Waipuna Rangers: From casual kickabouts to Chatham Cup debut

posted in: Chatham Cup, News

By Mathew Nash

The senior men’s team of Waipuna FC have grown from an after-work kickabout in 2019 to making their bow in New Zealand’s most prestigious football competition.

The Chatham Cup is the nation’s longest-running football club competition, and this year New Zealand Football celebrates the traditional showpiece’s 100th year.

But the old jug will have a first-time name in the hat for the centenary edition.

The Bay of Plenty’s Waipuna Rangers are all set for a tournament debut against Pukekohe AFC in the 2023 preliminary round at ANZAC weekend.

It is quite the journey for a team that started as an extremely casual after-work Tuesday night kickabout at the eponymous Waipuna Park in Welcome Bay, Tauranga, in late 2019.

Main photo: Head coach Mark Papworth (far left) and the Waipuna Rangers football team. Photo credit: Mark Papworth.

READ MORE: Prelim round conjures dreams of Chatham Cup glory for lesser-known teams >>>>

While Waipuna have been a staple of the Western Bay’s Sunday Social senior football, as well as having a very successful and well-populated youth and junior programme, they have never had a senior men’s team in WaiBOP’s Bay system — until now.

Through word of mouth, those early Tuesday night sessions, which attracted 7-12 of the more intrepid parent or social player, grew.

Now, lead organiser Mark Papworth has to map out several pitches just to accommodate the huge number of attendees from various abilities, ages, nations and backgrounds hooning around the park every Tuesday evening.

“We initially set it up to try to give the local community some easy access to adult football and some of the non-playing coaches of the kids teams a bit of ‘foot on ball’ time too,” Papworth says.

“Over time, numbers grew, and people enjoyed themselves and came back. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been catering for 60-plus players of mixed ages and abilities.”

With numbers that big, the club began to wonder if a Saturday team might actually be realistic.

‘A group of fellas trying to help each other out …’

After a tentative look into the prospect ahead of the 2022 season, Waipuna finally had a Saturday senior men’s team when they entered the Rangers into the WaiBOP Bay 3/Over-35 competition for the 2023 campaign, with Papworth as head coach.

It’s a rag-tag bunch of guys from around the globe and different age brackets all united in one cause — enjoyment through the beautiful game.

“The Waipuna Rangers has been born out of this mishmash of assorted players,” explains Papworth, who himself is an emergency playing option in times of great need.

“Some of the players had retired from competitive football years back; others had never played 11-a-side football until the beginning of this season.

“On the whole, we’re just a group of fellas trying to help each other out on a football pitch.”

The Chatham Cup … New Zealand’s oldest club competition.

As for entering the Chatham Cup, Waipuna are under no illusions of a potential dream run. The chance to have their name in the hat and enjoy a day out in South Auckland is enough.

“I wouldn’t say we’re ranked at the bottom of the Chatham Cup rankings, but we’re probably in the bottom one,” Papworth jokes.

“But we’ll enjoy our day, and we’re pretty excited to take part in New Zealand’s most prestigious football competition.”

Waipuna’s opponents, Pukekohe AFC, compete in the NRF Community Senior Men’s Division Four. They are yet to kick off their league campaign and have also seen several pre-season friendlies cancelled at the last minute.

The travelling side can therefore take heart from the fact they are already two games into their WaiBOP season. A draw in their first game was followed by a first competitive win, 4-1 over Otūmoetai Gunners, with Beto Reis, Chris Pronk and Rod Pinochet on the scoresheet.

The South Auckland outfit do however have previous tournament experience, returning to Chatham Cup competition for the first time since 2014 on Saturday.

On that occasion, after a preliminary round win over West Hamilton, their cup run ended against Bay of Plenty opposition in a 4-3 First Round loss to Ngongotaha.

The main prerogative, as it always has been with the after-work run-outs since 2019, will be for Waipuna’s players to enjoy themselves. But pulling off a similar feat for the region and putting themselves in the draw for the first round proper wouldn’t hurt.


Game to be played on Saturday April 22, 2023

Chatham Cup

Preliminary round

Pukekohe v Waipuna Rangers
Bledisloe Park, Pukekohe, 2pm

READ MORE: Prelim round conjures dreams of Chatham Cup glory for lesser-known teams >>>>

Mathew Nash

Mathew Nash writes and edits Match of the Bay, a round-up of football news from the Bay of Plenty. This is his first story for Friends of Football. You can read more of his stories here >>>>

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