Manurewa AFC (Part 1).

Manurewa AFC (Part 1).

Season 1982.

My first season as Coach of Manurewa FC was beset with problems, this mainly centred around a series of player dispensation’s brought about because of the involvement of Manurewa players on International duty at the 1982 World Cup Finals in Spain.

Dave Bright, Frank Van Hattum and Peter Simonsen were all involved with the ‘All Whites,’ leaving big gaps in the strength of the squad, consequently, it was not until late in the season that the club could be certain of not being relegated.

Club stalwarts such as Peter Bryson, Mark Armstrong, Mark Gould, Kevin Birch, Robert Leijh and Gregg Hough did much to ensure that the club retained its National League status.   Tony Smith in goal was a capable understudy to Frank Van Hattum and Frank Verheyen, David Huff and Andy Davies all gave much to the cause, playing their part in the club’s respectable performance.   At times the playing numbers were so thin that youngsters Gary Hampson and David Lornie were drafted in; on several occasions I also had to lace up my boots and take the field.  Mid-season we gained a colourful character in the form of Kim Wassell, an ex West Bromwich Albion professional who had started the season with Petone in Wellington.   At the time of his move to Manurewa we were struggling, and although he caused me a few problems with his ‘off the field antics,’ he was a likable character with plenty of football experience; he also possessed an educated left foot which made him a definite asset to the team.

Kim Wassell was a timely addition.

Chris Turner was still at the club and, along with Gregg Hough, he had sustained serious injuries earlier in his career but it was obvious to me that they had both been classy players.   Although I would never see the best of them during my tenure as Head Coach of the club, I could well understand why they had been instrumental in Manurewa’s progress during the John Adshead era.

 

Manurewa squad 1982.

Another interruption to the season occurred when FC Bournmouth made a tour of the country playing a series of matches which extended into several more games than they had anticipated.   This resulted in the Manager, David Webb and player coach Harry Redknapp asking me to loan them a couple of players to help make up their numbers.   They ‘borrowed’ Mark Armstrong and Kevin Birch for a match at Mt Wellington’s McKinley Park; significantly for me, Bournemouth played Kevin as an outright striker as opposed to his normal position on the right flank, which was occupied by Harry Redknapp.   Birch was diminutive in stature but very elusive and quick, and in the game at Mt Wellington he caused his opponents many problems thus making me aware that his longer term future could be up the middle.

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Kevin Birch was elusive and quick.

Even though Bournemouth played in the lower reaches of the Football league, I thought that they were one of the more entertaining teams to visit New Zealand from the UK.   They produced a brand of football based on quick passing, at tempo, non-stop movement of players, and were totally committed, as opposed to other, more illustrious, visiting teams whom sometimes gave the impression of coasting along.

Harry Redknapp in his playing days at Bournemouth..

With the return of our ‘stars,’ Peter, Dave and Frank from International duty we were able to avoid the ‘drop’ by finishing one place above the relegation zone by a comfortable eight point gap.   However, I was fully aware that some serious recruitment needed to be implemented in order for the club to make a genuine challenge for the National league title……

1983 Season.

The brush with relegation served as a warning to Manurewa FC club officials that they could not afford to be complacent about their National League status, resulting in a concerted effort to bolster the quality of players at the club.   No less than eight players were signed in order to ensure that the club would not only survive in New Zealand’s top division, but could make a realistic assault on winning the league title.   Players draughted into the squad included ‘All Whites’ skipper Steve Sumner, Keith (Buzzer) McKay, Rudy Feitsma, Keith Garland, Paul Gemmell, Mike Groom, Lee Strickland and Rod Weir.   Notable absentees from the previous season were Peter Simonsen and Frank Van Hattum; Peter returned to play for his native town of Nelson, and Frank, after pursuing a possible transfer to Feyenoord in Holland, finally finished up at Christchurch United.  I made a pragmatic move by appointing Dave Bright as my assistant Player/Coach.  Dave was a very experienced player, read the game well, was respected by the players, and had been Manurewa stalwart with many years of service with the club.

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I signed goalkeeper Rudi Feitsma from the Hutt Valley club; Petone FC. 

The season started poorly for us and after three games we were bottom of the league; losing a local derby against the Jaques Vercouteren coached Papatoetoe, and also tasting defeat away at Don Jones’s North Shore United.   The Easter program got us underway with a draw against Miramar Rangers and a convincing victory against one of the Dunedin clubs.   We then went on a tremendous run whereby we only lost two more games, this saw us finish up as League Champions.   We accumulated an eight point margin in front of our nearest rivals North Shore United.   Even with good quality players it takes time for them to combine together, but once we had found a settled formation, in which each player could play to his strengths, it was difficult for any team in New Zealand to beat us.

Manurewa’s Championship Winning Squad 1983.

