As Auckland Mayor Len Brown participated in the opening ceremony of the new Clubhouse and Pavilion at Centre Park in Mangere on February 12, it was a dream come true not only for a small group of well-meaning soccer officials but also for hundreds of other officials and players of teams and thousands of soccer fans in New Zealand.
Mr Brown said that it was a proud moment for the community.
“I am sure that this new facility will help bring people together and play great soccer,” he said.
The $2 million Stadium and associated facilities will afford a major opportunity for Soccer clubs and associations to organise tournaments. It would also attract teams from Fiji, Australia, Canada, US and UK where Indo-Fijians have settled over the past three decades.
Mohammed Imran, Chairman of the Mangere Park Sports Association, which will oversee activities in the new Stadium, recalled with nostalgia the circumstances that led to the development of the project and its implementation.
Twelve Year Plan
He held initial discussions for a Stadium almost 12 years ago with a number of soccer veterans including James Kado, Nur Ahmed, Patrick Herman and Ramu Prasad.
“The timing appeared perfect because thousands of Fijians had migrated from their homeland and settled down in New Zealand to start a new life and career, thanks to the New Zealand Government’s decision to waive visa requirements.
“There were hundreds of football enthusiasts who were playing their favourite game either as individuals or as loosely knit teams,” he said.
According to Mr Imran, the formation of two teams (namely Mangere United and the New Zealand Fiji Football Association) at the turn of the Millennium heralded a new chapter in Fiji Football in New Zealand.
The teams played their debut matches in the 2001 League.
“Six years later, they realised their wildest dreams to go from the Third Division to Premier Division and survive. They won the Third Division in 2001, the Second Division in 2002, the First Division in 2003 and were promoted to the Premier ranks in 2004, creating football history in Auckland,” Mr Imran said.
Mangere United managed retained its Premier status, but untoward developments thereafter began to hurt Fijian Soccer.
A fire in September 2005 destroyed the wooden clubhouse, the home of Mangere United and New Zealand Fiji Football Association.
Mr Imran said the ensuing five years were a struggle.
“We lost our Northern League premier status, players and supporters deserted and many clubs in the league did not want to play at Centre Park because it was cold with sweeping winds and without shelter. All that we had was a 6m x 9m tent,” he said.
The fire, though devastating at that time, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
It is from its ashes that the new Stadium has risen, with a host of modern facilities and amenities.
The two-storey facility boasts of a 650-seat pavilion, an upstairs lounge with bar and kitchen facilities and showers and changing rooms on the ground floor.
“No other football club in Auckland has such facilities. We look forward to restart the Northern League,” Mr Imran said.
He said the new Stadium would allow the New Zealand Fiji Football Association would be able to host tournaments without being dependant on others.
“It’s is a new beginning for the Club and the Association,” he said.
“We must acknowledge the support and patronage extended by former Manukau Mayor Sir Barry Curtis, Auckland City Mayor and former Manukau Mayor Len Brown, Deputy Mayor Gary Troup, former New Zealand Football Association Chief Executive and current Mangere Centre Sports Association President Noel Robinson and Apna Radio Managing Director Sahil Shah,” he said.