Special feature: The underdogs who went within 32 minutes of Chatham Cup glory

posted in: Chatham Cup, Heritage, News

As Melville United prepare for their 2023 Chatham Cup campaign, former players recall the Waikato club’s march to the final 20 years ago.

Melville’s improbable 2003 Chatham Cup campaign — featuring an unfancied, slightly shambolic, but uncommonly gregarious team — went within 32 minutes of winning New Zealand’s oldest club competition.

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Main photograph: Coach Paul Nixon with Melville players in the dressing room before the 2003 cup final.

Photo credits: We thank Waikato football photographer Grant Stantiall for the use of his photographs with this story.

The 2003 adventure left United’s players with special footballing memories …

Matt Parkin: “This was the closest team I have ever been a part of… Melville genuinely provided me with some of the best times of my life.”

Sam Wilkinson: “There was no consistency to the way we played. But, for whatever reason the 11 rogue individuals all came together for those cup games.”

Gordon Glen Watson: “I feel a greater sense of affinity with the 2003 team… more than anywhere else I played or coached, because of the craic and sense of fun down there encapsulated by that magical run to North Harbour Stadium.”

Steven Holloway: “In my second year of senior football, I assumed all teams would be like this – so close, so united. None were.”

Jeremy Field: “I can’t remember having more fun in a football team than that year’s team.”

Cole Tinkler: “The great thing about this team was the togetherness. I’ve been in teams that have won stuff or been successful, but have never felt a team environment like that.”

Gavin Douglas: “The vibe was probably the best I have experienced in 30-odd years of footy.”

Eddie Trubshoe: “I feel pretty blessed to have been involved and quickly embraced into the Melville culture and whanau.”

‘A rag-tag bunch of characters’

In 2003, Melville were an unremarkable team in most regards, apart perhaps from their eyebrow-raising convivial off-field disposition, and they stuttered to a finish just one point above the relegation zone in a competitive northern premier league.

But while they had limited football pedigree, on cup matchdays Melville were somehow fuelled by loads of character, camaraderie and self-belief, and they duly embarked on a mazy dribble of self-discovery which took them on a swaggering run past three national league clubs, three other clubs, and all the way to the final before the effervescence and momentum finally stalled.

Melville beat Claudelands Rovers 3-1, Tauranga City United 2-1, Waitakere City 3-2, Western Springs 8-0, North Shore 5-0, Central United 1-0 before losing to Uni-Mt Wellington 1-3 in the final, after having led until the 58th minute.

In retrospect, a lot of the Melville players weren’t that good by contemporary standards. But that was also perhaps a large part of their charm: a slightly rag-tag bunch of genuine-but-flawed gobby-mouthed characters, taking on the world on their own terms.

In the process they captured the imagination of the wider public as most unlikely giantkillers. They were backed by huge travelling support from a host of almost disbelieving Waikato fans, many from other clubs.

It’s just a shame there was no fairy tale ending at North Harbour Stadium after such a captivating run, but in terms of club folklore, the legend lives on.

As coach Paul Nixon remarked after the 5-0 home quarterfinal win over national leaguers and six-times cup winners North Shore United: “These are days we will never forget.”

He’s been proved correct. The players haven’t forgotten, as is evidenced by the comments which follow in this stroll down Memory Lane.

And if, as a Melville fan or former player, you can’t relate to the sentiments, emotions and memories expressed in the ensuing paragraphs, please check your pulse. You may just be dead.

Setting the scene

At the start of 2003 Melville were in a major rebuilding phase. They’d finished the 2002 season in seventh place in the northern premier league (after having been a highly competitive third in 2001) and Steve Williams had stepped down after having coached for 10 of the previous 11 seasons (and even the tail-end of the 11th season).

From the class of 2002 Melville had lost Ross Morley, Chad Coombes, Michael Mayne, Andy Irvine, Ross McKenzie, Marcus Traill, Matt Williams, and Nicolai Helwig, while Neil Mouncher only played the first four games of 2003.

On the credit side, of those who made 18 appearances or more in 2002, they had retained the services of Grant Cooper, Gavin Douglas, Steven Holloway, Daryl Gibbs, Josh Billman, Matt Parkin, and Sam Wilkinson, while Wayne Bates and Declan Edge were also on board.

Tough defender Gordon Glen Watson had arrived from Manawatu and 17-year-old Shane Hooks from Gisborne. Stu Watene returned from Tauranga as a striker after having departed as a left back in 2001 (and having been sub for Tauranga in the 2002 cup final).

Stu Watene.

Watene and Bates had the benefit of having previously experienced a big cup run as part of the famous “Cinderella” Ngaruawahia United team which made the semifinals in 1998.

Jeremy Field (often known as Jeremy Flield for reasons that become apparent later in this tale) shipped in just before the transfer deadline, having also contested the 2002 cup final with Tauranga City United (but having started his senior career with Melville in the North Island League in 1999), as did Vlad Yugov from down south. Young goalkeeper Eddie Trubshoe had come across town from northern league third division Waikato Unicol, where he had been much loved.

Midfielder-defender Cole Tinkler — the 16-year-old baby of the team — was still at school. Having made his Melville debut in 2002, he actually went on to top the 2003 appearances with 28.

On the squad fringes were the likes of Grant Kettle, Luke Baldwin, Brendan Dickinson, Michael Smith, Aaron Scott, Jeremy Prasad, Gerard Hay, Jonathan Keenan and David Samson. Karl Budgen, a New Zealand U17 player in 1999, made two starts and three sub appearances, before transferring to Wanderers.

Nixon had been appointed coach, asked to build on his success in winning the northern youth league the year before with Melville. He’d also briefly been co-coach of Waikato United in the 1996 summer league, though had stepped down after just a handful of games, so this was his first enduring senior gig.

His own Melville playing career had seemingly concluded with 12 appearances in 2000, though he did make one cameo substitute appearance in 2003, aged 39.

In terms of cup pedigree, Nixon had a cup-winner’s medal from 1987 with Gisborne City, where he had scored in the final against Christchurch United.

Former All White Edge had started the season as the senior player in the squad, and assistant coach, playing eight of the first 10 games (mostly in defence), including the first round of the cup.

But as the season unfolded Edge quit playing and steadily morphed into the actual on-field coach, with Nixon assuming more of an English-style managerial role.

The curious couple

They made a curious couple. Both were former English professionals (Bristol Rovers for Nixon and Notts County for Edge), both were former internationals and both could draw on a proud provincial heritage, where they ranked among the most exciting players to have ever graced the game in the Waikato.

So even if their differences were to prove irreconcilable by mid-September, they also had plenty in common. And for a large part of the season they nicely complemented each other. Nixon’s tactical shrewdness and reading of the game was matched by Edge’s eye for organisation and technical detail as they tried to make sense of the rag-tag crew they had assembled.

Edge was also a lot of fun with his quirky football pontifications. Several times during the 2003 run he reported that Melville had invented a new way of playing that nobody could deal with. It was of course bollocks, but even back then nobody ever won an argument with Declan. Within domestic football has there ever been a finer bush philosopher when a team needs to somehow contextualise its over-achievements?

