The Season that was #1 - Rothmans National League 1985

This is an idea I pinched from the fanzine When Saturday Comes, an occasional look back at memorable seasons in NZ football.
 I am starting with 1985 as it was 30 years ago and my team won the league!

Story of the season - 1985

For the first time in National League History there was no change in the league make up as University, bottom in 1984, beat challengers Hamilton, Stop Out & Rangers to retain their spot. 

The league was described as the most exciting for years and Nelson United contributed to this with results such as a 7-3 win over University, a 4-4 draw with Mt Wellington and a 5-2 loss to North Shore. While Christchurch United did the opposite, in what was their worst season ever, by only managing 24 goals in the 22 game season.

Papatoetoe had finished runners up in 1984 but lost their coach, Jacques Vercauteren to Mt Wellington. At the half way stage of the season they were only 4 points off the lead but a dramatic loss of form in the second half of the season saw them finish in 11th place.

Miramar Rangers and Napier City Rovers both had disastrous starts to the season. Miramar under new boss Derek Gibson-Smith didn't win until their 11th game, this was however an emphatic 5-1 over Manurewa which turned their season around and saw them finish in 5th place. Napier, also with new co-coaches Malcolm Wilson & Roy Stanger, managed just 1 point from their first 9 games and despite a strong showing in the second half of the season, helped by 9 goals from import Greg Brown, it wasn't enough to get off bottom place. They were subsequently relegated by Manawatu in the playoffs. They did get some consolation when they beat North Shore United 3-1 in the Chatham Cup Final.

Last day of the season Match day Programme
At the top end of the table it was defending champions, Gisborne City, who made the early running and led the league for 6 weeks until Kevin Fallon's men had a most uncharacteristic run of 3 consecutive home defeats. Don Jones All White laden North Shore United took over the lead and led the league for 8 weeks until the penultimate match but unable to match their home form on the road, they picked up only 4 points from the last 5 games, and it was the consistent Wellington Diamond United (WDU, playing as DB Wellington) who took over the top spot.

The title was decided on the last day of the season with DB Wellington, Gisborne City & North Shore United all in contention. North Shore suffered their only home defeat of the season losing 2-0 to University, Gisborne went down 2-1 away to Manurewa, while DB Wellngton fought out a tense 0-0 draw with Christchurch United to secure their 3rd National League title.

DB Wellington didn't start the season well with a 4-1 loss at Mt Wellington on the first day. They had conceded 16 goals in their first 5 games, including a 6-1 hammering at Gisborne, but they never lost more than one game in a row. In all they won more (12), lost less (5) and scored more (50) goals than all other teams in the league and proved to be worthy winners.

For the record books

  • DB Wellington were the first team to win the league with a squad of completely New Zealand  born players
  • At an average age of 23, DB Wellington were also the youngest title winning squad ever. 
  • DB Wellington 33 goals they conceded was the most a title winning team ever had.
  • There were 22 red cards during the season, which was the most ever in a league season
  • Napier City Rovers were the first team to be relegated and win the Chatham Cup in the same season
  • DB Wellington captain Ross Durant became only the 3rd kiwi to captain a title winning side, the other 2 were Mike Simeonoff in 1976 & Jeff Strom in 1981, the previous occasions when DB Wellngton (as WDU) had won the league.
 Went on to greater things

Malcolm Dunford – DB Wellngton's 22 year old center back consolidated his position in the All Whites and went on to make 62 appearances for them winning 41 "A" Caps

Greg Brown – Manchester born Brown was bought out to Napier mid-way through the season and scored 9 goals in 12 appearances and was instrumental in Napier winning the Chatham Cup. He then moved to Miramar and was selected to play for NZ against a USSR XI in 1986. In 1987 he moved to Parramatta Eagles in Australia before finishing his playing career at West Adelaide Sharks. He was named Australian footballer of the year in 1990 and was selected for Australia in 1991 going on to earn 12 caps. (He was able to become a duel international as NZ's series against USSR XI wasn't an official international series)
He was also coach of the Australian Women's team from 1997-99.

Declan Edge – Made 7 appearances and scored 2 goals for Gisborne City kicking off a career that took him to Notts County, Mt Manganui, Adelaide City, Napier and Waikato with 41 appearances (26 A Internationals) for New Zealand
Currently coach at Western Suburbs

 Billy Harris - Another of DB Wellington's young guns, scored 13 goals in the season and won player's player of the year. Went on to make 18 appearances for New Zealand and had a National League career that spanned 4 decades playing (and scoring) for Miramar, North Shore, Napier, Central & Mt Wellington. In all made over 500 senior appearances.

Disappearing from View

1982 All Whites Steve Woodin (Christchurch United), Adrian Elrick (North Shore) & John Hill (Gisborne) all retired from football, while Brian Turner (Mt Wellington) stepped down a level to play for Blockhouse Bay in the Northern Premier League

Miramar import, Phil Alexander, headed back to the UK although he did re-appear a few years later as CEO of Crystal Palace, where he still is today.

Where are they today?

Of the 12 National League teams
  • Gisborne City & Dunedin City have both folded. 
  • Mt Wellngton & University merged in 2000 and now play in the AFF/NFF Conference (5th tier) 
  • Nelson United merged with Nelson City & Nelson Metro in 2011 to form FC Nelson and play in Nelson Division 1 (3rd tier)
  • WDU merged with Wellington City at the end of the 1985 season and became know as the absurdly long Wellington City Diamond United before shortening it to Wellington United and currently play in the Central League (2nd tier)
  • Christchurch United play in Canterbury Premier League (3rd tier)
  • North Shore United (div 1), Manurewa (div 1) and Papatoetoe (div 2) all play in the Northern League
  • Miramar Rangers and Napier City Rovers both play in the Central League


  1. You might like to see some old TV football videos of the 1980's on youtube - search puketiro1 or NCR


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