v Auckland (home)

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This is my eighth consecutive full year as a National Women’s League blogger and fan. The competition has evolved over that time, but the fundamentals haven’t changed that much. It’s still seven regional federations battling it out for national sphere chasing supremacy, as it’s always been give or take an occasional development team. Yet, for me, this season was always going to feel completely different from any of the seven that came before it. A lot has changed since I watched WaiBOP face Auckland in their opening National Women’s League fixture at Gower Park exactly a year ago today.

For example, just a week prior to that 2018 opener, my popular, long running and successful blog that was a massive source of pride to me, In the back of the net, had won ‘Website of the Year’ at the New Zealand Football Media Association awards. A year on, ITBOTN is defunct and so is the NZFMA. Both of those things fell over because I decided to stop propping them up.

Those are just the two most relevant examples of several non joy sparking commitments I’ve Marie Kondoed this past year – and I seriously doubt I would be able to meaningfully function in the world right now if I hadn’t carried out that purge in its entirety. The trouble is though, sometimes clearing the decks can be viewed in negative ways – such as throwing toys, being a sook, or an unhealthy withdrawal from the world. And fear of your actions being interpreted in these ways can be a barrier to making necessary changes.

Don’t get me wrong, withdrawing can be a bad thing if you do it out of anger and frustration and/or don’t replace the things you withdraw from with other outward looking and healthy alternatives. I don’t want to minimise that in any way because withdrawing is considered to be one of the warning signs of suicide risk. But wholesale changes can also be liberating when they are well thought through. Think of it as pruning – cutting away old growth so new buds can form, making a tree more vigorous in the long run.

Which brings me to today’s football outing at Ye Auld Camford Bridge, where I spent my afternoon replacing one of the things I’ve withdrawn from with another outward looking and healthy alternative.

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The emerging fruit from the new buds all my pruning made possible meant that when I arrived at those iconic red and white “Cambridge Soccer Club” wrought iron gates I didn’t feel any pressure to be an expert or to promote the game. I don’t have to be liked. I don’t have to be respected. I don’t have to be the best. I don’t have to do anything or be anyone as long as I act with integrity and be true to myself.

And, funnily enough, there has been a fair bit of pruning going on in and around John Kerkhof Park too – and I don’t mean to the magnificent flowering cherry trees that line Vogel Street.

WaiBOP has a very different look to it from last year’s team, with over half the players who narrowly avoided the wooden spoon in 2018 either having moved on to chase glory with other federations or sitting the competition out altogether.

The result of this is a squad that’s very thin on National Women’s League experience but, as always with WaiBOP, the federation is packed with super promising vigorous new buds. Players like Chloe Henderson, Olivia Hooper, Lily Muspratt and Shannon Trebes are all special young talents going places. And anchoring the side between the sticks is brilliant age group international goalkeeper Georgia Candy, back from a long break to try out for the army(!) She will have a busy few months ahead of her but she will also be very tough to score past in the process.

Here’s the real glass half full part though. To be brutally honest this is a squad minus anyone who doesn’t want to be there and/or isn’t fully committed and/or would rather be somewhere else. And that’s a good thing. Win, lose or draw, it’s going to make the whole ride more enjoyable. For everyone. Tough – yes. Are they going to win the league? Probably not. But that means their main task is simply to see how good they can get – both individually and as a team, in every aspect of the game from the training pitch to match day. Let me phrase their job description another way: Act with integrity and be true to themselves.

That’s my team and I will be proud of them no matter what. As far as I’m concerned we are on this journey together.

Today was always going to be tough. Both for me and for WaiBOP. But in a world turned upside down I suspect the most welcome new development for everyone was we all got to turn up with clear heads and just enjoy our football. For me, that’s a feeling no dosage of medication can reproduce.

WaiBOP 0, Auckland 3

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[My other images of this game are available to view and purchase here]

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