In the background was Ray Pooley — who at his peak had been All White assistant to Kevin Fallon in 1988 and also assistant for the cup-winning Waikato United team the same year — offering a civilising influence as an older, wiser second assistant.

Wilkinson, who was just a smart-mouthed 20-year-old midfielder at the time, but later went on to become a respected coach in his own right (taking Melville to the 2019 cup final) put it this way: “Declan and Nico were an odd combination, but at times it really worked. Declan had great blue-sky thinking and would make us believe we could achieve special things, and Nico would then come in with a dose of really cutting reality. Ray Pooley shuffled around in the background and put out all the fires.”

Watson, a deep-thinking, eloquent character whose journalistic career was just beginning to blossom off the pitch in 2003, agreed: “Declan, Paul and Ray, on their game, were a fantastic trio of coaches to have all in one place. They were all very different, and everyone has their preferences, but there was also a balance to them that worked very, very well, for a time at least.

Watson with his fan club.

“I learned a lot from all of them but Ray Pooley in particular, more along the lines of managing players and complex dynamics under pressure. So much so I took a lot of what I learned from him into what I ended up doing with FIFA in the media space dealing with elite athletes and coaches at the sharp end of winning and losing.

“Treat people with respect, learn about what makes them tick, get the best out of them. Ray was good at that, the very best.”

Douglas: “Having Nico, Declan and Ray as coaches was a hell of a dynamic. Declan was probably at the start of his coaching journey and had some good ideas to get more out of us, from training involving tunnel ball competitions to ball tag.

“He was also challenging us, wanting us not to drink for an hour after the game, Sunday morning trainings, and Sunday morning pool recovery sessions. I remember a very steamed Sam Wilkinson turning up to Gallagher Pools with a handful of us one Sunday morning, including Declan’s boys, pilates sessions for the young guns.”

While the squad was as diverse as any the club has cobbled together, they genuinely seemed to enjoy each other’s company.

Parkin: “This was the closest team I have ever been a part of. If you consider the turnout to the clubs recent birthday, it shows how much that time meant to so many of us.

“Even before the Cup run, we were as thick as thieves. Tuesday night after training, beers at the club. Thursday night after training, beers at the club. After the games, we would head out as a team.

“It wasn’t splintered, it wasn’t groups of 2 or 3 heading out together, it was groups of 10, 11, 12. Everyone was on the same page despite there being a pretty significant age gap across the team. Just a bunch of lunatics having an amazing time together.”

Holloway: “I played in the northern league for 20 years and that 2003 team had the best team culture of any I’ve been with. It felt like the whole squad were best friends – and every weekend we would all socialise together.

“I was 17 and heavily influenced by the older lads like Matt Parkin, Grant Cooper, Sam Wilkinson and Jeremy Field. Looking back, that is not an optimal set of role models for a young man.

“I think the culture came from Nikko. He was the most laid-back coach I’ve had, but also possessed a fierce anger, if ignited. The squad was also full of fun and fury.”

Cup fever — or cup flu at least

Melville’s season start had been unremarkable, and by the first cup round on May 10 — away to Claudelands Rovers — they had managed just one win. Though it was at least a big one, 7-0 at home to a Fencibles United team that went on the be relegated (with a goal difference of 7 the deciding factor).

Rovers were mid-table in the northern league second division so there was an expectation Melville would win, even playing away at Galloway Park. But it was a drab, uninspiring contest on a bumpy pitch, with little of the bite you may have expected from a local derby. And there was little hint of the romance of the cup still to come.

“We played as if we all had the flu,” Edge said. “In my case, I did.”

Holloway gave Melville a 21st minute lead with a header, but diabolical defending allowed Rovers to equalise.

Striker Gibbs put Melville back in front in charging through the middle of the Rovers defence before half time, and then Holloway — who had turned 18 eight weeks earlier — nipped around the keeper to finish a rare flowing move in the second half.

It was this eye for the target that prompted Melville to move Holloway from the centre midfield position he had filled for the first seven games, to the striking role he had played as a schoolboy for most of the rest of the season. He ultimately went on to bag 10 goals in Melville’s cup run, a club record.

Meanwhile, a less appreciated fact of this round of the cup was that a host of Melville youth players starred for Hamilton Boys’ High, with Aaron Scott, Nathan Holten, and LJ Pijnenburg among the scorers as HBHS beat Otorohanga 6-0.

However, being cup-tied was to cost Scott later in the campaign, as he would likely have got some game time as winter progressed, given he’d made five substitute appearances and even scored his first northern premier goal in Melville’s matches prior to the first round of the cup.

Golden goal

Next up, on Queen’s Birthday at home, was national league club Tauranga City United, and unlike the Claudelands Rovers yawn, this was a stirring cup tie, settled by a “golden goal”.

There was a keen rivalry between the clubs at the time, with Tauranga having pipped second-placed Melville for the northern premier league title in 2000, knocked them out of the cup 3-0 in 2001, and then gone on to lose the 2002 cup final (0-2 against Napier City Rovers).

Tauranga were fresh from a tough national league season, coached by James Pamment and boasting players such as Paul Probert, Craig Flowerday, Mark Lourie, Shane Cunliffe, Kevin Manville, Michael Mayne and Geoff Rickard.

It should also be noted that at the time, as well as having a national league presence, Tauranga City United were allowed to run a team (which finished fifth) in northern league division one which gave them extra club depth.

But in their second game of the long weekend (Melville drew 2-2 with Eastern Suburbs on the Saturday with Holloway and Gibbs again scoring) Melville rose to the occasion, coming from behind to register their one and only golden goal victory in any knockout competition.

It ended 10 weeks of frustration for Melville who were third from bottom in the northern premier league at the time, with the match played out in front of the biggest crowd of the season, up until that point.

Melville were horribly outplayed in the first half and it was no surprise when Garry Board gave Tauranga a 21st minute lead.

But a surging second half run from Gibbs set up the equaliser. His shot was well saved, but he had the presence of mind to play the rebound square for Holloway who crashed the ball home to a crescendo of noise.

Then, with three minutes left in extra time, and Nixon drawing up plans for the penalty shootout, Board flattened Watene in the area to gift Melville a spot kick.

In such circumstances, you might reasonably expect one of the senior players to take responsibility for a kick which was going to determine your immediate cup fortunes. But that’s wasn’t the Melville way and Nixon gave the job to young Holloway. With many of his older team mates unable to watch, he sent keeper Richard Pedley the wrong way from the spot.

Steven Holloway.

For Melville, Douglas had a towering game at the back, the uncompromising Cooper had the stamina of a brewery horse and Hooks showed great character, while Holloway took his goal tally to six in five matches.

Douglas: “The belief in the team grew as we beat teams we weren’t expecting to, starting with Tauranga. I remember a Waikato Times reporter hitting me up after the Tauranga game with a throwaway quip about why were we letting the junior players in the team take the penalties.”

