Wellington Phoenix U20 1 Eastern Suburbs 2
Stirling Sports Premiership
David Farrington Park, Wellington
Saturday 22nd October
Att about 200
Sam Burfoot earns a Yellow card with this challenge on Jack-Henry Sinclair Photo The JourneyFan

46 years ago Eastern Suburbs were one of the 8 teams that kicked off in the first club based National League for any sport in New Zealand (Rugby didn't get the NPC going until 1975 and even then it was regional, not club based). Their first game was a 3-1 win against Hungaria, the legendary Wellington based club of Hungarian immigrants who were renown for being one of the most skillful clubs New Zealand has ever seen.

When I discovered this I thought it would give me a great intro talking about the symmetry nearly half a century on, even if a bit of liberty would have to be taken over Hungaria as they no longer exist, however they are now part of Wellington United which is the name (sorry club) that the Wellington Phoenix U20's play under during the winter. But then I discovered the game took place at Newmarket Park in Auckland so that really ended all that idea then! However this was historic as it was the first time since NZF introduced the franchise model for the National League in 2005 that traditional clubs are allowed into the league.

Easterns Suburbs recently published history
From their foundation in 1934 out of the merger of Glen Innes and Tamaki United, Eastern Suburbs have always been a big club. They were successful as well winning the Auckland championship 8 times and the Chatham Cup 5 times before becoming a foundation member of the National League in 1970. They finished runners up in that first season losing out on goal average to Blockhouse Bay, the next season they were champions. 

After this they were surpassed by near neighbours Mt Wellington (whose Bill Mckinlay Park they will be using for home games this season) and spent the following years in the lower reaches of the National League until they were relegated in 1979. since then the club have been in the Northern League, dropping down as far as Division 3 on 2 occasions, before rebuilding and establishing themselves as a Northern Premier League team in the 2000's. This was capped off in the 2015 season where they won the double of the Northern Premier League and the Chatham Cup (for the 6th time) and were accepted by NZF as one of the two expansion clubs for the Stirling Sports Premiership.

For their first game back in the National League they were up against the Wellington Phoenix U20's. This is a partly confusing moniker especially as they had Lewis Italiano, Dylan Fox & Ryan Lowry starting and these guys are all over 20. Why they don't call themselves the reserves or the Weenix as the fans call them I don't know.

Ollie Whyte heading
Eastern Suburbs have recruited well and are being picked as a top 4 finisher, they had beaten Auckland City in a pre-season game and I was expecting them to see off the Weenix fairly easily. The Weenix obviously hadn't read that script and were playing well, especially Ollie Whyte in the middle of the park. It was a pretty even 1st half, the Weenix did get the ball into the net just before half time but Max Mata's effort was ruled offside.

7 minutes into the second half they did open the scoring when Willem Ebbinge latched onto a Jack-Henry Sinclair cross and made it 1-0. Then the Weenix seemed to switch off and Eastern Suburbs made the most of it when when 3 minutes later, Sam Burfoot broke down the right flank and fired a shot from 20 or so meters out, across the goal which found its way inside the far post. 2 minutes later Jack-Henry Sinclair slid to keep the ball out but directed it towards the goal, Lewis Italiano managed to scoop it away from the goal but only as far as the feet of Tim Payne who sent it in to the goal to make it 2-1.

The Weenix then got back into the game and while they probably edged the possession
Eastern Suburbs Silvio Rodic
stats for the rest of the game they never really troubled Eastern Suburbs 6”7' Croatian keeper, Silvio Rodic. It was an impressive performance from them, especially compared to last season, they just need to work on their mental toughness and concentration lapses as Eastern Suburbs showed they will get punished at this level.

Eastern Suburbs weren't as impressive as I'd thought they would be, but it was the first game of the season and they have plenty of quality in their squad and will no doubt be one of the teams in contention for the title come the end of the season.