45 years ago, New Zealand got its first club based league in any sport when football's Rothman's National League kicked off on 11th April.
The concept of a National League had first been raised in the late 1950's by NZFA committee member, Jock Houston. He looked at costs and based on average crowds of 2000 paying two shillings each he envisaged an 8 team league with 2 teams from Auckland & the South Island and 1 each from Poverty Bay, Waikato, Wellington & the Hutt Valley. From this there was much discussion and in 1968, the NZFA launched 3 regional leagues (Northern, Central & Southern) and after the 1969 season, the top teams entered the National League.
That gave us 3 from the Northern League (Mt Wellington, Eastern Suburbs & Blockhouse Bay), 3 from Central League (Western Suburbs, Stop Out & Gisborne City). In Christchurch, Technical, Shamrock, Christchurch City & Rangers joined forces to form Christchurch United. The remaining place was decided by a playoff between the Northern & Central 4th place teams, North Shore United and Hungaria, which Hungaria won 2-1 on aggregate.
|From NZ Soccer Annual 1971|
It was the Northern League teams that prevailed with Blockhouse Bay & Eastern Suburbs finishing with identical records of 10 wins, 2 draws & 2 losses, Blockhouse Bay won the league by virtue of a better goal average.
Christchurch United had a shaky start but with the addition of Ken France half way through the season, consolidating the defence they went through the second half unbeaten and secured 3rd place.
Mt Wellington who had won the Northern League for the 2 previous years struggled with the departure of their Swiss coach, Bruno Boeckli. George Lamont took on the role as Player-Coach but relinquished the role after 11 games and Ken Armstrong stepped in.
Stop Out had spent money on strengthening their squad, but according to the NZ Soccer Annual squandered this advantage by playing the wrong type of football for the players that they had.
Gisborne City parted ways with their coach Terry McCavana after only 5 games, personal & Business reasons were cited as the reason, however McCavana did admit that he and the club did not see eye to eye on a number of matters. They didn't replace him, and suffered a further blow when top scorer, Malcolm Bland, transferred to Eastern Suburbs half way through the season.
|Hungaria's Joe Scaramuzza attempts a bicycle kick against Blockhouse Bay|
Hungaria, the Wellington club formed by Hungarian immigrants and reputed to be some the most exciting footballers that New Zealand had ever seen, unfortunately failed to live up to their reputation, recording only 3 wins.
1969 Central League Champions, Western Suburbs, were the most disappointing finishing bottom and only the decision of the NZFA to increase the league to 10 teams saved them from relegation. Injuries to key players as well as player-coach Imre Kiss having to step down after 10 games when he suffered a car accident didn't help. They did get to the final of the Chatham Cup and took Champions, Blockhouse Bay, to a replay.
The first season of the National League was seen as a success with 63 000 attending games. The average crowd was 1140, with only Stop Out, Gisborne City & Western Suburbs having average crowds less than 1000, which can be attributed to their league position. The NZFA had decided to increase the league to 10 teams for 1971 and after playoffs between the 3 regional league winners, Auckland's Mt Albert-Ponsonby & Dunedin's Caversham are promoted.
1970 saw a couple of firsts for the Chatham Cup, it was the first open draw so saw the first games between North & South Island team outside of the final. The competition managed to attract sponsorship (from Gillette) for the first time and when the final went to a replay it was the first time a final had been played outside of Wellington.
The final was between League Champions, Blockhouse Bay and bottom placed Western Suburbs. Western Suburbs Wayne Huntley had got a brace and it looked as if there was going to be an upset win when it was 2-0 with 7 minutes to go. Then NZ player of the year, Colin Shaw got 2 goals in 3 minutes, one of them a penalty that had to be re-taken and extra time is forced. Western Suburbs hit the woodwork twice but can't score and instead of corners counting, which would have been the case in the past, the replay will be played in Auckland a week later.
The replay was just as exciting with Bay twice going ahead before being pegged back and then Western Suburbs get the ball in the net with only minutes left but its disallowed for offside. As it's looking like extra time again, Colin Shaw pops up and nets the winner for Blockhouse Bay to complete the League & Cup double.
|Central Districts won 4-1|
1970 saw the arrival of new New Zealand coach, Barrie Truman. However the NZ team only played 1 game a 0-0 draw with Hong Kong team, Jardines. They had made a 6 game tour of New Zealand with their only win being 2-0 over Auckland.
Auckland did become the first NZ team in 13 years to beat a continental side when the beat FC Zurich of Switzerland 3-2.
New Caledonian cup winners, Le Nickle made a short tour beating Napier Rovers (2-1), Wairoa invatation (4-1), and Gisborne City (4-0) before being defeated by Chatham Cup holders, Eastern Suburbs 4-0
Where are they now
- Blockhouse Bay merged with Green Bay-Titirangi in 1998 to form Bay Olympic and play in the Northern League
- Eastern Suburbs have just won the Northern League & Chatham Cup double
- Christchurch United were relegated from the Mainland Premier League this season
- Gisborne City have ceased to exist
- Hungaria merged with Wellington City and are now part of Wellington United
- Mt Wellington play in the AFF/NFF Conference
- Stop Out & Western Suburbs are both in the Central League