Saturday, December 02, 2006

Down Under

I'm more or less sofa bound this weekend, so you can expect to see quite a lot on here over the next couple of days. With an hour or so to go before the main event of the day, the North London derby, it's time, I think, to start taking a look forward to the World Club Championships. You might be thinking that I'm somehow contractually obliged to start blogging about this seven times every day, but I'm not, as it stands. Reading down the list of entrants, I felt somewhat ashamed of the lack of knowledge that I had about any of the competitors, apart from Barcelona. I have, therefore, been swotting up on all six of them, and will be passing on this information to you lot in handy, bite-sized chunks. For those of you that are unaware, the other competitors taking part in Japan the week after next are Sports Club Internacional (Brazil), Ahly Sporting Club (Egypt), Club America (Mexico), Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC (South Korea) and Auckland City (New Zealand). This morning, we're taking a look at the competition's rank outsiders, Auckland City.

Auckland have qualified from the Oceania section. Reading the word "Oceania" always makes me think of George Orwell's "1984", but this of course is the region that covers Australia, New Zealand, and the outlying islands surrounding them. Auckland qualified without losing a game, but I think that it's fair to say that the assortment of teams that they beat, which included such powerhouses as Marist FC, Nokia Eagles and Youngheart Manawatu, could be regarded as less of a challenge than Arsenal, Benfica and Milan, who Barcelona had to overcome to get to the Champions League final. Quite why FIFA feels that this particular area needs its own qualifiers in this competition is open to suggestion, but for Auckland City, who were founded as recently as 2004, it should at least provide a pay day beyond their wildest dreams.

Their coach, Allan Jones, does have a link which will ensure that, should I get to meet him, we will at least have something to talk about. He was the manager of the Blyth Spartans team that got to the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1978 (they beat Enfield, a team with whom I have a very close affiliation, in round three). He quit Auckland City after the Oceania Club Championships last summer to manage the New Zealand womens team but, having sacked his replacement three weeks ago, have asked him back to take charge of them for the duration of their stay in the tournament. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm guessing that this might not be a particularly long time.

I was more or less immediately enamoured to Auckland City, but how could I not be? Their average crowds seem to fluctuate between about 900 and about 1700. Browsing their online shop, I noted that a season ticket to watch them play costs less than one of their replica shirts (a shirt costs NZ$95, or £33, whilst a season ticket costs NZ$80, or £27.75). True enough, the season ticket only covers you for ten matches, but still... bargain! I scrolled down their squad list with considerable interest, hoping to find someone that I would have heard of - some former non-league clogger who'd given up the nine to five to open a cattle ranch down under, but I was sadly disappointed. There are plenty of players with British backgrounds amongst them (Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday, Aberdeen, Dundee United and Berwick Rangers feature amongst the players former clubs), but I don't think there's anyone here that has turned down a lucrative Premiership contract for a better offer in New Zealand.

There are so few matches between club sides from different continents that it's pretty much impossible to say exactly who will finish where. That said, though, it's a pretty fair assessment to say that I would be surprised if Auckland City finish anywhere other than sixth in this tournament. Still, I will be cheering them on and, should I get to meet Allan Jones, you can expect to see a full interview on here about the time he nearly got a non-league team to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.


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