The 8th season of the New Zealand National League (sponsored by Rothmans) bought up the perennial problem of NZ football – Money! The 1976 season had seen National League Clubs spend $100k on travel and only manage to recover about half of that through gate takings.
The then Auckland FA chairman, Charlie Dempsey, suggested an 18 team league split into 3 regions with the top 2 from each region playing a National round (an idea that came to fruition 16 years later with the super club competition). The NZ Soccer Annual editor, Barry Smith, was even more visionary suggesting a 10 team league with clubs holding a franchise for a particular area (not dissimilar to what NZ Football are planning today!)
Despite the worries about money 1977 saw the National League increased to 12 teams. Gisborne City were relegated, while Nelson United, Hamilton, New Brighton & Dunedin City were promoted.
|North Shore's Don Jones|
The league was won by North Shore United, the 4th Auckland team to win the National League. For Coach Don Jones it was a personal victory, he had taken North Shore from the Northern League into the National League in 1974 and finished 2nd in 1975 before being axed. However instead of going to another club, he took an administration position and in 1977 was re-appointed to the coaching role and led the team to the league title.
North Shore United started the season disastrously with a 4-0 loss away to New Brighton, a team that went on to be relegated!, but a run of 6 wins put them in contention before only managing 1 win in the next 6 and then 9 wins in a row to secure the title by 1 point from Stop Out.
Stop Out had only just survived relegation the season before and instead of spending big on high profile players as they had in the past concentrated on a core 11 players. Their only major signing being Iain Ormond from Blockhouse Bay. With an effective strike force of Ex Evertonian Derek Gibson-Smith & Scottish journeyman, Sam Malcolmson, getting 31 goals, Stop Out only lost 3 games (less than any other team) and Maurice Tilloston's lads could consider themselves unlucky not to have won the league.
Christchurch United playing under the sponsored name of Trans Tours United, despite making draws their specialty (they had 9) managed to finish 3rd. They managed this on the fact that the positions were decided by Goal Average, in 1978 this was being changed to Goal difference which would have given newly promoted Hamilton 3rd place and a share of the prize money.
The 1976 champions, WDU, along with Hamilton were the top scorers with 41 each, however WDU's generous defence (eg WDU 7 New Brighton 3) and 2 wins in the last 10 games meant they'd finish 5th.
Favourites Mt Wellington, who won the pre-season Air New Zealand Cup and had 7 New Zealand players in their team were probably the most disappointing. According to the NZ Soccer Annual coach Vic Mobley “had rung so many changes in the Mt Wellington side he could become No 1 guest at a bell-ringers competition!"
Newcomers, the Kevin Fallon coached, Nelson United started well and were leading the table after 5 rounds, but a mid season collapse saw them finish 7th, they did however make up for this by winning the Chatham Cup
Former champions, Blockhouse Bay had lost the Ormond brothers, Iain to Stop Out & Duncan to North Shore United and played their typical football, defensive & dour!
Another former champion Eastern Suburbs struggled, having lost many players to Courier Rangers cheque book, but they managed 2 big wins (5-1 & 6-2) wins over New Brighton which kept them in the league and effectively relegated New Brighton. Of the 36 goals New Brighton conceded 25 came from Eastern Suburbs, Hamilton & WDU.
The bottom 2 places were occupied by Dunedin teams, City & Caversham. Showing that the city really was unable to support 2 teams at this level and they really needed to unite behind 1 team. The only bright spark from the season in the south was the was the arrival of Steve Wooddin. While only playing 2 games for Dunedin City this season but went on to be a key figure for both Dunedin City and the 1982 All Whites team.
As part of the expansion the league had a 3 up 3 down automatic promotion-relegation system which saw New Brighton, Caversham & Dunedin City replaced by big spending Northern League winners Courier Rangers, Central League champions Waterside and Christchurch's Woolston Workingmen's Club, winners of the Southern League.
|Nelson United are welcomed home with the Chatham Cup at Nelson Airport (Photo from Nelson Provincial Museum collection)|
|The cup final program|
The 50th Chatham Cup final was won by a team from outside the main 4 cities for only the 2nd time. National League newcomers Nelson United had beaten Wanganui Athletic (7-0), Stop Out (5-4 on pens), Courier Rangers (3-2) & Christchurch Technical (3-1), while Mt Wellington had beaten Rotorua City (6-0), Mt Roskill (11-0), Waterside (2-1) & North Shore United (1-0).
Mt Wellington with their 7 NZ representatives, were the favourities but a determined Nelson United defence held them out in the 1st half. 15 minutes into the 2nd half Mt Wellington's Stuart Carrathers collided with Nelson's Dave Powdrell in the penalty area and Nelson Captain John Enoka slotted the penalty home. For Carrathers it was a bit of de-ja-vu as the previous year when he was playing for Eastern Suburbs he collided with his own keeper and the result was a goal!.
The night before the game Kevin Fallon had taken the Nelson United team on a walk through Auckland Domain and then allowed them 2 pints each. This must have helped them relax and they held on for a historic 1-0 win.
|The Cup final team line ups|
With the World Cup in Argentina in 1978, New Zealand, coached by Wally Hughes warmed up for their Qualification series with a 5-2 win over Ba from Fiji and 3-0 & 4-0 wins over New Caledonia.
The World Cup Qualifying was held in Australia and NZ beat Chinese-Taipei 6-0 twice, then lost 1-3 to Australia. Despite this loss all they needed to do to qualify for the next round was beat Australia by 1 goal, but they ended up drawing 1-1.
English 2nd Division Luton Town toured, although the NZSA's headline No Hat's off to the Hatters probably best describes the tour.
One of the biggest game's of the season was at Newmarket Park, where Bobby Charlton's All Stars drew 1-1 with Auckland, 12 000 turned up to see the likes of Manchester United Keeper, Alex Stepney, Bobby & Jack Charlton, Liverpool's Ian Callaghan, Peter Lorimer of Leeds and Manchester City's Brian Kidd.
Where are they now
Stop Out – Central League
ChristchurchUnited – Mainland 1
Hamilton –Merged with Waikato United in 1992. Waikato United merged with Melville in 1996 and are know known as Melvile United and play in the Northern League
WDU – Merged with Wellington City and now known as Wellington United, Their 1st team is the Wellington Phoenix academy team
Mt Wellington – merged with Auckland University in 2003 and now known as University Mt Wellington mainly a social club with highest team playing in the AFF/NFF Conference
Nelson United – Merged with Nelson Metro, Nelson City and Tahuna Juniors in 2011 to form FC Nelson. Part of the Tasman United bid for a National League place next season
Blockhouse Bay – merged with Green Bay-Titirangi in 1998 and now known as BayOlympic read a profile on Blockhouse Bay here
Eastern Suburbs – Just completed the double of Northern League and Chatham Cup
New Brighton – Merged with Rangers in 2007 and now known as Coastal Spirit, play in the Mainland league
Dunedin City – Defunct