Overseas farm workers help Gore Wanderers to Southland football dominance
The Eastern Southland region has a rich rugby history, but sports reporter Scott Donaldson looks at the Gore Wanderers who have emerged as the giants of Southland football with the influence of both local and overseas farm workers.
Past and present All Blacks Damian McKenzie, Justin Marshall, Jimmy Cowan and Paul Miller are all rugby stars who have hailed from Eastern Southland.
The area is also home to the Gore-based Eastern Northern Barbarians who are one of the top sides in Southland club rugby, picking up the 2016 Southland Galbraith Shield title, but Gore is more than a rugby town.
The Gore Wanderers, who play their home games at Hyde Park have dominated Southland football in 2017.
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The team featuring players based throughout the province of Southland, won the Southland football premier competition's Donald Gray Cup, along with the Charity Cup knockout trophy and the pre-season Waihopai Cup
According to Gore Wanderers coach Phil Williams the squad features 12 players involved in the farming sector, including several players from overseas like Dutch tulip farmer Frank de Jong who was named the 2016 Southland football Player of the Year, along with the 2017 competition's leading goal scorer Miguel Ortiz from Chile.
The team also includes two players from South America, along with other players from the US, England, Ireland and the Netherlands.
"We have a doctor here from the US who has been in Gore for 12 months, and he has played for us, we had an English vet who unfortunately got injured a bit earlier on, Morgan [Greene] who is an Irishman has been injured, yeah a big range, sometimes you think you need to speak three languages, some of them know what I am saying," Williams said.
Gore striker Miguel Ortiz scored 38 goals in the Donald Gray Cup to claim the golden boot.
The contract milker moved to New Zealand with his wife from a town just outside Santiago in Chile after studying farm management and headed to Oamaru, before venturing south to Riversdale near Gore in 2014.
Ortiz, 32, noticed the difference between playing football in the two countries.
"For physical it is really strong, but NZ need to improve more skill, Latin skill quick thinking before every play, thinking one second before," he said.
After five years of milking in New Zealand, Miguel and his wife have shifted to Mokotua near Invercargill, travelling 45 minutes each way twice a week for training and every second week for games.
Promising defender Ben Rea from West Otago has been a key player for the Wanderers in recent years before playing for the combined Southland United side in the Southern Premier League.
Rea moved to the United States earlier this year to play football for Potomac State College in West Virginia on a scholarship.
"With having the different players from different countries involved it gave us a more ability and a different style of play as well as it gave us more numbers," he said.
"Playing for Gore was a great time for me as they guys in the team and the club are really nice with such a good team environment. The Wanderers has been a big part of my soccer life growing up and helping me develop to the player I am now and have made some good friend and had some good times over the years."
Interestingly, the Gore Wanderers club has historically relied on a combination of local and overseas farm workers to bolster their squad.
Gore Wanderers AFC was established in 1964 after the Gore Rovers went into recess in the 1950s.
The club won the Southland second grade in their debut season and gained promotion for the 1965 season.
According to the book Southland Soccer : A Century of Football, the side that represented Wanderers in the 1965 competition was a "United Nations" team, with Keith Souness being the only New Zealand-born player.
Prominent club player Vincent Alcock who had trialled for Manchester United and Bury before coming to New Zealand, was sold to Caversham for $300 in the club's only cash for player transaction.
The 1983 triumph
The Gore Wanderers' only other Donald Gray Cup success was in 1983.
Mike Wallace was part of the team in 1983 and gained promotion from the club's masters side to take the field in their final game of the 2017 season as a 61-year-old.
Wallace said that there were similarities between the two successful campaigns with an experienced coach and some players coming in from outside the region to boost the playing stocks.
Back in the top flight
Since 1983 the Gore Wanderers have been in and out of the Southland premier competition, with the club scaling the lofty heights of Southern Premier League status for a season in 1995, but only re-entering the Donald Gray Cup in 2015.
They enlisted the help of coach Invercargill-based Phil Williams who brought 30 years of experience in Southland's Donald Gray Cup and the Southern Premier League with Invercargill-based sides Old Boys, Waihopai and the Southland Spirit.
"The club made a decision three years ago to go back into Donald Gray after being up and down a bit, at that stage they were looking around for somebody to help out a bit and I put my hand up and I think I have come along at a time where there have been others come into the district and have come along looking for a game of footy and they are good players," Williams said.
"So that has made a big difference, it has got the locals re-enthused who had sort of dropped off and weren't so interested, those guys have come back we got a training regime in place and everyone has started coming along a couple of times a week and we have built it from there."
Keys to success
The Wanderers' coach Phil Williams who was named the 2016 Southland Football club Coach of the Year has been a key part of the recent success.
They also started raising the bar as they looked to build on some promising performances from 2016, when they won the Southland Charity Cup and made it to the third round of New Zealand's Chatham Cup.
"It has been a three year process for sure we got some good results last year, those have carried through and we have got more consistent, one of the things we have worked hard on is once you get up and win a couple of games against the better sides you set your own standard and then we start looking for that standard as a minimum every week and build on it and that is what we have managed to do," Williams said.
The Gore Wanderers identified their main rivals as 2016 champions Old Boys, along with Queens Park at the start of the season, while all three teams were impacted by the absence of players involved in the Southland United combined team playing in the Southern Premier League.
According to coach Phil Williams, gaining seven out of nine points against their two main rivals effectively got the Wanderers to the title, with their only loss of the season coming against Thistle.
"So that has effectively got us to where we are by winning the big ones, that is what you want to do," he said.
"We are absolutely wrapped to get to the top-of-the-table to finish the season, I think it has been good to have the three rounds this year, it has meant that we have had six more games and six more opportunities to win some games and get some more combinations going."
"Otherwise, certainly in previous seasons with 12 games, if you lose a couple of early games you tend to have lost your chance to get through, which has happened the last couple of years, we are absolutely wrapped, the club is, it is a great thing for Gore and for the junior club as well, we have got young ones along here watching us, hopefully getting some incentive from it."
Former Gore player Ben Rea puts the team's success down to hard work.
"Gore's success this year I think is down to the effort they put in at training and the team spirit they have together as well as some great players," he said.
Challenges for the team
Having a team featuring both local and overseas players based throughout the Southland region, involved in the farming sector has its challenges.
"It has probably been a bit tricky and it certainly is at the moment, we have got guys in Fiji and all over the world, in Holland," Williams said, towards the end of the season.
"Right through the season we have got guys that can't play because of calving, lambing and all those things going on, it is a peculiar sort of country thing, but one thing they are is super dedicated when they can get here."
With 12 of the senior squad being employed in farming, availability for training and playing is an ongoing issue through the season.
"It is very light numbers at training and guys really struggling and saying they are not sure if they are going to make it, Phil, because it is going to take me 80 minutes to get to the game, they are driving some big distances these guys, certainly for a town game," he said.
"Look, it is never an excuse, you turn up with who you have got, but you like to have the best team you can get out as well of course."
Rural football success looks to continue with Central Southland team Winton finishing sixth in their debut season in the Donald Gray Cup.
Their team features players from as far away as Te Anau and players from Japan, England and the Netherlands.
The Winton club consists of 11 junior teams with four from the Lumsden and Te Anau areas.
In the Southland women's division one, the new Queens Park Wyndham team based in Eastern Southland claimed the title.