The Chatham Cup knockout football competition is one of New Zealand's longest running national sports events, having been contested annually since 1923. Tradition dictates that when your club is knocked out, you follow the fortunes of your victors - and in turn their conquerors - all the way to the final.

Join us on our own Cup odyssey this year, as we report on cup fortunes in a similar vein, picking up the trail with a first-time entrant in Hamilton's Clube Alegria in the qualification round, and following their path (or whoever beats them) through to the final on August 25-26.


When Murray McKenzie runs onto the pitch for Clube Alegria in the qualification round of the ASB Chatham Cup on Wednesday, it will be his first taste of a national senior football competition.


From a family perspective that's perhaps not such a big deal, given his older brother Ross plays national league football for Waitakere United and his father played professionally in Scotland for Arbroath.

But there is a certain romance to Cup football which sets it apart, particularly for younger players imbued with cup fever and dreams of glory, and the McKenzie family will be firmly focused on 20-year old Murray as he debuts in New Zealand's oldest football competition, for perhaps the country's newest club.

Clube Alegria - formed just this year to contest the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Federation 2 League - feature a mix of past and present St Paul's Collegiate students and a few older, experienced players, most notably 53-year-old player-coach Mike Groom, a veteran of 22 internationals for the All Whites.

They face an intriguing "non-league" tie against a relatively seasoned Westlake Boys High School side - who made it to the third round of last year's competition - in a bid to make the first round of the tournament played on May 12th.

Like many his age, Murray is a footballer of few words, but he made it clear cup fever was viral at Clube Alegria.

"This is the New Zealand version of the FA Cup, and we're all pretty excited to be part of it," McKenzie said.

Almost as excited is Waikato-Bay of Plenty Football chief executive Cam Mitchell, who hopes an energetic new club will provide a template for others in the region.

"We have a significantly lower percentage of senior players than any other federation, which anecdotally suggests we may have a fragmented pathway that does not allow players to transition smoothly from junior to youth to senior football," Mitchell said.

Groom is not only hoping to fill that void, but seeking to do it through the Brazilian "samba" style which he has championed for many years in the indoor game of futsal, which develops players' technical ability.

"We've taken some St Paul's old boys, some present students and some others not directly associated with the school but who have a connection, appreciation and inspiration with what the joga bonito (Portugese for "play beautiful") boys exemplify," Groom said.

"Everyone involved has a real joy of playing and hopefully our culture reflects that because a lot of time football cultures and pathos can be quite negative and not a lot of footballers respond to that."

Groom knows a thing or two about Chatham Cup football, having won the cup with Manurewa in 1984.

Part of the motivation for forming the club was so players could enjoy moments like competing in the Cup.

"These are youngsters who love to play but for various reasons couldn't get connected with a club, and other than captain Josh (Groom) none of them have Chatham Cup experience."

Groom has set realistic expectations for his side's Cup adventure, and is expecting a very tough test first up against a Westlake team which he described as technically good, mobile and strong individually.

But should Clube Algeria pinch a result and progress into the first round proper, Groom promised the club would know how to celebrate.

"Celebrations would be long, they would be musical, and keeping with the euphoria of such an experience, and the romance of the Cup."

Meanwhile Westlake coach Tony Buckingham is hoping to better last season's campaign, where they were beaten in a whirlwind game against Waitemata in the third round.

"We were 3-1 up with 20 minutes to go and I thought it was in the bag but we just tired too much in the end and they ended up being too strong," said Buckingham.

"On our run last year we beat three men's teams before crashing out and we hope to better than that this year."

Buckingham said expectations were higher these days for schoolboy teams then they were 10-15 years ago because club football was "a lot younger" across the board.

"It has become the traditional thing for our school to enter the Cup now, we have a really nice football programme here, and this is a really nice part of it."

Westlake feature two New Zealand players who competed in last year's U-17 World Cup in Mexico - goalkeeper Liam Anderson and striker Dylan Stansfield.

While this tie is not exactly David v Goliath, it has a charm all of its own.

After all, it's not often a schoolboy team, playing away from home, starts as a favourite against a Saturday club side.

But then again, as Mckenzie said "so often in the Chatham Cup it's the underdog who wins."

Clube Alegria v Westlake Boys High School
St Pauls Collegiate, Hamilton, Wednesday 2pm