v Southern (home)

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Most keen observers of football in New Zealand know that Southern used to be this competition’s easy-beats. Perpetually last on the table, they didn’t just lose games but were generally well beaten. Then, two years ago, something changed. In a story to rival Cool Runnings they came from nowhere and shocked everyone by getting good. Bloody good in fact. Genuine title contenders. And the sentiment that was on most of our minds at the time is most efficiently summarised by a classy and cerebral phrase in popular use by highly cultured individuals the world over – “WTF??”. And the answer to that scholarly question could be complicated, or it could be simple.

I won’t bore you with my take on the complicated version because quite frankly it doesn’t suit me. It would detract from the whole point of this intro, which is to tee up the simple version. The simple version being this: Help helps.

OK, maybe you need some context so here’s a slightly longer version. Southern got good because they recognised they had a problem and they got help to fix it. They got an ambitious new coach, imported a talented player or two for the short term, set up a scholarship programme with the University of Otago to attract other talented players for the medium term and made sure they had a strategy to ensure the experienced players they attracted left a legacy for the long term, thus making their wellbeing sustainable.

Perhaps none of that is rocket science, but some pieces of the puzzle are more daunting than others, especially when you’re in a deep dark hole. The hardest part is definitely that first bit.

They recognised they had a problem and they got help to fix it.

Everyone has problems they could use a little help to fix. Big and small. And even when you think your problem is only small, talking it through with someone might help you to realise what you thought was no big deal is actually the tip of an iceberg you’ll eventually be glad you discovered. That was certainly the case for me.

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My psychotherapist practices out of a small room in the basement of a house that sits at the top of a long sloping pathway. For some reason the pathway reminds me of Michelangelo’s Cordonata. Because they would be identical if instead of Marcus Aurelius greeting you at the top of the Cordonata, astride his mighty steed, there was a small room with a couch. That’s as long as you completely ignore the fact that my psychotherapist’s garden path is actually nothing like the Cordonata at all. It works in my head though…

The first few times I scaled it my overwhelming feeling was one of shame. Shame that it had come to this. Shame that I was so weak. Shame that I had been driven into this by things that should never have been upsetting me this much in the first place.

While therapy hasn’t given me much in the way of direct answers, it has helped me to understand where my feelings are coming from which has in turn allowed me to give myself a break and create mental space to develop my own tools and strategies to empower myself.

As a result, after climbing my Cordonata for almost a year, instead of shame I now feel like Mark Clark, the American World War II general who famously climbed the Roman version as his first act after liberating my spiritual home from the yolk of Adolf Hitler. Clark’s wasn’t an act of conquest, but one of satisfaction. A sense of achievement earned from a hard battle well navigated, but also tinged with the knowledge that the war was not over yet.

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Photo: Alan Whicker

People say it takes hitting rock bottom before most of us recognise the need for help. 

It took Southern many years to get there. Going back through the archives from before their stunning turnaround, the last time they hadn’t finished last in a National Women’s League was 2007, when they managed second to last courtesy of goal difference. Over the following nine years they collected a grand total of six competition points.

But who knows, perhaps it’s WaiBOP’s turn now. Their new coach Nico Girard seems to have this super young side believing in themselves, proud of who they are and best of all loving every minute of their journey. They were under the pump for a lot of the first half today, with Georgia Candy keeping them in the match thanks to some quality saves. But after the break they emerged from their half time team talk with a slightly tweaked lineup and a renewed sense of purpose – they owned the second half until Southern were awarded a fortunate late penalty.

Last year, Southern won this fixture 6-3.

Recoveries don’t happen by accident.

It’s a pity if it’s true, the rock bottom thing. It shouldn’t be like that.

WaiBOP 0, Southern 1

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

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