Waiheke United’s passionate fans will have reasons to be cheerful whatever the result of this weekend’s season defining football clash at Onetangi Sports Park.
Sturdy wooden terraces have been installed on the embankment to provide a more secure footing for the fervent fans who have lent colour and noise to Waiheke’s remarkable footballing ascent. The grandstand will be available for the club’s biggest home match of the season this Saturday, against Fencibles United.
Made up largely of South American expats, the team has risen from the lower ranks of Auckland club football in recent seasons, encouraged by its colourful fan club, La Banda del Pipazo. Now playing at regional level for the first time, Waiheke are unbeaten in division two after 12 matches and well-placed for promotion.
Three draws have left them slightly adrift of the only other unbeaten team in the league, Fencibles, who they play on Saturday.
With a big crowd expected, embankment spectators will be able to sit comfortably instead of struggling for footing. The grandstand also features a “bandstand” area for La Banda’s drummers and chanters.
Installing the facility at the council-owned sports park has been a triumph of club spirit over bureaucratic indifference – the council turned a deaf ear to funding pleas. So the fans and club raised around $2000, coach Nick Saunders says.
Construction has been overseen by club founder and stalwart Geoff Bilbee, a master builder, who credits Waiheke Placemakers for their generous support.
The stand can seat 125 people – Geoff has his own seat reserved in the back row – while the bandstand area can accommodate up to 50 people standing. Steps and a footpath leading up to the stand are next on the agenda while there’s room to extend if the team continues to deliver on the field.
Division two leaders Fencibles have 37 points from 13 games – their only blemish a draw at home against Waiheke earlier in the season. Waiheke have 30 points from 12 games. While they sit well clear in second place, a win is essential if they hope to win the division. Kick off is at 2.45pm. • Geoff Cumming