Field: “I had transferred from Tauranga and left under messy circumstances after having had a great season for them in 2002 and losing the Chatham cup final for Tauranga.

“Anyway, the 2003 national league season had not gone as well for me at Tauranga and I was keen to re-join Melville and a lot of my closest friends for the winter season. I finished out the national league and thankfully wasn’t cup-tied.

“I added to the cloud of hatred by rubbing a few of the Tauranga people up the wrong way by celebrating the Melville win over Tauranga a little too much, even though I didn’t play.

“When I first joined Melville I wasn’t fit enough and Declan and Nikko’s way of training soon got me up to speed. I loved the training that year. We worked really hard but there was so much fun to be had.

“The quick wit of Wilkinson, Parkin and Coops and their antics, the cool head of Gordy (Glen Watson) was just a great vibe, where everyone was competitive and wanted to work really hard.”

Comeback against Waitakere

In drawing Waitakere (at home) in the next round of the cup, Melville were again underdogs against a team which featured several Football Kingz players, most notably Jason Rowley and Mauro Donoso, while they also had the league’s golden boot, Geoff Gray. Waitakere went on to finish second in the northern premier league.

Just a month earlier Waitakere, coached by Tommy Mason, had beaten Melville 3-0. But at Gower Park on June 22 they were tipped over late in the piece by Melville, who won 3-2 in another thriller.

Melville did it the hard way, twice trailing from set pieces. Douglas hit back when he headed home a Cooper free kick, but Waitakere scored from a corner to lead 2-1 at half time. Then Wilkinson thrashed home a special shot at the northern end to draw Melville level once more.

“It was a goal that probably summed up that campaign,” Wilkinson said. “On a horrendous Gower Park pitch, that shot probably ends up in the car park nine times out of ten, but on that cup run it flew in under the bar.

“Ball looped up on the edge of the box and I’ve smashed a half volley through a crowd of players.”

Sam Wilkinson.

Field then nearly won the match moments later but his long range effort was tipped onto the crossbar as Melville continued to outshine Waitakere.

However, Holloway — whose inclusion in the team had been in doubt up to kick-off with a hamstring niggle — completed another day of joy for Melville with an 88th minute winner

At the time Holloway was employed by former coach Steve Williams, doing gardening work in his herbaceous Casey Ave gully. And with the tie being played on a Sunday afternoon, his most pressing post-match concern was getting permission from Williams to have the Monday off so he could give his undivided attention to another boozy late night celebrating a famous win at Revert Bar, the team’s favoured watering hole in Alexandra St, with his team mates.

“That was a much harder task than scoring the winner,” he said.

Here’s Holloway reminiscing on many of his team mates: “I remember Gav Douglas as this man mountain at the back who never lost a header. Parkin was tidy, but always hung over, Cooper could run forever but was always a good chance to get sent off, Wilky and Flield were both super skilful, slow and mouthy in midfield.

“Tinkler was like a Rolls Royce at the back, Darryl Gibbs was like a human cannonball- barrelling down the wing, Watene had pace, GGW was intimidating, Eddie Trub was our fastest player, Billman played every position, Batesy was a Gav-double but without the anger.”

Watson: “The obliteration of Waitakere City — and then North Shore United — was right up there because of how comprehensive the wins were against top sides with former All Whites.”

The cup-run vibe

By this time, it had become apparent Melville’s off-field vibe was every bit as intoxicating as the beers which were flowing copiously after their cup wins.

Wilkinson: “We obviously had tremendous characters in that team and a real team spirit off the pitch. It was the days of beers on the bus on the way back from every away trip to Auckland. While it probably wasn’t overly conducive to our physical performance, it created a great bond between us, and in the cup run we were able to transfer that to the pitch.

“We were a motley crew of players and staff that had nothing to lose. The banter amongst the group was cutting and unforgiving at times but it gave us a great spirit in those cup games.”

Holloway: “The team was built around a party mood. A bunch of teenagers and young 20-year-olds, the focus was as much on what we were doing post-match as it was the result.

“Now that I think about it, that’s probably why we finished so low on the table. The squad vibe was all about who could pull off the best gag. The ‘obvious game’ was very popular at the time. If we were in the middle of Auckland, you might ask a teammate where the Sky Tower was. If they pointed up, you ‘got them’.

“That was the gag. Sounds stupid, I know. But that stupid little game was at the base of a lot of the laughs.

Watson also has vivid memories of that team humour. “I used to go back to Palmerston North to visit my parents and then go training with Manawatu AFC and the lads there would ask what it was like at Melville. All I could say was it was one of the funniest groups of players I’d ever been involved with.

“The banter was merciless and sharp and if you couldn’t keep up, you were done for. The banter at Manawatu was pretty dry and always had been, maybe because it was an older team. So I found the dressing room craic at Gower Park refreshing, although honestly, sometimes I thought we ****ed about too much.

“But I enjoyed the sense of humour at Melville United. It was fantastic and still is to this day.”

Cole Tinkler.

Tinkler: “My enduring memories were being in the newspaper and getting to sit with the Chatham cup in math class at school. That was ideal for me as a 16 year old as that got me a lot of street credibility at high school.

“As my first full season with the first team, I was exposed to the idea of what away days with the lads could be like. As a wide-eyed kid I was hungry to show my worth on these also.

“Luckily for me (or sadly) it seemed like it was their mission to corrupt my career by sneaking me beers on the bus and exposing me to the local nightlife in Hamilton. There was a high percentage of me getting turned away from all the pubs. But on the odd occasion I managed to slip through the net with a Gav Douglas ID card.”

Douglas: “The vibe was probably the best I have experienced in 30 odd years of footy. Most of the team had been around together for a few years and were all pretty young (except Grant Cooper) so were in that work-hard / party-harder mentality and got on really well as a group.

“There was always a post-match party to be had at someone’s house, followed by a raucous taxi ride into town, drinks at Revert, a couple of back drafts at the Cazbar, then into the Outback for bourbon and cokes and a half cooked sausage. Rinse and repeat the following weekend.

“There is something about lads from Gisborne that was always good craic and added to the team, and a few had rolled through the club about that time, but the likes of Coops, Parky and even a young Hooksy were good value. Hooksy had to have a root canal after he and I were punched in the chops and floored by some black belt at The Loft.”

Trubshoe: “The atmosphere on bus trips never gave us an opportunity to feel down and when cup games came there was just a feeling we could do anything. Jeremy, Sammy, Parkie and Gavin in particular were so good at getting the lads in the mood to enjoy the night, no matter what happened.

“The culture of football has definitely changed post-match, but the beers and laughs with the lads meant we could really celebrate any small or big win, or somehow find a positive in a loss. The lads in the squad really made that season an incredible one for me.”

The biggest win

At home to second division Western Springs in the next round, Melville turned on the style, winning 8-0, their biggest win of the season, to cruise into the final eight in the cup.

Striker Vlad Yugov got his first goal of the cup campaign, and Watene and Cooper grabbed more before half time. Watene then added a spectaular curler for his second and there was time for Holloway to nab his first first team hat trick.

