There's a quiet revolution occurring in South Auckland football at the moment, particularly with the emergence of the newly minted Manukau United club.

And at its epicentre is Hone Fowler, a 33-year-old of Ngāti Porou and Ngāpuhi heritage who is already respected as a South Auckland colossus on and off the pitch.

Fowler isn't so much a Weekend Warrior as a warrior with no end to his week. He pumps in about 70 hours weekly as a footballer, administrator and community leader.

As well as being a Dad, Fowler is chairman of Manukau United in the northern premier league, as well as its parent Manukau City club. He's also a youth football coach, club captain, part-time barman and kitchen hand – and manager of the Mangere East Community Centre advocating for a population of 35,000-odd.

Advertisement

But former All Whites coach Kevin Fallon reckons Hone's best position of all is centre-back. It's from there that he captains Manukau United on Saturday afternoons and is generally acknowledged as their best player.

Fowler is fast becoming all things to all people south of the Mangere Bridge: a busy man with time for everyone, a hard man with a soft centre, a leading footballer – and a football leader.

On the pitch Fowler is ferocious, competitive and powerful. Off the pitch he is engaging, forward thinking, and empathetic. In both domains he is the unquestioned leader.

Manukau City's captain Hone Fowler celebrates the go ahead goal. ISPS Handa Chatham Cup Round 2, Waitakere City FC v Manukau City AFC. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Manukau City's captain Hone Fowler celebrates the go ahead goal. ISPS Handa Chatham Cup Round 2, Waitakere City FC v Manukau City AFC. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

Fowler has big plans for South Auckland football – but for the moment he is also trying to squeeze in his own high-level training programme.

Under coach Fallon's guidance, Fowler captained Manukau City through two successive promotions into the top flight of Northern League football before he was voted in as chairman. City then amalgamated with Mangere United, forming Manukau United, and named Fallon coach and Fowler chairman of the new enterprise. It creates a playful power dynamic.

"I've never had to drop a chairman before," Fallon joked. "And Hone told me he's never had to sack a coach either."

Fowler's story is a grassroots South Auckland Footballing fairytale. He debuted for Manukau City as a 14-year-old, before Fallon snapped him up to join the Mount Albert Grammar Football Academy.

Stints with Waitakere United, Gisborne City and Waikato United followed, before he became disillusioned with New Zealand Football and headed to Europe.

But it was his return to South Auckland in 2010 which helped transform his local football community.

Fowler was the key protagonist in converting Manukau City from a club with three social teams competing in the lowest league in Auckland, to a club with over 30 teams, challenging for the Northern Premier League title. And it's involved a lot of hard work.

Manukau's Hone Fowler reacts after a stern warning from referee Chris Kerr in 2016. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Manukau's Hone Fowler reacts after a stern warning from referee Chris Kerr in 2016. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

A regular week for Fowler involves 40 hours working at the Mangere East Community Centre, 30 hours of club admin as chairman of both Manukau City and United, two board meetings, two training sessions, two gym sessions, youth coaching, a game and a recovery session.

When he pulled his hamstring in last weekend's Northern League Football match, he looked back with distaste at his pre-match preparation.

"I was up till 2am ordering training gear online the night before the game," Fowler said. "I didn't get enough sleep and pulled my hammy. That's what I put it down too anyway."

Fowlers dream is to captain a team from South Auckland in the national league, but realizes his playing days may not last that long.

"For the last two years I've said this will be my last year. I've got no idea what New Zealand Football's plans are going to look like for a national league in the near future. But for Northern Premier League, this or next season will likely be my last.

"Playing at this level is a huge commitment. There's no halfway at this age. You have to decide if you want to be an asset for the team and play to the best of your ability, then you put in the work."

"It's so important to think about what I'm eating and drinking, how many times am I going to the gym, what am I doing at the gym, how often do I need to see the physio. It takes up a lot more time than it used to."

Fowler links his football goals to his community goals.

"After returning from the UK, I had quite a few offers from a number of Auckland clubs that would call me but my decision to play for Manukau came back to the reasons why I was still in the game.

"I thought 'okay, I could be really selfish, put myself first and hop around the clubs that pay the most money, or, I could stick with Manukau City, stick with the local club and be part of something bigger than just myself in the hope of setting something up for the next generation of local players.'

"What I sensed from football in general was a lack of loyalty to clubs, which I think is an important thing to celebrate.

"We need to remind people that loyalty to clubs and growing that family atmosphere and connection to clubs is still really important. I wanted to be a role model for that and have a bigger impact on the game longer term."

Fowler was a board member at Manukau City when he convinced Fallon to join his mission and it's so far been a dream run.

"Fallon is the best coach I've ever had. He's authoritative and unique and runs his teams professionally.

"Those values are shared throughout the club. We had raw talent in our team before Kev, we made the quarterfinals of the Chatham Cup, but I thought we needed something a bit more to take us to the next level.

"It really clicked. There were a lot of people putting money on how long it would last but it really worked. He gave us the structure and guidance and discipline we needed."

Waitakere United's Hone Fowler has words with Auckland City's Jonathan Perry in 2007. Photo / Photosport.co.nz
Waitakere United's Hone Fowler has words with Auckland City's Jonathan Perry in 2007. Photo / Photosport.co.nz

Fallon is full of praise for his chairman.

"He's left footed, big strong and has a massive heart," said Fallon. "He's 33 and he's never pulled out of anything in his life. He's a fierce competitor but he's very fair. I don't know anybody that doesn't like Hone Fowler. He's just a top lad.

"If he hits you he's genuinely sorry. He's the kind of lad who will hammer you in a tackle, but then give you a pat on the back and be genuinely concerned for you. But he still hit you.

"The one thing he doesn't have is searing pace. But he very rarely had to turn, because he's so positive challenging in the air and on the ground, so he doesn't have to turn. Just an incredibly competent defender.

"I've had a few good chairman in my time but Hone would probably be the most genuine one I've ever had. I'll always have a good friend in Hone Fowler, that will never change."

Ultimately, Fowler's goal is to bring national league football back to South Auckland.

"Growing up in Mangere, I used to travel out to Kumeu to train with Waitakere United because I was lucky enough to have a car at age 18.

"But the next player who was as good or better than me didn't have these opportunities, and would give up, go get a job or stop playing all together. We're really passionate about bringing those opportunities to the South Auckland community because there's so much potential out here.

"We're the biggest population, the most youthful population, a really diverse community where football is the number one sport or language between all these different ethnic groups and cultures.

"There's such a huge opportunity we've identified and it's really the tip of the iceberg. We think it could be a game changer for New Zealand Football… We want clubs to work together for this common goal."