For the first time in 30 years, the National League has returned to South Auckland.
Manurewa Football Club were one of the lucky four northern region teams to qualify for the 2023 competition and are gearing up to host last year’s runners-up, Wellington Olympic, in the opening round on Sunday.
The small South Auckland club are calling it a “hell of an achievement”, particularly because they qualified alongside the “big three”: Auckland City, Eastern Suburbs AFC and Auckland United.
“It’s fantastic for the club, there’s no question about it,” coach Paul Marshall told the Herald.
Marshall says the excitement is extending throughout the Manurewa community.
“I’ve had a lot of people just that are strangers that have been texting and phoning and certainly coming up out of the blue and just saying good luck.
“I mean from a South Auckland point of view or representative point of view if you like, it’s fantastic for the area. There’s a lot of people, there’s a lot of talk out in the neighbourhood, out in South Auckland.”
Marshall says the buzz has been “amplified” considering their club neighbours Manukau United were relegated from the top competition this season.
“We’re in the [Northern] League next year, obviously on our own out in South Auckland.”
Many Manurewa men’s players also coach at the club, and with their new position in the National League, Mashall feels it will be a positive influence on the next generation.
“The talent out there is enormous and it’s raw talent, you know ... it’s fantastic for those coaches and it’s really fantastic for those players to be in such a good environment.”
Securing the position was no easy feat, doing so by just three points ahead of Western Springs AFC.
“There was a group of us sort of fighting for that full spot for a little while, but, in the end, we actually managed to comfortably secure that full spot, with a couple of games, up our sleeve.
“I can only applaud all the players and everybody at the club who got behind the team and the vision.
The club is small but rich in history, Marshall told the Herald. They last played in the National League in 1992. Four members are still “actively involved” with the club including president Kerry Bevan and chairman Wayne Jensen.
This season, Marshall says they have a contrast of experience and youth, with aspirations to be top contenders in the 10-team competition.
Fifteen-capped All Whites striker Monty Patterson is the team’s most notable talent.
“He is certainly someone to look out for,” says Marshall. “I personally think that he is one of the best number 9s in the country.
“When you’ve got someone of that calibre and that ability, and he’s playing extremely well and training extremely well at the moment, that’s exciting for us as a team.”
Marshall as a coach is also an expert in his field. He took Auckland City to the Fifa Club World Cup in 2006 and led Central United, Waitakere United and Auckland City to National League titles.
Marshall also had a hand in developing some Football Ferns who were key for New Zealand at July’s Fifa Women’s World Cup.
Marshall worked with Jacqui Hand, Malia Steinmetz and Grace Jale at Mount Albert Grammar (Mags).
“I was at Mags for five years and I had a fortunate group of girls from which I took from Year 9 right through to Year 13.
“I had them for a long time and they were part of the Mags Academy. I had spent a lot of time with them, not just training-wise and game-day-wise, but right through the week when they had football as a subject.
“It was a fantastic time,” Marshall said.
This weekend Marshall and his team will kick off their campaign against Wellington Olympic.
He hopes they attract a big, vocal crowd as they are going to need the 12th man against the Wellingtonians.
“We’re up against it. There’s no question about it.
“Wellington Olympic have been very good and have been successful, for a number of years now. They obviously won the Central League, just a few weeks ago and they were in the final against Auckland City last year.
“We would definitely probably go to the game as the underdogs,” said Marshall, “but we certainly don’t mind that, knowing we’ve been underdogs, on numerous occasions this season and have done very well.
“We’re looking forward to it; it should be a great match.”
- Kick off is at 1pm tomorrow at War Memorial Park, Manurewa.
Bonnie Jansen is a Multimedia Journalist in the NZME Sports team. She’s a keen footballer and has worked with the Alternative Commentary Collective before joining the Te Rito cadetship scheme.