Tinkler, moved to right back for the day supplied two crosses for headers, while the third came from a goalmouth scramble.

Field: “It was one of those beautiful still sunny winter days you get in Hamilton and we just had this supreme air of confidence.

“I just remember everything clicked that day. We seemed just miles fitter and better than them, and we finished everything. Some blinding goals, I think Stevie (Holloway) got a hat trick and I believe that set us up for the rest of the run because it just gave us supreme confidence, despite our league form, and it solidified that we wanted to do really well in the cup.”

New Zealand’s oldest football club competition … and the trophy that goes to the winners.

Dream quarter-final

It was one of the great days at Gower Park as Melville sunk six-times cup winners North Shore 5-0 on Sunday July 20.

In the matchday programme, Nixon wrote (or maybe someone wrote for him):

“Cup football is a time for dreaming, where nothing matters except for the ball hitting the back of the net and off everyone goes on a merry dance of celebrations and the dream continues.

“Never mind the hard work of ploughing through the mud at training time, the constant flow of information about tactics and the game plan.

“The game, today’s game, is all about the players. Is this the biggest game that our players will experience in their time at the club? Only time will tell.

All that I and the backroom team will ask of the players today is to go out and be part of what I am expecting to be a thrilling cup encounter.”

Curiously, if you examine rare photos from the day, while Melville were hosting the first Chatham Cup quarter-final in Hamilton since 1962, they hadn’t even bothered to lower the advertising hoardings on the Gower No 1 pitch.

It was a tell-tale commentary on where the club was at behind the scenes, as one of the biggest crowds the club has ever seen turned up. But on the pitch, the team struck its most compelling form …

Waikato Times match report (July 21, 2003)

Champagne soccer sinks North Shore

Melville United continue to live out an irresistible dream in Chatham Cup soccer.

The Metro Motors-sponsored team surged into the semifinals of the knockout competition for the first time in their history, humbling six-times Cup winners North Shore United at Gower Park in Hamilton yesterday.

It wasn’t so much the margin of victory, or even the historic nature of their achievement that made the win so special, as the infectious manner in which they claimed their place in the final four.

While Central United, Uni-Mt Wellington and Lower Hutt battled into the semis at the weekend, Melville progressed with champagne football and a hint of a swagger.

This Melville team is still too young and inexperienced to be considered anything but an underdog in the semifinals, but you pity the team that draws them tonight.

Shore boasted three Football Kingz signings for the 2003-04 season in Mark Beldham, Riki Van Steeden and Chad Coombes.

But on this showing, it is Melville that should perhaps think about contesting the Australian national league.

Shore had little answer to the fluid play of the young Melville team before a crowd of about 1000 at Gower Park.

“These are days we will never forget,” said Melville coach Paul Nixon — after admitting he had hardly slept all week.

“Sometimes you have to be humble as a coach, but what we saw today was absolutely brilliant.

“Left back Grant Cooper is playing at a level that is superb. We saw trickery from Cole (Tinkler) out there that you wouldn’t see in the English premiership and Steven (Holloway) has taken van Steeden to the cleaners.

“But most of all we are playing as a unit.”

His assistant Declan Edge was even more forthright.

“That was a mauling,” he said. “We have outclassed them in all spheres becuase we are playing a brand of football that has not been seen in this country before. It suffocates teams and they cannot cope.

“We’ve scored more goals than anybody and are not conceding.”

Holloway took his tally to 10 in five cup rounds with a goal in each half.

And 20-year-old Sam Wilkinson added two glorious second-half strikes in which he twice went around the keeper. Shore also coughed up an own goal.

Holloway opened the scoring in the 28th minute when his low shot from outside the box caught Shore keeper Roy Bell by surprise as it cannoned in off the post.

Six minutes into the second half Josh Stick back-headed a Jeremy Field free kick into his own net – Matt Parkin gleefully patted him on the head – and Wilkinson made it 3-0, running through after clever build-up work from Field and Holloway.

Holloway added the fourth from the penalty spot after Field had been brought down in the box.

Shore striker Tim Stevens was sent off in the 80th minute after punching Melville left back Cooper, and later announced his retirement.

Meanwhile, Wilkinson completed the scoring in the 87th minute, played in by Holloway.

‘We literally just ran over the top of them’

Douglas: “My manager at work hit me up the day after the North Shore game asking what I was up to on the Saturday night — as one of his clients from council had seen me out in town the night before the game.

“The All Blacks had played Wales at Waikato Stadium on Saturday night. I had a few non-footy mates come to the game and stay the night, so they wanted to go into town afterwards.

“I snuck away about midnight, but jumped the queue on Hood St into this guy’s taxi. His client was at the game the next day (we played on Sunday) and was impressed I backed up Saturday night out with a demolition of North Shore.”

Parkin: “The North Shore game was where I think everyone thought we had a chance of winning the cup. Beating them 5-0 was incredible. We literally just ran over the top of them.”

Tinkler: “We played some of the best football I can remember that day. And I think that was the best I had played. I guess when you’re 16 you sort of go into those games with no fear as you are blissfully unaware of the players you are coming up against, but the names in that North Shore team stood out.

“So I took it as a great opportunity to test myself against those names that I remembered from watching the Kingz on tele.”

Trubshoe: “When I think of the cup campaign the first memory that stands out was playing against North Shore at home. There was a packed and vocal crowd, and I had friends who weren’t into footy come down and cheer us on while we were massive underdogs.

Eddie Trubshoe.

“Then with us getting to 3-0 and I’m just just thinking how good we were playing. There was no pressure and we could just enjoy the occasion. We’d outplayed this incredible team….and then after that, added a couple more goals.

“On the field it didn’t feel like we were ever under any pressure and were playing at a level I never thought I’d be involved with.”

Wilkinson: “We just seemed to come alive in cup games and our performances went up to a level that we were unable to get close to in the league.

“I remember completely outplaying North Shore at Gower in the quarterfinals. They were a strong national league team at the time and it felt like we just blew them off the pitch.

“We were very much off-the-cuff as a side and didn’t have a great deal of organisation. Me and Flieldsy played in central midfield together and we basically just used to run all over the pitch trying to do what ever we wanted with and without the ball.

“Probably explains why we weren’t great in the league that season as there was no consistency to the way we played. But, for whatever reason the 11 rogue individuals all came together for those cup games.

“At 5-0 up against North Shore we were running around winding up their players – Mark Beldham, Tim Stevens etc. We were quite gobby when we got going in those games.”

“We got good crowds at Gower for that run-in. I scored two against North Shore and scoring in those big cup games was a real buzz.”

Field: “Again, another nice cool crisp day similar to Springs and we had that same air of invincibility as we stepped out to play. Declan and Nikko had us playing quite a short passing game which really suited me and I remember just feeling that we would definitely win. Sam got two and Stevie got two and I’d like to say I got the other one, but I think it was an own goal.”

