Ten years ago today, I started a football blog.
I loved football and I loved writing, so I thought it might be fun to combine the two and see where it took me. I never could have imagined where it actually took me.
It took me on an incredible journey. I went on crazy away trips on team busses, I danced with ultras, I drew the Chatham Cup, I drank beer from the Chatham Cup in post-final dressing room celebrations, I photographed a FIFA Under 20 World Cup final and a senior intercontinental World Cup playoff from the sidelines, I campaigned for equality and justice.
I made a difference. I raised the profile of women’s football in New Zealand, I helped normalise it, and I changed attitudes. People who used to fight with me about gender now seem to get it. I fought a lot of those battles by myself, with little or no backup from allies.
I romanticised grassroots football – something nobody in New Zealand had really done before I started blogging. I inspired others to take up amateur football writing. Ten years ago there was only really one other independent kiwi football website, and it had quite a different focus. Now there are several that are influenced by my style of coverage.
For the past eight years at least, you could probably count on two hands the number of weekends when I haven’t been to a football game to cover it in some way, shape or form. On many weekends I went to two. And on some I went to three and four at the height of my madness.
My big reward was making friends with a lot of great people. I rubbed shoulders with international footballers, I interviewed some legends of the game. A lot of people I respect and admire have said some incredibly generous things about me and the work I’ve done.
But it hasn’t all been roses.
I’ve taken criticism hard. Numerous people have told me I’m useless or clueless. I was told I wasn’t welcome at one of my favourite clubs because of a piece I wrote. I was accused of racism by another club – I don’t think the accusation was fair but as a pasty white urban liberal I have to take a hard look at myself in the mirror when challenged like that.
I never understood why New Zealand Football so rarely acknowledged what I did. I did a lot for their competitions and national teams. And I appreciated their behind the scenes support at times. They didn’t have to give me media accreditations, but they always did. But sometimes a like or a retweet wouldn’t have been a lot to ask for – especially on the big labour intensive projects like the National Women’s League podcast we made last year. I guess I wasn’t “on brand” enough for them. But then, some of the things they did choose to promote were a lot more off brand than me and that felt sad. Worse than that though, they can be pretty thoughtless when it comes to stepping on toes sometimes.
I didn’t see the iceberg coming until it was too late to turn the ship around. In the back of the net was a part of my life that gave me a lot of joy for a long time, but when it stopped giving me joy it started causing me aching, crushing, debilitating heartbreak. Now I find it difficult to even look at it in my browser.
When I wrote the about page on this blog, I changed one particular paragraph dozens of times before I eventually hit publish:
“Another question could be – if football triggers you like that, why don’t you quit following it so obsessively? The answer to that one is relatively simple – I’m going to.”
It was going to say “if football triggers you like that, why don’t you quit writing about it?” or “quit blogging about it?” In the end, I deliberately left it vague in case I changed my mind. It’s been a good seven or eight months since I wrote that sentence for the first time though, and I haven’t changed my mind.
As I’ve worked my way through this project, I’ve quietly said goodbye to a lot of places that hold fond memories but where I doubt I’ll ever watch football again – like Massey University and Petone Memorial Park. English Park was in the same category. My days of flying anywhere to cover football are almost certainly over as of today.
At the culmination of the 2019 winter season back in late August, I had a post-match beer and yarn on the Allen Hill Stadium deck with former In the back of the net writer John Palethorpe. After we’d been talking about local New Zealand football for a good half hour, a North Shore United stalwart who had been listening in piped up and said “the two of you should start a website!” I had to chuckle. But the first and only word that presented itself in my mind was “nah”.
It’s hard to let go of things you love.
But in a fortnight’s time when this journey is over, I truly believe I’ll leave football in a better state than I found it. Not bad for a decade’s work.
Canterbury 3, WaiBOP 0
[My other images of this game are available to view and purchase here]