Seatoun AFC - Once mighty, still proud

In 1958, Seatoun AFC thrashed Christchurch City 7-1 in front of a crowd of thousands to claim their second Chatham Cup in two years.

In 2009, Seatoun were the first club in the country knocked out of the Chatham Cup, beaten 3-nil on April 13 by Paekakariki in the "preliminary round", which precedes the "qualifying round", which, in turn, comes before Round 1! Last year, the Seatoun men's first team were also relegated from Capital 2 and will play the 2010 season in the fifth tier of Wellington club football (Capital 3).

It’s really disappointing for such a proud, historic and successful football club to have its men’s first team drifting further towards the realms of social football, even more so when last year’s relegation coincided with Seatoun AFC’s centenary celebration. Remember, this is a club that can list among its old boys internationals such as Shane Rufer, Michael Utting, Jeff Strom, Rupert Ryan, Billy Harris and my old rep coach Paul Cameron (the club’s most capped international (25) is Grahame Bilby).

Even in the mid-1990s, Seatoun boasted one of the strongest sides in the central region, led by the enormously talented Neil McDonald and his brother Andrew. It was only in the late 1990s the first team fell into the second tier of Wellington club football. It then hovered in the third tier (Capital 1) for most of the last decade before its recent decline.

(Interestingly, during that same period of decline, Seatoun’s women’s first team established themselves as the pre-eminent force in Wellington’s women’s football – and it’s important not to define a club’s fortunes in terms of the men’s first team alone. The club, thanks to its women, has enjoyed a lot of recent success. But, the demise of its men’s first team has, nevertheless, been striking and a real shame.)

Other than doing occasional battle with various Seatoun teams over the years I’ve never had anything directly to do with the club. But, watching the decline and plight of its men’s first team in recent times I’ve developed a soft spot for the club. Clubs like Seatoun add tremendous vitality, colour and passion to local football. We don’t want them languishing in Capital 3.

So, given my curious fascination with the club and in an attempt to unravel the mystery of the first team’s decline I bought a copy of the club’s 100 year history, updated last year by club legend Bob O’Brien to support the centenary - and read it over Xmas. I found it to be a club, football and social history – and really interesting (OK, yes, I'm a trainspotter).

I learned that Seatoun AFC was founded in 1909 by Charlie Yeoman (presumably after whom the Yeoman Cup, fought for by Wellington and Hutt Valley junior sides when I was a kid, was named); I learned the Dominion Post used to not only publish match fixtures but complete squad lists for Saturday games; I learned that Seatoun had working floodlights as early as the late 1930s (Waterside-Karori is almost there); I learned new Miramar Rangers gaffer Matt Calcott cut his coaching teeth at Seatoun; I learned that Seatoun striker John Donovan once scored a remarkable six goals in a Chatham Cup final.

Club fortunes are never constant, wherever you look. Look at Leeds United, 10 years ago playing Champions League semifinals, now having to fight their way out of League 1. Much closer to home, Wellington United, one of Wellington’s strongest and most successful clubs during the past 30 years, will play in Wellington’s second tier in 2010, having suffered the indignity of not winning a single game in the 2009 Central League.

So, I ‘m hopeful that in the first year of its second century, Seatoun’s pendulum is about to begin swinging in the other direction - up. The structure of club football in Wellington does not make it easy for struggling clubs like Seatoun (Brooklyn Northern and University, whose first teams now lie in Captial 2, are other examples). The presence of so many Central League club second teams in the second and third tiers of club football makes it very difficult for struggling clubs to make upward progress, but if the club can claw its way back up a grade, build some momentum and attract a few more players then perhaps in a few years' time Bob O’Brien and others from Seatoun’s glory days can gather over a pint at Seatoun Park to reminisce and watch their men’s first team back with the big boys of Wellington club football.

I reckon that would be a good thing, not just for Seatoun AFC, but for the vibrancy of club football. Hence, Seatoun men’s first team is going to be Hand of God’s adopted local club side for 2010. We’ll keep you posted on their fortunes.

Finally, a quick word about the author of Seatoun’s 100-year history, Bob O’Brien.

Bob probably warrants his own history. He first played for Seatoun as a junior in 1943, went on to make decades of first team appearances, won two Chatham Cup medals, served the club as secretary for many, many years and, of course, later assumed the role of its historian. And Bob’s contribution extends well beyond Seatoun itself. He was previously president of the Wellington Soccer Association and his tremendous contribution to the game was recognised through the O’Brien Shield, commissioned in 1991 and played for within the Central League on a challenge basis – with the holder having to defend it against all visiting opposition.

Unfortunately, the Shield’s current whereabouts seems to be shrouded in mystery and I don’t believe it’s been contested for a number of years. That’s a terrible pity and I hope somebody reading this blog can help track it down. The last I saw of the Shield was a photo of the Waterside-Karori first team celebrating its capture circa 1999. Surely, somebody knows where it’s hiding?.