Wellington Phoenix players running drills with local children. PHOTO/JADE CVETKOV

JAKE’S TAKE

JAKE BELESKI
jake.beleski@age.co.nz

The football was entertaining, but the events that occurred during halftime of Tuesday’s match between Wairarapa United and the Wellington Phoenix is what will stick in my mind for a long time.

The match at Memorial Park in Masterton was not just a top-quality sporting fixture, but also a wonderful reminder of how sport can bring a community together.

I’d hate to try and guess the exact number, but I think it would be safe to say hundreds of children took to the field to have their chance to try and score a goal while the teams were off the turf.

The line of children waiting to have their shot at glory stretched down the majority of the park, and that was something special to see.

Led by injured United star Paul Ifill and some of the other players, the children got to experience something they may never forget.

It was a small gesture, but one that will not be quickly forgotten.

Giving free entry to children would undoubtedly have reduced the money made from ticket sales for the match, but that decision was a master stroke.

There were families and spectators of all ages taking in the match, and the atmosphere was unlike anything experienced at a United match this season.

Part of that could be put down to the Phoenix and their willingness to engage with the public, while having the Sir Brian Lochore Stand open again obviously played a big part.

With plenty of big sporting events coming up in the next few weeks, it is a great opportunity for Wairarapa residents to get in behind their teams and show how important sport is to the region.

United will host Birkenhead United in a Chatham Cup quarterfinal at the same venue early next month, and with the main stand open there is no reason they should not get a wealth of support behind them.

It is rare to have events of that magnitude in Wairarapa, especially when it comes to national competitions.

Memorial Park will also host the club rugby finals next weekend, and the Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Union will be thrilled the stand is open to the public once again.

The four teams left in the premier division are incredibly well-matched, and whoever makes it through to next week’s final should be ready to put on a show.

There is also a chance the Dalefield men’s and women’s teams will be hosting play-off matches at Clareville, and that venue must feel like a cauldron to visiting teams at the best of times.

The atmosphere plays such a vital role in making any sporting event memorable, and now it is up to the people of Wairarapa to play their part.