Like most of its New Zealand Football Championship (NZFC) colleagues, Waitakere United was founded in 2004 to compete in the newly-introduced top division of New Zealand football. Waitakere has grown to become the most successful club in the country, winning the NZFC more times (4) than any other side and qualifying for the OFC Champions League on multiple occasions.
In 2004-05, the league’s inaugural season, Waitakere finished up as runners-up but lost the Final 3-2 to table-toppers Auckland City. However, the following season failed to match this success as Waitakere slipped to a disappointing sixth-placed finish. The club bounced back well to finish top of the league in 2006-07, but once again were defeated 3-2 by Auckland in the final. 2007-08 saw Waitakere finally win their first championship, beating Team Wellington 2-0 in the final.
This win inspired the club to further success – although the following season they were beaten in the final by Auckland for the third time, Waitakere beat Canterbury United 3-1 in the 2009-10 final to secure a second championship in three years. In 2010-11 the club extracted revenge on enemies Auckland – a close final was swung Waitakere’s way by a last-minute own goal. The score-line, 3-2, also gave Auckland a taste of their own medicine.
Waitakere have enjoyed two successful OFC Champions League campaigns: their first title in 2007, having only qualified for the competition after Vanuatu’s Port Vila Sharks withdrew, United beat Fiji’s Ba FC on away goals to earn the crown of Oceania’s best club. The second title came the following year – 3-1 down to Kossa FC of the Solomon Islands after the first leg, Waitakere recovered to cruise to a 5-0 win in the second leg and win the competition on aggregate. United again reached the final in 2010, but were beaten 4-2 by Papua New Guinean champions Hekari United.
These Champions League triumphs qualified the club for the FIFA World Club Championship Play-Offs, but in both 2007 and 2008, Waitakere fell at the tournament’s first hurdle. A 3-1 loss to Iran’s Sepahan FC in 2007 was followed by a narrow 2-1 defeat to Aussie side Adelaide United in 2008.
Waitakere’s squad boasts five English players, three of them goalkeepers. Daniel Robinson, a former Derby County and Blackpool youth-teamer, and previously of Burton Albion, is joined at the club by ex-Everton trainee, Northwich Victoria and Altrincham custodian Andrew Ralph, and Basingstoke-born Matthew Upton, nicknamed “Crouchy” at former club Auckland City. The club’s two English outfield players both have a wealth of experience from years spent playing with big clubs. 40 year old player-manager Neil Emblen, also the coach of New Zealand’s under-23 team, is an ex-Millwall, Wolves and Norwich midfielder, and fellow midfielder Martin Bullock has played at a high level for Barnsley and Blackpool, winning one England U-21 cap in the process.
A multi-national squad is completed by Fiji international Roy Krishna, Papua New Guinea frontman Mauri Wasi and Solomon Islander Gagame Feni, formerly of Canterbury United. Forward Krishna is one of Oceania’s brightest young stars, and attracted the interest of Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven in March 2009 as well as impressing A-League clubs Wellington Pheonix and North Queensland Fury. The New Zealand Herald has called Krishna “the best player in the league” and has claimed “it has become apparent he has outgrown the NZFC”. Only 24, Krishna has scored 14 goals in 19 games for Fiji, including hat-tricks against Kiribati, Samoa and Tuvalu, and both goals in a 2-0 win over New Zealand in the 2008 OFC Nations Cup. He is the key to Waitakere’s success, regularly ending seasons with a record of better than a goal every other game.
The club plays its home games at the 10,000-capacity Fred Taylor Park, but the ground’s limit is rarely reached. Waitakere play to average attendances of just 400 in the league, which is lower than some Isthmian league clubs’ crowds in England’s seventh tier, but normal for the New Zealand Football Championship. Indeed, Waitakere could consider themselves lucky to have such a “large” support – poor old YoungHeart Manawatu are regularly cheered on by just 100 fans.
Thankfully, Waitakere’s Champions League games and derbies with fellow Auckland club Auckland City attract more fans. Waitakere’s Champions League tie with Fijian club Ba FC in November 2011 saw an impressive 4,000 flock to Fred Taylor Park, and gates are swelled by several hundred when Auckland City come to visit.
The Whites began the 2011-12 campaign in incredible form, recording a 3-0 victory over Hawke’s Bay United before thumping Otago United 6-0 away. However, since then, the club has slipped to third place, and although Waitakere are only two points behind second-placed Canterbury, their chances of winning the championship are slim with Auckland seven points clear at the top. Five losses in their fourteen NZFC games have cost Waitakere dear, and they will have to go through the semi-finals if they are to win their fifth championship.
This season’s OFC Champions League campaign has been more successful – Waitakere will progress to the competition’s final unless Tahiti’s AS Tefana can beat Ba FC in the last game of the group stage. United began the group stage in imperious fashion, thrashing ten-man Tefana 10-0 and thumping Ba by four goals. However, a 3-0 loss to Tefana at Tahiti’s Stade Louis Ganivet could prove costly – it leaves Waitakere relying on other results. Should Tefana slip up, Waitakere will reach the final, coming up against Auckland City (who else?). It proves to be an interesting season for Waitakere, one that could see them further cement themselves as New Zealand’s most successful club.