Amongst the Rugby World Cup fever, Don Rowe finds a gem of New Zealand sporting culture which risks going unnoticed.
At the time of writing, we’re 19 hours from the opening of the Rugby World Cup and already a growing sentiment of rugby-fatigue is finding sympathetic ears across the internet (parts of twitter and r/newzealand, anyway). Write them off as treasonous hacks unfit to clean the mud from a patriot’s sprigs, sure, but there’s no denying their existence.
However nobody is complaining about too much coverage of this weekend’s Chatham Cup final, because nobody is talking about it. And that’s a shame, because a short investigation has me convinced the Chatham Cup is a special and unique part of this country’s sporting heritage, rife with all the fantastic and bizarre tidbits that make sport in New Zealand so much fun.
Named after a battleship from the first world war, the Chatham Cup is the oldest trophy in New Zealand football. It’s also the only trophy to have been won by staff from the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum. For eighty something years, minus a brief hiatus for the second world war, the Chatham Cup has sorted the men from the boys in New Zealand club football. Most of the time, anyway.
This year, Auckland’s Eastern Suburbs take on the Napier City Rovers, who along with Simon Mannering are perhaps the most successful thing to have come out of Napier City. The Rovers have four cups to their name, the most recent in 2002. Eastern Suburbs have five, but last drank deep of the Chatham Cup in 1969. Rumors abound that the old boys of that victorious team will be present on Sunday at the Trusts Arena in Waitakere.
According to Wikipedia, many of the early winners of the cup no longer exist. Partly because that was a very long time ago, and mostly because until the 1970’s there was no national football league in New Zealand and many teams were amalgamated upon its inceptionu. In the modern era, however, the tournament remains remarkably competitive and egalitarian. Though the likes of Seacliff Lunatic Asylum and the Wellington YMCA haven’t made much of a splash lately, from time to time a social or backwater provincial team will find success.
“There have been some fantastic cup runs from some of the school teams,” says New Zealand Football Community Director Cameron Mitchell. “Mount Albert Grammar have had some amazing runs where they’ve reached somewhere around the final 16, which is an amazing effort for a bunch of schoolboys. That’s the beauty of the cup, it’s open to anybody.”
Of course, this being reality and not a Hollywood production, they never actually win the tournament, but it’s nice to picture the hairless faces of the Mt Albert Grammar first XI putting six goals over Western Springs Senior Men.
But it’s not all fun and games. There is a dark and intriguing mystery at the heart of the Chatham Cup. The Bob Smith memorial trophy is awarded to the tournament runner-up. It’s a step above the fair play medal, but still in reality a ‘first losers’ trophy. And for 15 years, it was lost to New Zealand Football. Whether in a subterranean lake under a mountain, obsessed over by a schizophrenic cave dweller, or just at the bottom of dusty cupboard, the Bob Smith memorial trophy waited, and watched. It resurfaced in 1998 and journeyed south to the hallowed clubrooms of Dunedin Technical AFC.
What happened in-between remains unclear.
The Glenfield Rovers defend the ASB Women’s Knockout Cup against Massey University at 11.00, followed by the 87th ASB Chatham Cup final at 2.30pm at the Trusts Arena in Henderson.
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