Turf wars as new club gains toe-hold

Rodney District Sports has around 20 football teams and says it is struggling to get enough local fields to play on.

There is a new sports club in town offering football to local players, which members say has brought it into conflict with the Northern Football Federation and established club Hibiscus Coast AFC.

The club, Rodney District Sports & Community Association (Rodney Sports), has a key point of difference – it uses sponsorship to offer sport free of charge, including uniforms and equipment, for players up to the age of 17. Rodney Sports has been based at Metro Park in Millwater for around four years and has more than 500 members. It plans to partner with other clubs to provide a wide range of sports to young people.

Founder and spokesperson Colin Roberts is passionate about providing free access to sport.

“Cost is a tremendous barrier to participation,” he says. “So many kids can’t afford boots, let alone fees.

Taking that barrier away gets kids off the street and gives them opportunities.”

Rodney Sports is not affiliated with the governing body Northern Football Federation (NFF), but through a partnership agreement with Puhoi Sports Club, Rodney Sports teams have access to the affiliated football competition. This is a sore point.

Colin says the group was told it could apply for affiliation once it had more than 120 members, but once it ticked that box the NFF indicated that if it applied, it would be rejected.

An NFF spokesperson disputes this, saying that it signalled in 2017 that it would be difficult to support applications for new clubs, due to the existing number of member clubs, finite availability of facilities, decreasing number of club volunteers and the financial pressures facing clubs.

Its board went on to resolve last year that it would not consider applications for new clubs within this region, for those same reasons.

The relationship between the two organisations has soured as a result.

“All we get is barriers. There is room for more clubs but we are being blocked,” Colin says.

He also says that Rodney Sports teams are not allocated enough fields for their needs. Fields with lights are vital for weekday training.

Currently, the club has two pitches at Metro Park with lights one night a week and also uses Red Beach park two nights a week. It pays the Hibiscus Hockey Trust to use the turf on Thursday nights.

“Everyone is getting training, but it’s a juggle, with sometimes 11 teams playing at once on two pitches.”
Colin says it is frustrating to see pitches not being used that have been booked for Hibiscus Coast AFC to train on.

“We just want a fair deal,” he says.

Fields are booked through Auckland Council. Head of area operations – community facilities, Julie Pickering, says organisations such as the NFF submit applications for sports grounds, which include the number of teams registered within a club.

“We allocate training fields with lights to the clubs according to their requests and these numbers,” she says. “Following this, if there are parks that have free allocation and no bookings we try to accommodate clubs that are not affiliated with the regional sports organisation. If there are multiple applications for one field, we ask clubs to spread their training across other fields. We receive Rodney Sports’ bookings via the Puhoi Football Club,” she says.

However, Rodney Sports lays many of the issues around field allocation at the door of the Hibiscus Coast AFC, which it says has the lion’s share of fields this season.

Established in 1974, Hibiscus Coast has 103 football teams and access to eight fields around the area, as well as the five at its Stanmore Bay base.

President Scott Beard says as a result of Covid-19, some players pulled out and the club has not needed its full allocation.

“We have worked with the only other affiliated club in the area, Puhoi, and Council, and given up a field at Metro Park with lights for Puhoi to use. With the growth in the area, the establishment of a new sports club here will come down to field availability, which is for Council to deal with,” he says.

“We just have to make sure as a club that we follow the rules and provide our members with the opportunity to participate and enjoy the game.”

Rodney Sports this month sought the support of the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board for resource allocation at Metro Park East.

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