Watson: “One thing I’d never really seen in football before was the quality of our sledging during a game. Sam Wilkinson was the best and Gavin Douglas was the bluntest.

“Sam was brilliant, unplayable, during the middle of that cup run and he had some amount of smack talk that undid (North Shore’s) Tim Stevens, Riki Van Steeden and probably Mark Beldham as well.

“Gav’s patter was blunt by comparison. He wasn’t trying to be Shakespeare, he would just give it to opponents straight, which is how he played as well.

“Jezza (Jeremy Flield) was like a mirror of Sammy, so if he was having a good game, his patter would be next level. The pair of them, on their day, were unplayable.

“I suppose if anything it went too far at times. Look at where we were in the league for most of the season, the league table doesn’t lie. We would win a Chatham Cup game and the self-belief would be through the roof but then drop stupid points somewhere like Ellerslie.

“We were never consistent until we really kicked on in the cup run – and then after all that ended, back to being bang average.”

Melville United after their win against Tauranga City.

Semi-final time and glory beckons

Next up were Central United, who had finished two points shy of winning the national league, so were a good team.

Field: “The draw was done on the radio. Of the four teams remaining (Lower Hutt and Uni-Mt Wellington were the others) we just didn’t want Central away and I can remember the disappointment of hearing the draw.”

But even away at Kiwitea St, Melville took it in their stride with a pulsating 1-0 win …

Waikato Times match report (August 3, 2003)

Melville charge into the cup final

Somebody should start measuring up for a new trophy cabinet at Gower Park this week.

Because on the strength of Melville United’s astonishing Chatham Cup soccer run, which saw them roll national league aristocrats and competition favourites Central United 1-0 in semi.0-finals in Auckland yesterday, there is no reason why they can’t now go the whole way and beat 2001 winners Uni-Mt Wellington at North Harbour Stadium on August 17.

This fairy tale, in which Melville have cut a swathe through the cream of New Zealand soccer, is as compelling as anything Hans Christian Andersen ever dreamed up.

The supposedly unfashionable Metro Motors-sponsored side again made a mockery of their inexperience, youth and underdog status with yet another win against the odds at Kiwitea St.

“Unbelievable, ” said Melville coach Paul Nixon. “We’ve taken a bunch of young lads from Gower Park right to the top level of New Zealand soccer.

“This is a very special occasion, but it’s almost getting out of control. The lads don’t realise what they are achieving.”

Melville did not display the flair of the victories over North Shore or Waitakere, but showed a steely determination in defence and a passion the home team could not match.

They were also buoyed by a remarkable travelling “Red Army” which transformed Central’s ground into an Auckland version of Gower Park.

They were rewarded by a classic goal in the 58th minute.

Centre back Cole Tinkler — destined to become perhaps the first schoolboy to play in a Chatham Cup final — picked up the ball deep in defence. He set off on a jinking run only a 17-year-old would dare attempt, dancing through three tackles, then clipping an inch-perfect ball behind the Central defence.

Stu Watene sprinted onto it and steered it just inside the post, to spark huge celebrations.

“Are you North Shore in disguise, ” Melville fans gleefully chanted.

It was redemption for Watene, who had earlier fluffed Melville’s best chance. In the seventh minute, Steven Holloway bamboozled defender Paul Vodanovich — Nixon called it his favourite moment of the match — and squared the ball for Watene.

But with the goal at his mercy, he hit tamely, and the chance was lost.

In previous ties, Melville attackers have been the heroes. This time it was the defenders. Skipper Gavin Douglas towered above them all and Grant Cooper — the only Melville player aged over 25 — was typically staunch.

At the final whistle, hundreds of Melville fans invaded the pitch to share a very special moment with the players.

“We are Melville,” they cheered. “Mighty, Mighty Melville.”

Celebrations at Kiwitea St.

‘The flares and drums were amazing’

Trubshoe: “Beforehand, leaving Gower Park for that semifinal, we had Melville people there to see us off. Declan used the occasion to read out a fan letter a 7-year-old Steve (Holloway) had sent to him and it was gold as well.

“At Kiwitea St, it felt like we had more supporters than them. In an even hard-fought battle, the boys ran themselves into the ground. Melville fans were cheering everything, and when the whistle went there was just this feeling of ‘what have we done?’

“I got my moment, just like the Shore game, when I could take a minute and just soak in the atmosphere and it was incredible. We’d had some amazing wins and battles before that, but this felt like no matter how much effort or skill Central had, no matter how hard they tried, we were always going to give more effort, be more skilful and try harder.

“I remember for the first time singing (or my version of singing) more than one sing-along footy song, and of us packing out Kiwitea St clubrooms with Melville people.”

Douglas: “Before the game in the changing rooms (manager) Rory Noorland pipes up with ‘even Budgie has come up to watch us!’ as our team mate from earlier in the season, Karl Budgen, walked past the changing rooms.”

Matt Parkin.

Parkin: “Central was next level. The crowd around that tiny ground looked massive. The flares and the drums were amazing. The performance was amazing. Front to back we matched a team that on paper should have pumped us. In terms of experience, it eclipsed the final. Just an incredible 12 hours.”

Wilkinson: “We really looked forward to those cup games and felt like we could upset anyone on our day. It was always excitement rather than nerves in the build-up to those games.

“The Central semifinal sticks out in my memory because we took a big group of vocal supporters to Kiwitea St and on the way home, I think every one of them stopped in at Muddy Waters. It basically turned into the Melville clubrooms.

“As for the bus trips themselves — I probably can’t go into too much detail about what used to go on as most of the lads are now family men with decent jobs. (This is code for the fact SAM is now a family man with a decent job. — author.)

“But it’s safe to say, when Matt Parkin, Grant Cooper and Gav Douglas are the ‘senior heads’ in the group it’s going to be carnage.

“It was an amazing cup run with a great group of lads. We all caught up last year at the club jubilee and it was like nothing had changed. Those friendships probably outweigh anything we did on the pitch.”

Watson: “The celebrations after beating Central United were incredible… the joy of our supporters jumping the boards and celebrating. I don’t think I’ve been happier on or off a football pitch.” (Gordy hasn’t — author.)

Field: “The semi-final day itself was amazing. So many supporters travelled up and they really helped us get through that last 20 minutes of defending our lead. It was a massively tough game.

“Stu scored from a Tinkler through ball. Tinks had been instructed by the coaches he could step into midfield a few times per half to give us an overload there and he was so technically good he made a difference when he did that.

“The other thing about that game was just the running! I was fit by now and I can remember Sam and I absolutely chasing shadows in midfield but we worked and worked to defend that lead. Everyone did!

“Tinks and Gav were immense at the back as was Ed Trub in goal and we definitely rode our luck, but we weren’t going to give up that lead.

“After the final whistle, I was absolutely finished but just so happy to have beaten the favourites at their place. A great bus trip followed and a signature night out as a team.”

Douglas: “Beating Central was our final. Being under the pump for large parts of the second half and Eddie pulling off a couple of worldies to keep us in front was gold.

