By Rachel Lilburn
Taupō’s annual McCartney Invitation Tournament continues to break records, whether it’s the number of players taking part (1,600), teams (119) … or the amount of coffee (9,300 cups) and donuts (27,000) sold to those on the sidelines.
This year’s event — which provides a fun but challenging format to end the winter season — was the 18th edition of the tournament.
Main photo: A scene that sums up the tournament … entertaining football, packed sidelines and a coffee cart. Photo credit: Rachel Lilburn.
The spring school holidays saw Taupo’s Crown Park host about 1,600 players aged 8-15 who took part in the October 6-8 tournament.
Between Friday and Sunday, 119 teams played 636 games, drawn from 27 clubs in the North Island.
For many teams, the Taupō trip marks the end of the winter football season, and is a chance for teams and their families to combine football with a weekend away.
The timing of the tournament can bring fine spring weather and sunshine, or, as experienced this year, clouds and rain showers — although that didn’t seem to bother the players.
The tournament operates a round-robin format, so all teams in each grade get the same number of 30-minute games.
The draw is published in advance, which is helpful for those teams travelling long distances. Each grade has a winner, based on round-robin points.
With teams playing between eight and 12 games over the three days, tournament football provides different challenges and learning experiences for players and their coaches.
Western Springs AFC had 12 teams travel down from Auckland.
Spencer Turner, Junior Chair of the club, said tournament football provides many learning experiences for young players — an opportunity to play against other regions, lessons in resilience, experience of how to look after themself (food, drink, sleep), as well as being part of something bigger than their club.
He says his teams are keen to come back, and praised the tournament for being extremely well set up, very inclusive and with catering options for all.
He said the tournament has a great family feel and is well-positioned, and added that local restaurants are happy to take large team bookings.
Taupō is an excellent central location for North Island teams.
Twenty-four pitches are set up in one location which makes for easier logistics as clubs, teams and families are all in one place.
Taupō’s free-draining volcanic soil means the pitches are usually in pretty good condition, even at the end of a winter season, and don’t get bogged down with rain.
Onslow Junior Football Club from Wellington have been regulars at the tournament for the last six years.
This year they travelled north with five Onslow teams, and three more from the Onslow/North Wellington Talent Development Programme (TDP).
Communications Manager Moira Stewart says the scale of the tournament means that they have families attending who may have three players in three different grades playing.
It’s a wonderful chance to spend the weekend playing and watching some exciting football at an expertly organised tournament.
From a player’s point of view, the tournament offers a chance to play with like-minded footballers against some of the toughest competition they’ll experience.
Stewart gets great feedback from players who really enjoy the experience, and says there is plenty of demand for places in a team heading to Taupō.
Stewart says: “The tournament itself can offer some really testing conditions — introducing 9v9 and 11v11 if you’re in U-10 and U-12 respectively. This is a great chance for these grades to start using their football brains differently, before the start of the new season.
“The days can be long, which tests the stamina. Over the weekend players will have a chance to grow as a footballer as well as a person.
“It’s likely they’ll experience highs and lows more than once during the tournament … but along the way, they have shared the experiences and developed the camaraderie with their McCartney teammates.”
The tournament has been run by event director John McCartney for an impressive 18 years.
He’s supported by a committee of eight from the local football club, Taupō AFC, and the Taupō District Council.
McCartney co-ordinates with a local events hire company, who organise the set-up and pack down of pre-ordered marquees before and after the tournament.
The event has a range of local food trucks offering food and coffee. The local council says 9,300 coffees were sold this year, and 27,000 donuts were made and sold!
The organising committee say this year’s tournament went smoothly.
They noted some complaints about negative sideline behaviour, which can affect the club’s invites for following years, as well as many people bringing their dogs onto the park, despite clear messaging that was not allowed.
If you are attending in 2024 – please don’t bring your dog.
While the first edition of the tournament was in 2004, a COVID cancellation in 2021 means the 20th anniversary of this iconic tournament will be in 2025.
Expressions of interest for the tournament are sent to teams who have previously been at the tournament in the first quarter of the year.
If your club is interested in the tournament, please email [email protected] and ask to be placed on an invitation waitlist (include grade and all contact details).
Taupō-based Rachel Lilburn is the mother of a football-mad youngster, a team manager and volunteer. She writes for Friends of Football, specialising in feature stories about young footballers, their pathways and junior/youth tournaments.