are a funny thing
the Old Guys. An observation from Trevor Rowse, former Swift (1962-3-4)
Reunions are funny things. Sometimes they are a great success and others…
The Swifts’ reunion could have been like that for some of the older players,
coming into a club brimming with newcomers, and some out-of-town stars
too. But there was no evidence of that, even if the old-timers were very
thin on the ground, and on their heads as well in some cases.
The main thing to celebrate is the survival of a club which has been through
hard times for many years. The hard times came from things that modern
players probably cannot understand, but here’s trying.
Rural New Zealand has been rugby heartland for ever, but there are big
dents in that these days with soccer on television so often, parental
support for a skill-based game, better transport and public acceptance
of alternative sports. Soccer is even played in the Hokianga these days.
Switch back 40 years and beyond. Schools were run by headmasters steeped
in rugby. Rural schools had parents who knew nothing else. Anyone trying
to bring in a sport apart from rugby or cricket faced huge odds, and sometimes
the banning of their sport.
There was a battle to find towns to play as the further south you went
the more rugby ruled. The mining towns of Huntly and Rotowaro provided
some tough opponents, many from the mining towns of the UK, men with two
sharp elbows on each arm and the means to use them regularly.
So running the Swifts was a precarious business, relying on imports taking
jobs at one of the dairy factories, or someone doing share-milking on
the way to buying a farm, or an odd teacher who knew the game. Anyone
from the UK was welcomed and then there was the boost of Dutch settlers.
Friday night was hard for the secretary/coach/organiser/captain. Not everyone
had a telephone and a missing player meant a search of the district for
someone not playing rugby, who could cope with a soccer match because
sometimes there were only 12 players on the books, total. Soccer times
were hard, and then there was transport. A truck with canvas canopy was
the best arrangement.
The sharemilkers had to be back in time and the dairy factory fellows
had shifts to re-organise. Then the roads did not make travel easy, with
so many curves in a slow truck. The games were early and the departure
was almost immediate.
So the club’s survival through these days was a triumph for those stalwarts
who just kept on going. They needed the recognition, like the three who
sat up near the front, enjoying the sight of a club with a reserve team,
juniors, women and fans. Norm Simpson, Ken Dobson and Graham Oates were
the representatives of times gone by. May the old days never return.
* * *
Barry Simonsen deserved his special mention, being someone who never let
the club spirit falter, someone who carried the flag for the sport.
But only those who saw him at his best, forty years ago, can appreciate
how talented he was. In a soccer area he would have been a natural for
the national league. In Matamata he was just amazing. How did he get so
good without the role models, without the serious competition? It was
always a puzzle to me and, on my return to Auckland, I became the Sunday
News soccer reporter for the Northern League and then the National League.
Barry was good enough to play for any team, perhaps even New Zealand with
the right exposure. Never underestimate that man, and his contribution
Dwayne Barlow and soon-to-be wife Jean Thornton are outstanding in their
service to the club, with assistance with the top team, as secretary,
website and promoters. Other clubs would pay dearly for such services.
What a great game to celebrate the jubilee! At the start it seemed that
it was just going to be a few minutes before Waikato opened the scoring,
but then the Swifts settled and scored. What a thrill for all, but then
it seemed that the spirit and the fitness would evaporate and the score
It is a tribute to the whole team that the 2-0 final score was rarely
challenged by a team which is due to compete in the national league. (Actually
there were more young players than first team men). What showed were fine
Waikato skills and combination, but woeful penetration and little support
for the strikers.
And how about a man who was sent off for violent conduct returning to
score the clinching goal? Even those on the field thought that Jason had
been ejected but it was to stem a nose bleed. In another sort of game
there would have been no return, even if he was provoked.
Great to see Andy Birchenough again. He was a stand-out player when with
Napier City Rovers in the national league and he still works almost the
whole field, in style. Player-coach Duncan Lowry, who says he is not the
coach, just one of the guides, is also a stalwart. Everyone just kept
on playing for the team.
An amazing game, a great night and a brilliant Matamata spring day to
cap it all off, plus fine skills by the women and the juniors. Soccer
looks to be in great shape and I am glad that I took the time to attend.
Some reunions are a waste of time and money, but this was worth it.
I was honoured to be guest speaker at the 50th and I hope to see you at
the 100th, if I can get my wheelchair motorised.