To many outsiders, Putaruru Rangers have defied all manner of sporting logic.
In a town of 4,000 people, and in the rugby-mad district of South Waikato, there would be far easier places to set up a football club.
Surrounded by larger towns, all with thriving football clubs of their own, Putaruru players could easily join well-established clubs such as Tokoroa, Rotorua, Cambridge, Matamata or any of those in Hamilton, less than half an hour’s drive from the town.
But they don’t. They proudly play for a club that had 33 registered players in 2021. The youngest is 17; the oldest is 58.
The club fielded two men’s teams in Waikato competitions and has aspirations to form a women’s team. The club supports junior football through local schools. And the club fiercely represents the town.
One of the keys to Rangers’ success was a gem of a man, an immigrant from the North of England, Derek Roberts.
To many, he was the beating heart of Putaruru Rangers, a club he cherished for more than 40 years.
He died in late September, aged 86, leaving behind a community that knew the part he had played in ensuring locals had a club they could call their own.
Sharing the news of his death, the club’s statement described Roberts as their ‘patriarch’ and said:
“Derek was the heart of our football club. He has been a big part of it for at least the last 40 years.
“He kept the club alive through lean times and was very attentive at keeping the club on track and up to date with WaiBOP.
“Many of you will know him from our games and he attended WaiBOP meetings on our behalf for many years.
“His passion for the sport was always evident. Derek was always on the sideline with his clipboard or a line flag. His help and experience was always gratefully received.
“Derek was a part of the team that built the original Putaruru Rangers Football & Sports building. He remembered many happy Housie nights fundraising. He was the only constant our club had.
“Derek’s countless volunteer hours with the Putaruru football community, his support and friendship will be incredibly missed.”
Friends of Football chair Josh Easby, a former secretary at Cambridge FC, said he could always count on Roberts to turn up at WaiBOP Football meetings to ensure one of the region’s smallest clubs had a voice, and would know what was happening at a wider level.
“His passion for the game was evident. Whenever Rangers played at Cambridge, he’d be there, making sure the players were kitted out and ready for action. And he always had a smile on his face.
“The word ‘grassroots’ is overused and often misunderstood in football. But if you wanted someone who personified what grassroots means, there’s Derek.”
In 2018, Roberts was honoured at the Mercury South Waikato District Sports Awards when he was awarded a long service medal by Sport Waikato, acknowledging his four decades of service to football.
Rangers have offered to forward any messages from the football community to the Roberts family – please email [email protected].
Roberts’ life was to be celebrated at Putaruru Rugby Club on Wednesday September 29 at 2 pm.
In lieu of flowers, the family have asked for any donations to be made to the Rangers, who will pass them on to the family, who will donate them to a charity of their choice.
Putaruru Rangers AFC 02-0408-0029798-001
Main photograph courtesy of Putaruru Rangers FC.