In goal, Rudi Feitsma, although young and comparatively inexperienced, was technically very sound, extremely agile and had a presence about him which reminded me of Ken Mulhearn from my Stockport County days (see Stockport County memories).   I had been recommended to signed Paul Gemmell (I believe by Mike Groom), and Paul slotted in at right back; a very quick and tenacious tackler he blossomed in the Manurewa  environment progressing on to gain National team recognition at Under 20’s level.   Keith Garland slotted in at centre back and was a major contributor to our success; I found it difficult to believe that Keith had missed out on professional football in England.   This may have been due to him suffering from bouts of asthma, but I never noticed his condition affecting him either in training sessions or in games.   Keith had all the attributes of a top class defender, he could distribute off both feet, rarely beaten in the air, tough in the tackle, read the game well and had a never give in attitude.   Along with Dave Bright; Lee Strickland and David Huff also shared ‘back four’ duties, both players giving consistent performances without excelling to the degree of some of the others.   An intelligent man, tall in stature, Lee could deal with most things in the air and play uncomplicated passes, however, at times he could be exposed on the turn, but usually either Bright or Garland were there to cover.   The midfield ‘diamond’ of Mike Groom, Peter Bryson, Keith McKay and Steve Sumner provided the team with a potent force, their attributes combining perfectly.   McKay and Bryson had the lung capacity to be able to get forward and deliver telling crosses combined with the aptitude to track back and pressurize their opponents.

Midfielder Mike Groom playing for New Zealand.

In the holding mid-field position Mike Groom, was a very strong influence both technically and creatively.   His commitment was exemplified by commuting from Hamilton for training sessions and matches, he very rarely went missing.  This dedication, combined with his ability and attitude to the game endeared him to the other players, making him an excellent contributor to team spirit.   The ‘jewel in the crown’ for the team was ‘All Whites’ captain Steve Sumner; Sumner was the archetypical midfielder, possessing the ability to quickly close down opponents, open up the play with pinpoint passes, he also had the knack of arriving late in the penalty area to score goals.   Apart from his unquestionable playing ability Steve led by example, in both training sessions and in matches, he was always to be found when the going got tough, urging his teammates on to greater efforts.

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Steve Sumner ” All Whites” captain in Manurewa colours.

Up front Mark Armstrong was probably one of the most underestimated players in the team; could be attributed to his ability to go about his game in an uncomplicated, but effective fashion.   He was always available to receive and could hold the ball up well, he had the knack of turning up at the right time in the penalty area; he regularly scored goals off either foot, or in the air.   As mentioned above, after observing Kevin Birch thriving in the central strikers role for Bournemouth, I was eager to play him in that position at Manurewa.  He took some stick from his teammates, due to some of his unconventional antics, however, we all appreciated his mobility and his capacity to cause problems for opponents.   Kevin’s form during this period also gained him National Team recognition.

In a recent correspondence Steve Sumner gave his ‘take’ on our successful National League Title victory:

“We had a damn good team at Rewa back then…..that left me with lots of fond memories…….I can remember what I think was a turning point in our season, a game that drove us on to win the title…..we played WDU at their place we were losing and eventually lost 4-2 I think….. but I remember the attitude of the players when we were down, as I recall we asked the players to fight to the end and if we were to lose, then go down fighting, Garlo loved a scrap, Brighty would never let you down and Groomy (who was like a man possessed that year) climbing into everything, the late Paul Gemmell (Mr dependable & brave as a lion) Kevin Birch (a will o the wisp type character) Mark ‘army’ Armstrong (our own Malcolm Macdonald) Keith (buzzer) Mackay among others got things started …. we lost the battle that day but the fire and passion to fight to the end set us up for a grandstand 2nd half of the season and eventually champions…….bloody brilliant…tremendous”

 

Assistant Coach and Captain; Dave Bright holds the National League Winners Trophy.

My personal highlights of the season included being awarded Auckland Coach of the year and also attaining the double over Mt Wellington, for the second time in my coaching career.   In tribute to Mount Wellington, under the guidance of John Houghton, they had been the dominant force in NZ football in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.    They were the club which all others aspired to emulate; therefore, it was particularly pleasing to have been the only Coach, up to that point, to have achieved the ‘double’ over them.   This had been achieved with two clubs; Stop Out in 1977 and Manurewa in 1983.   However, the most satisfaction that I gained from the season was from the ‘day to day’ training of top class players.   After many seasons of coaching players and teams of lesser abilities (Stop Out’s 1974 & 1977 teams excepted) it was refreshing to work with players who lacked nothing in motivation and possessed the skills, willingness and determination to succeed at the highest level of football in New Zealand.   Much of the training was done in small sided games with the emphasis on ball speed, player movement and pressurizing when out of possession.   This resulted in a ‘conditioning’ process which transferred effectively across to match situations.

With the National League trophy safely stored away, I looked forward with relish to my third season at the club; bringing more success, but not before certain amount anguish…..

Lucky Kids: includes my son Craig (front sitting) and Jon Anderson(standing) during a Coaching Camp with Keith Mckay, Gregg Hough and Steve Sumner.