“I’d given Stu Watene a bollocking early on against North Shore because of what I perceived as him not trying hard enough. He had good games after that. The team pile-on after Stu scored the winner against Central was a hell of a moment and a good feeling.”

Holloway on the scenes at Kiwitea St and bus ride back to Gower Park: “So much joy, so much fun, so much booze. In my second year of senior football, I assumed all teams would be like this – so close, so united. None were.”

Parkin again: “The bus trip back from the Central game has left the longest lasting impression on me. Everyone was buzzing after the game and the atmosphere on the bus was something else.

“The booze flowed, the drinking games kicked off and there was definitely some nudity, and not just the standard Grant Cooper and Gav Douglas-type nudity. Everyone met back at the club, including the supporters, and a massive night was had. It is still spoken about today fondly among some of the lads.”

The Chatham Cup final


Game played on August 17, 2003

North Harbour Stadium, Albany, Auckland

Melville United 1 (Stu Watene 4′)
University-Mt Wellington 3 (Joe Waugh 58′, Heath McCormack 75′, 88′)


Eddie Trubshoe, Josh Billman, Cole Tinkler, Gavin Douglas (C), Matt Parkin, (Vlad Yugov 79 min), Daryl Gibbs (Gordon Glen Watson 65 min), Jeremy Field, Sam Wilkinson (Shane Hooks 65 min), Grant Cooper, Stuart Watene, Steven Holloway. Coach: Paul Nixon. Assistant: Declan Edge. Manager: Rory Noorland.

University Mt Wellington

Tamati Williams; Tim Broadhurst, Kara Waetford, Andrew Griffiths; Heath McCormack, Stefan Hollard, Sean Douglas, Theary Thou (Paul Bunbury 43′); Tetsumasa Kimura, Joe Waugh (Craig Ashton 90′), Daniel Ellensohn (Aaron Root 85′).


Derek Rugg

This was the first time since the national league had begun in 1970 that the final was contested between two regional league clubs.

While Mt Wellington may have been a northern premier league peer of Melville’s on the surface, “closer examination showed a marked similarity to the East Auckland team which contested the national league final earlier in the year,” according to the 2004 New Zealand Soccer Annual.

So here a cup final was poised to further embrace the romance of giant slaying, the victory of David over Goliath – except it never quite panned out that way.

Nevertheless, Melville struck first. In the fourth minute Holloway flicked a first time ball behind the Uni-Mount defence and Watene ran through and buried it to spark wild celebrations from Melville’s red army of fans.

But Uni-Mount equalised in the 58th minute and then Heath McCormack added two late goals. Melville were shattered while uni-Mt Wellington claimed the cup for the seventh time, to become the most successful club in the cup’s 80-year history to that point.

Douglas: “The Waikato Times had organised a photo shoot for the front page of Saturday’s edition of the Waikato Times (day before the game). In the photo shoot was Jonno Gibbs (captain of Waikato Rugby), the captain of Waikato Pistons/Titans basketball team, and me. All three of us lost.”

Wilkinson: “I wish we’d won the final, but in hindsight, it was probably a game too far. No disrespect to Uni Mt-Wellington, but they weren’t as good as some of the teams we’d beaten along the way. We just weren’t able to harness the same energy and level of performance in the final.

“Personally, I’d been missing games with a hamstring injury in the build-up and wasn’t really fit for the final. I was crap in that game.

“I think Fieldsy had also been sick all week leading up to the game — they brought Paul Bunbury on in centre midfield after 25 minutes and neither of us got near him. He wasn’t the most mobile, but he could play and took control of the game. I think they gave man of the match to Kara Waetford but Bunbury was the one that took the game away from us.

“We were a team that needed all 11 players playing at their maximum and that didn’t happen in the final. I don’t know if there’s anything in particular we could have done differently – we played in the final like we were playing most weeks in the league… that was actually our level.

“We stayed over in Auckland the night before — that was maybe one mistake we made. I thought we should have kept the same routine we’d had in the previous rounds. That said, in 2019 (Melville cup final v Napier City Rovers) I made sure we travelled on the day of the game … and we still lost.

“I didn’t enjoy the final, I knew I wasn’t fit and that lingered in my mind. I didn’t play well and lost, so there’s not much to take from that. But I won about $300 at poker the night before in the hotel – that was the only positive for me from a personal level.”

However, Wilkinson described the support at the final as incredible. “It was amazing to see the whole Waikato Football community get behind us. I definitely had a sense of letting everyone down at full-time.”

Melville supporters enjoy themselves at North Harbour Stadium.

Parkin: “I don’t think we should have stayed overnight in Auckland. We didn’t do it for any of the other games so why change a routine that was working? We had to share rooms so rather than being in a nice comfortable bed at home I had to listen to Grant Cooper snoring.

“Because we were in Auckland so early it felt like we spent the day waiting for the game to happen. Not the usual two hours before kick off.

“JK (Jonathan Keenan) was a good addition to the match day squad, especially from a shower perspective.

“But it was a weird day. North Harbour pitch was ****ing massive but it was super heavy on one flank. The game had a weird tempo to it initially. Although we were 1-0 up it never felt like we were in control. We never got into the rhythm we had in the previous games.

“The trophy ceremony was indifferent. I remember looking at others in our team and seeing them cry and I wasn’t in that head space.

“The changing room was a weird mix. Some dealing with it well, some crying, some cracking jokes, some sitting silently.

“Not being able to drink on the buses was dog shit. Having the team on the same bus as some of the supporters was a bad call too. We should have had all the team on the same bus back.

“I remember being at Muddy Waters on the way back home after the final and they had the Cup Final on. We watched it as a team, up 1-0 at half time and then got them to turn the game off. Kind of funny but also slightly cathartic at the time.”

‘The game was pretty much a blur’

Trubshoe: “Thinking back, it was maybe just one game too far for the lads, but fuck me, the heart and passion they had running themselves to a standstill during the second half into the wind at North Harbour really set a standard for effort.

“Personally, it was pretty emotional knowing I went to Melville to have a crack because my dad passed away the year before, and I thought I owed him one more shot at playing at a top level and having my family in the crowd really increased every emotion.

“The game is pretty much a blur, but thinking back and being proud of what we did makes me think of the day with fond memories. The buses, the fans, the sea of red and their feeling of hope but not expectation is something that would be hard to replicate anywhere else.

“I’m really proud that such an incredible club like Melville holds our squad in high regard. At the time, we were a mix of young and experienced lads playing footy games, working hard, and enjoying the moments.”

Trubshoe also expressed a more esoteric rearview-mirror regret: “Apart from saving the three goals (at least two), I wish I’d better understood the context of the cup. I’d only played I think two games for Unicol in the cup before that, so I never understood how impactful the run was on the club and for us as players.”

Watson: “The Melville United support was incredible. The support from the wider Waikato football community was also amazing which was surprising because I’d never known it to be so parochial and tribal as it was in Hamilton football circles.

“Everyone seemed to be behind the club which was great. Walking out the tunnel and seeing the red jerseys and flags was tremendous and those are still some of my favourite photos of the day.

