FLASHBACK: Pita Rabo heading home the winning Chatham Cup goal passed Napier City Rovers goalkeeper Shaun Peta in 2011. PHOTO/FILE

FOOTBALL

CHRIS COGDALE

How important is Wairarapa United to the Wairarapa sporting scene? And how important is it that Wairarapa United stay in the Central League?

From my perspective: Very important.

Despite their parlous position at the bottom of the Central League where relegation beckons, and regardless of what other sporting codes might claim, the team have been the lamplighter for local sport for more than a decade.

United won promotion to the Central League in 2008, with a 7-1 thumping of Stop Out in a promotion-relegation match at Hutt Park, Lower Hutt.

The main recollection of that victory was not the red-carding of the Stop Out goalkeeper for a late and reckless tackle on a United player, but the poor sportsmanship and absolute bitterness and contempt in the speech by a Stop Out official after the match.

That attitude is something United have had to tolerate on many of their away trips over the years.

Since their first appearance in the Central League in 2009, United have finished second on three occasions, most recently in 2017.

However, the crowning glory came in 2011. After travelling to Auckland and beating the northern region’s dominant team Bay Olympic 1-0 in an outstanding defensive performance, United set up a Chatham Cup final blockbuster with Central League rivals Napier City Rovers.

More than 3000 supporters swarmed to Palmerston North to witness United claim New Zealand’s most prestigious trophy 2-1. Peter Rabo, sent off against Bay Olympic, went from zero to hero scoring a late match-winner with a brilliant header over goalkeeper Shaun Peta.

Throw in the success of the women’s team, second in the W-League, and two-time winners of the old women’s central league and Capital Premier League, as well as beaten finalists in the national women’s Knockout Cup on three occasions, the club have a mighty proud history.

That brings me to the current team.

In 10th and last place – winless after seven games – United face a potentially fatal relegation if they don’t start picking up points and move ahead of a Wellington United side that has resembled a rabble rather than a Central League football team but are ninth, with one point more than United.

I admire United’s attitude of promoting youth but is that going to be enough to get them over the line and still in the Central League?

What would relegation mean to United, the Paul Ifill Football Academy, from where many of United’s players are based, and the Wairarapa football scene overall?

Just like teams dropping from the English Premier League to the Championship, it is very difficult to come straight back into a very competitive Capital Premier League.

I hope the United team management aren’t putting all their eggs in one basket to try and beat Wellington United in a “winner take all” match at Newtown Park where the match could become a lottery on a heavy field on a wet, windy day — not unusual in mid-July.

Are there the players with the combative attitude in the local league that could add some steel to the team?

Quite possibly.

United must look at every option and do whatever’s necessary to stay up and give our promising young players something to aspire to in 2020 and for many years to follow.