Tony Smith: Nelson Suburbs need to find funds to enter football's Chatham Cup
OPINION: Nelson Suburbs owes it to its players to end its curious Chatham Cup boycott next season.
Suburbs are to be admired for their commitment to fielding a team in the Christchurch-based Mainland Premier League.
But the Chatham Cup is a national competition and Suburbs must enter to maintain any credibility as a progressive football club.
Club officials claim entering the cup would expose the club to potential financial risk with a tie in Dunedin or Auckland costing up to $10,000.
The reality is Nelson Suburbs, through its Soccer Nelson Inc administrative arm, does seem to have the money to fund a Chatham Cup campaign. It's just a question of priorities.
In the 2014 season, Soccer Nelson pulled in $143,000 in funding, largely from gaming charity grants. That money goes towards supporting one team - the MPL side. The Nelson Suburbs club (as opposed to the MPL team) had a total income of $141,000 in 2014 to run the rest of the club.
Soccer Nelson spent almost $80,000 on paying players, coaches and an operations manager and $38,000 on travel.
Gaming charity funds aren't always easy to access and no sports entity can rely on them.
Soccer Nelson's income may well have dropped from 2014 levels, but they must still have their head above water, financially - the MPL team is flying to Christchurch for 15 or 16 away games in 2016.
So, it seems the money is there, to fund a Chatham Cup sortie, it's just a matter of how it is allocated.
Yes, travel subsidies from New Zealand Football would be a utopian ideal, but Suburbs' answer is in its own hands.
Sit the players down and explain that they'll be driving to Christchurch for six games next year with travel savings directed to funding a Chatham Cup campaign. It won't hurt them to hit the road - the Tasman United women's team are doing it.
The Chatham Cup has been around since 1923 and is a much more important competition than the Mainland Premier League.
Older Nelson sports fans still remember Nelson United's against-the-odds Cup final triumph over mighty Mount Wellington in 1977 and their loss to Manurewa in the 1978 final at Trafalgar Park.
Nelson has some skin in the Chatham Cup and it's simply not acceptable for the province's flagship winter season club to continue to give the national knockout competition a wide berth.
If Suburbs want to know what they're missing, ask their friends at MPL champion club Cashmere Technical.
In 2013, Tech became the first Christchurch club to win the Chatham Cup for 22 years. Grown men who'd been at the club 40 or 50 years were in tears. The winning feeling continued in 2014 when Tech retained the title.
The goal of winning the Chatham Cup is the main reason many of Tech's Canterbury United national league contingent bother to even play MPL football.
Suburbs have been Tech's greatest challengers in the MPL and have regularly beaten their great rivals. Who's to say they couldn't have won the Chatham Cup themselves in the last few seasons?
Nelson Suburbs' conservatism in not entering the cup could be costing some of their playing stalwarts a major career highlight. They owe it to men like Mark Johnston, Ryan Stewart and Ben Wright, to give them that chance.
The players and supporters should be demanding it.
And, if gaming funds do disappear, there's always a good old-fashioned chook raffle or sausage sizzle - or a Give-a-little crowd funding page.
Tony Smith is Fairfax Media's South Island sports bureau chief and a former Nelson Mail football writer.