“But the dynamics within the team weren’t great among the coaches and that had an effect on preparation. You can’t hide from that. The last thing you need, especially in a group of young players, is for things to not be right elsewhere because you know it’s going to be tough against an experienced team like Uni-Mount who had won the Cup three years previously.

Jeremy Field.

“I think the other thing that made me go ‘hang on, wait a minute’ was when Jeremy Field saw his kit with his surname (Flields) mis-spelt. That was a serious, serious, gaffe, and although you can shrug it off and laugh about it, then and even now, I saw it as a major “minor” detail that you have to get right, especially with a player and personality like Jezza who was at his best when he was in a good space.

“He wasn’t in a good space when he saw that and I can’t say I blame him, I wouldn’t have been, either. You don’t win football matches with those sorts of details, sure, but it helps. It wasn’t a good omen if you believe in that sort of thing. I can’t imagine any international player I’ve subsequently worked with laughing that one off.

“By the way, I ended up with that jersey. Dan Field wore it to training when I was coach at Ngaruawahia United and I asked him for it and he duly obliged.

Parkin again: “Jezza’s shirt was a debacle, but hilarious to look back on.”

Field: “The biggest thing for me was that I was full of flu the week leading up to the final. I was drinking cold and flu drinks exclusively and even the night before when we stayed up at the motel I was in doubt whether I should play.

“On the morning of the match I felt closer back to normal so said to Dec and Nikko I was keen to go for it.

When we got changed, the new kit had my name misspelled, FLIELDS instead of FIELD. I guess Webby (club secretary John Webb) had had one too many the night he did the ordering.

“I know Gordy thinks that affected me, but I don’t remember it that way. I was a bit of a primadonna, so made my dissatisfaction known.

“But actually once we were kitted up I didn’t think about it again. Till this day Batesy and a few other still call me Flields or Flieldsy.

“The final itself started well. Probably too well with us going up 1-0 in the 4th minute. I always think it may have been too early to score, as it then bought the idea of just hanging in to the lead rather than going to get a second and third into our heads and we were an attacking team and best when we had the ball.

“But I remember thinking we had the best of the first half. I made one nice pass to Coops but other than than didn’t have my finest game.

“In the second half they changed to a 4-3-3 I think and Paul Bunbury came into deep midfield and started to pull the strings. Both Wilko and I struggled to close him down and he started to control the game by sending lots of balls in behind our back four. Joey Waugh had a good game and the goals he scored were well taken.

“I remember being 2-1 down and Wilko screaming at me at a corner, ‘come on Fieldy, we don’t lie down’ or something to that affect which rallied me. But I do think Uni-Mt Wellington got it right that second half. They nullified our attacking threats and we weren’t able to get on top.

“A disappointing end to a great cup run. We dealt with it by getting drunk and having a good night out.”

‘It became a bit of a war …’

Watson again: “As for the game, the first half went our way. What else can you say, we looked comfortable, and the game plan was going well. I sometimes wonder what a second goal would’ve done for us in the first half – perhaps forced them to come out a bit more in the second and then we could’ve gone to 4-4-2 and torn them apart on that big pitch.

“Unfortunately, only 1-0 up means they were always in it and they knew it. Ray Pooley had said to me that if things started to go south in the second half then I would end up in midfield – like the game we played at Gower in the league, the game we were 2-0 down and came back to 2-2. I’m pretty sure Shane Hooks and I came on as a double sub in that game.

“Uni-Mount turned the screws and by the time I went on with Hooksy, we were all over the show. The instructions I got were to stop Bunbury, so I put one on him and got booked almost straight away which wasn’t the plan and means you have to be careful after that and we still had 25 minutes left.

“The last thing you want to do is come on in a Cup final and then get sent off. The referee’s (Derek Rugg) body language wasn’t great, either, I really felt he was up for giving me a second one if I invited it.

“Their game management and experience really kicked in at 1-1 and that’s probably where we needed to stop trying to play for a bit and start to disrupt the game and their momentum but we simply didn’t have the knowledge or understanding to affect the game in that way.

“We had outplayed everyone playing a sublime passing game and this wasn’t that sort of game at that point, it had become a bit of a war for 10-15 minutes which meant showing a bit of guile and smarts.

“You need a half dozen players at least to recognise that and apart from Grant Cooper and Gav Douglas, there weren’t too many players around the late twenties early thirties mark, so you’re short there.

“We didn’t really know how to get ourselves back into the game so everyone shrunk into their shells and the game became something that was happening to us rather than something we could wrestle back control of.

“When a game goes there all you’re doing is marking time to the final whistle because everyone’s confidence is shot and players start to hide or go off script. I think in the end I ended up on the left side of a central back three as we pushed players forward, we were all over the place.

“The full-time whistle was awful and so was everything after that. The season petered out in a very average way and then a very good team broke up.”

Holloway: “I just wish Paul Bunbury hadn’t been subbed on in the final.”

Trubshoe: “The support we got after losing was incredible. I was hugely disappointed with the loss, I still think I should’ve stopped all three (or at least two) of their goals. But in the stands and later in the pub, no one ever made us feel bad, no one ever criticised, no one was anything but positive and proud.

“That’s probably the night that really embedded Melville in my heart and why I wanted to stay at the club as long as I could. It’s easy to support a team when they’re winning, but the way we were treated after a loss…incredible.

“Considering how shit we were in the league, the squad atmosphere was awesome. I know I was terrible my first few games, but the lads were always supportive and they made the squad their own.”

‘The great thing was the togetherness’

Tinkler: “I was not allowed to go to my senior school ball the night before the cup final, much to my girlfriend-at-the-time’s utter disgust.

“I think the great thing about this team was the togetherness. I’ve been in teams that have won stuff or been successful but have never felt a team environment like that.

“It’s weird to think we actually lost that final. The way we celebrate and talk about that season, it is like we had won it. All the Auckland football lads take the piss out us getting together for reunions of this team, but I think its something to be said for that team that a lot of them I would call my friends now.

“And I assume that it’s the shared experience of those amazing highs which makes that season so memorable.”

Wilkinson: “I have fond memories of the cup run but much like 2019, it still grates me that we didn’t actually win. I hate the ‘loveable losers’ tag and would much rather be reminiscing about winning the cup.

“I would still love to go and have a real crack at winning something big with a Waikato-based team and I think that will always be with me.”

Watson: “Losing the final was one of the most miserable feelings of my life at that point. When you’re young and obsessed with your football it seems like the be all, end all.

“Now I’m 50 and have had a few bereavements and usual life setbacks we all experience, it hardly seems important. But as mature as that sounds, I still don’t like thinking about it.”

‘I have blocked the loss from the memory’

Holloway: “The travelling wave of Melville supporters is something I won’t forget. I remember being 1-0 up at halftime, and being so excited/pumped full of adrenaline. I also remember realising we were going to lose before the final whistle and being sad. But with that team, the bus ride home was still a goodie.”

