008.
He's only in Auckland because he has taken his wife to see comedian Michael McIntyre the night before. While some husbands might have opted for the romantic weekend schtick, Rule has put his hand up to cover a northern game while in town, and is re-united with Waldron, a ref which whom he has controlled loads of matches, including two cup finals and Fifa internationals.
Rule is ebullient, confident and composed, with a hint of a photographic memory as he later calls out the player numbers and actions from the brawl.
Waldron has only used the sin bin on five previous occasions in 2019. The first of his three in this match comes in the 47th minute. Shore's Darkwa is pinged for waving his arms around in dissenting from one of Waldron's minor decisions.
"You can't throw your arms around like that - it's too big," Waldron explains in giving him 10 minutes on the bench. Gesticulations are just as unacceptable as verbals under the rules, though that comes as a surprise to some players.
At half time the refs note how orderly the game is, and how much it is in keeping with pre-match expectations Waldron has outlined for his team, complete with likely key match-ups, expected pattern of play, and individual battles to watch out for.
But it turns very dark in the last 10 minutes.
Among those watching was New Zealand Football's honorary historian Barry Smith, and he was surprised as anyone at how the game degenerated so quickly.
"It was a strange ending to the game given that it had mainly been played in good spirit up to the flashpoint," Smith said.
"I do hate it though when penalties are awarded for offences unrelated to actual attempts at goal scoring."
Despite the sideline tussle, Smith defends the Manukau fans.
"I thought that Manukau were rather harshly treated but apart from one idiot near us their supporters were very restrained and I compliment them on their behaviour."
Later over a beer, Fowler asks Waldron if it is possible for a top referee to address his Manukau players at the club on the "hows and whys" of sin bins, penalty decisions and the like.
It's a timely inquiry given the wider back-drop of refereeing issues recently aired in the media.
Manukau City and Ranui Swanson clubs have axed senior men's teams after outbreaks of referee abuse, and it's not just an Auckland problem.
On May 30 the WaiBOP (Waikato-Bay of Plenty Federation) sent a memo to clubs railing about abuse of match officials by players, coaches and spectators, physical and verbal intimidation of the opposition and anti-social behaviour by players, coaches and supporters across all grades of the game.
They could easily have added homophobic slurs and racist taunts.
The culture of the game is not what it once was. Respect for social norms has evaporated in some quarters, and lower league football can be an even bigger cess-pit than the northern league
The WaiBOP memo concluded: "The behaviour of some players, coaches and spectators would not be tolerated in a school environment, a work environment or on the streets. It will no longer be tolerated in our football environment either."
Meanwhile Waldron says a refereeing workshop can easily be arranged.
Though it's hard to imagine him having the time to do it himself.
Nick is married with three daughters, and is a senior finance business partner with Westpac, where, just as with Saturday afternoons, he oversees 22 people.
Family sacrifices are great, given each year he spends weeks at a time off-shore with refereeing appointments. He also trains and prepares up to four nights a week for games where he can be required to make about 500 snap decisions in a 90-minute game.
There's also an inherent expectation that he will make far fewer mistakes than the very best player.
Waldron arrives at the ground 90 minutes before kick-off, with a kit bag bigger than a cricketer's coffin. Inside he has light blue, turquoise, red, yellow, blue, pink and black referee uniforms, enough to cover any strip-clash contingencies.
There is a communicator system, electronic flags, his own first aid kit, a ball pump, energy drink, markers, cards, badges, and sundry other equipment.
He finally leaves Allen Hill Stadium with Rule at 7.20pm - though will have much-awaited follow-up reports to complete later.
For his trouble he trousers $60 in expenses. His Westpac workmates must be laughing.
*After appeals North Shore's Godwin Dwarka has had his red card rescinded on appeal and Jama Boss' red has been downgraded to a yellow card.