Nelson coach's World Cup quest
Nayland College's sports director and long-serving Nelson football coach Brendan Crichton will give up the comforts of home to chase a football dream from a base in the Solomon Islands.
The former Nelson Suburbs mainland league coach has taken up a contract as head coach of the Solomon Warriors FC in the O-League. He leaves on February 22 for his third stint at the club, and his goal is to be coaching the final on May 19.
As Solomon Island national club champions, the Warriors qualified for the Oceania Football Confederation Champions League. Commonly known as the O-League, it is the premier football competition in Oceania, the winners of which move into the finals of the Fifa Club World Cup.
"I really enjoy it there, and I enjoy the people, but I do find it really hard away from family and with the conditions. I don't know - something keeps pulling me back," said Crichton.
"Everyone likes dreaming and there is the possibility that, if you win it, you are off to the world club champs. It may seem ridiculous, but we could be eight games away from playing at Barcelona.
"The opportunity to coach at that level is something I am really grateful for, how many people in New Zealand would have the opportunity to coach in the O-League?"
The Solomon Islands is a collection about one thousand islands that lie to the east of Papua New Guinea. Their diet consists of mainly rice and fish, which is not ideal as Crichton is allergic to almost all kinds of fish.
This will be the third time Crichton has taken up a contract with the Warriors, based in the capital of Honiara. He was the first coach of the side after they rebranded themselves in 2010. The side were formerly known as Uncles FC because "all the players were from the same village, and they were all related".
Apart from what's on the menu, Crichton said there are many other challenges involved with coaching in the Islands.
"I don't want to be too disrespectful to over there, but there is not a lot of structure in their football and there is not a lot of structure in their society ... But they are so passionate about their football, it is not too difficult to go there and make a big difference."
Club sides will generally have a base as an area, but no clubrooms and no training grounds and the basic resources. Clubs will hire grounds from a school or the ports authority, while all major games are played at Lawson Tama, which is their national stadium.
"The training facilities, speed ladders, strength and conditioning equipment, there is nothing like that, or very little, so they do well for what they have.
"Football is their life, so for these guys in this team, the opportunity is massive . . . For the player this is everything."
The Solomon side are grouped with Amicale FC from Vanuatu, Ba from Fiji and Hekari United from Papua New Guinea. The other pool contains the two New Zealand sides, Waitakere United and Auckland City.
The S-League, the Solomon Islands national competition, begins in March. As a result, Crichton will have plenty of time to prepare his side before the champions league group stage starts on March 30.
Members of the Warriors side include many names that will be familiar in Nelson football circles: Gagame Feni, Hadisi Aengari, Jerry Donga, Kidstone Billy among others.
Crichton is also taking a couple of guys with him in the form of Nelson striker Sam Ayers and English-born goalkeeper Eddie Newman who played for Nelson Suburbs in 2010, and has been recently playing for Halifax Town.
Crichton, who was a Nelson Suburbs mainland premier league coach for four years and has coached Nayland College First XI for 10 years after coming through the Nelson age group representative scene, said his relationship with the Solomon Islands came from his time coaching with John Brydon at Nelson Suburbs.
"We were looking for players to bolster the Suburbs side. I got given a name of Kidstone Billy in the Solomons and it really came about through that."
The main contact for Crichton in the Solomons has been Dr Kenton Sade. The head of the Solomon Islands accident and emergency services, Satay is also the Warriors' manager and Crichton's host.
Since 2006, Dr Sade and Crichton have liaised to bring a host of players out from the Solomon Islands to play football for Nelson Suburbs and experience life in New Zealand. Many young players have also had the opportunity to attend Nayland College and play for the first XI. The majority come from the same village and football club in Honiara.
Crichton said it was more than likely, on his return, he would have a few more names on the list for potential imports.
- The Nelson Mail