Tinkler again: “I have blocked the cup final loss from the memory… I remember feeling very comfortable with the game until Paul Bunbury came on and ran the show. He then started turning us around and playing in behind our fullbacks. which meant we dropped back and invited them onto us.

“I have never watched that cup final back so I could be making that all up in my head. The only memory I take away from it is the fact that I kept Dan Ellenshon scoreless. Which I remind him of whenever he brings up the final.”

Douglas: “The crowd/fans were amazing – similar to the Central game. There was a massive turnout from the club (Reserves, Old Boys, etc) or dressed up in red and other people who travelled up for the game. Although it barely filled North Harbour Stadium it was far above what any of us club footballers had experienced before or since.

“The pitch was massive and really heavy from the rain and women’s game before, we weren’t use to playing on a field that big.

“My memory is we played okay the first half but were absolutely battered the second half.

“Personally, I rolled my ankle just before half time and should have come off. It was my fault for their first goal early in the second half, I got out jumped from the goalkeeper’s kick for a header – winning headers was my bread and butter – the ball got flicked on to their striker who scored. I couldn’t affect the game at all in the second half and conceding three was a reflection of some crap defending on my behalf.”

Melville United … the team that exceeded all expectations.


Nixon and Edge had the mother of all bust-ups in the wake of the Chatham Cup final.

Edge walked out on Melville immediately after the final, while Nixon threw in the towel as Melville coach in early February 2004.

According to Nixon, the relationship first fell down over Edge’s insistence that one of his sons sit on the Melville bench at the Cup final (having sat on the bench in just about every other round), which Nixon rejected out of hand, citing the cup final protocols.

However, Edge bristled at that suggestion. His take at the time was that he was simply disillusioned in the build-up to the Chatham Cup final. He said Melville had become too swept up in the occasion, accommodating television, media and supporter requirements above their own team needs.

So he parted company, citing different “core values”. His criticisms included Nixon accepting lax punctuality and having too liberal an attitude towards alcohol in a sports team environment. (Edge had tried to institute a post-match alcohol ban but it just got washed away after the great cup wins.)

Edge wasn’t prepared to sit around, and after failing to gain accommodation with Claudelands Rovers or Wanderers, linked up with Tauranga City United. While Nixon had his hands full with four young children, a teaching job in Tokoroa and a simultaneous coaching role with the Force Three (Federation) national youth league team, Edge capitalised on the general off-season inertia at Gower Park.

He got in the ear of the best young players — or in some cases, even their parents — and like an evangelical football preacher, set off again to build a new dream team, luring Wilkinson, Field and Tinkler across the Kaimais to join him, while by then Cooper was also living there. (Edge returned to Melville some years later to passionately work on his youth development programme that was to spawn All Whites Ryan Thomas and Tyler Boyd and a number of age-group internationals.)

‘They don’t make teams like that anymore’

Paul Nixon.

Matt Parkin returned to Gisborne, Yugov went to Metro, Holloway and Field departed on scholarships to the US, Watene and Gibbs went to Wanderers, and Hooks was left recovering from an operation. Combined, it decimated Melville.

Out-manoeuvred by Edge, and with Melville a shambles, Nixon resigned, citing work commitments. Ironically he announced his decision just minutes before Sport Waikato named Melville as the province’s Team of the Year.

So by early 2004 Melville’s great cup run was but a brilliant flickering memory of what might have been.

Parkin: “It was a … good year. A great bunch of guys who got behind the idea we could achieve something. We fell short but it’s a year I look back on incredibly fondly, especially as I get older.

“We were lucky to have this experience at Melville, the club really got behind us (training at Waikato Stadium, buses to games, kit for final etc). I appreciate I am an absolute liability whenever I come back to the club, but Melville genuinely provided me with some of the best times of my life.”

Holloway: “They don’t make teams like that any more.”

Field: I guess my enduring memory of that year’s football will be fun and friendship. I got along with every single guy in that team and the coaches and I knew, in the cup especially, everyone would give his utmost for the team.

“When we got together for the Melville 50th it was amazing to just click back into a team and how we used to gel in 2003. We did work hard and we trained hard, but we had such a good laugh and we enjoyed fighting for each other, which I guess is what amateur sport is all about. Still it would have been nice to win it.”

Field is currently first team coach at Lower Hutt City, where he has drawn on this experience.

“I had the a preliminary round of the Chatham Cup for Lower Hutt on Anzac Day. And part of my pre-match speech was telling my team what fun the Chatham Cup can be, how you can play with slightly more risk and you never know what a group of guys who are prepared to work hard for each other can achieve.”

Watson: “I wish the club knew what it wanted to achieve long term, like it seems to these days. I wish the team had stayed together and the coaching staff been able to iron out whatever its issues were in the weeks leading into the final because the team itself really could’ve gone places.

“I feel a greater sense of affinity with the 2003 team, Melville the club, and Waikato football in general. More than anywhere else I played or coached, because of the craic and sense of fun down there encapsulated by that magical run to North Harbour Stadium.

“I didn’t leave Melville United under great circumstances but with the passage of time you forget all that rubbish and move on and remember the positive things more.

“I’m pleased to say that it’s always like coming home when I go to Gower Park and see familiar faces. I still feel a lot of good feelings about the years I lived in Hamilton, most of my best memories in football are there and I loved playing for Melville United and Ngaruawahia United.

“I feel more connected to the Waikato than I do to the Manawatu even though I spent only four years there. The 2003 Cup run played a massive part in that sense of belonging to the place.

“When Seamus Marten left Auckland to return to Hamilton and told me how much fun he has had since being involved in it, I do miss it as well.”

‘I feel pretty blessed to have been involved …’

As an aside, Watson said it was strange to find himself commentating on the 2019 Chatham Cup final between Melville United and Napier City Rovers on Sky Sport.

“Maybe because of all that, I wasn’t shy sharing my credentials as an old boy of 2003 during the broadcast and I felt bad for Aaron Scott and Sam Wilkinson and all the former 2003 lads who went up for the game.

Gav Douglas.

“Only for a short moment do you have to remind yourself it’s not your Cup final, although you remember the pain that comes with losing one and there’s not really much you can say to console someone who goes through that experience.

“It would’ve been the perfect way to close the book on 2003 to see the Class of 2019 win it. Maybe one day.”

Douglas: “The nucleus of a good team was there if Nikko and Declan had sorted their grievances out. But sadly, the team quickly dispersed to Wanderers and over the Kaimais because other coaches were phoning them up and no one was phoning them up from Melville to make sure they would be back for 2004.”

Last word to Trubshoe: “I don’t see the lads that often, but the club jubilee just solidified in me how much love and respect I have for those guys, and how they made such a huge impression on me.

“I feel pretty blessed to have been involved and quickly embraced into the Melville culture and whanau, and proud to see the lads in the last few years building on the club’s great reputation.

“We had a rough few years after the 2003 run, and I wish we could’ve kept the squad together for longer.

“But it also means that what we achieved in 2003, with, no doubt, low expectations from everyone else, stands out even more.”

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