Friday Night Lights at Bill McKinlay
Friday Night Lights, a book describing high school American football in small town Texas, tells the story of how individuals and communities live for their local team.
School spirit and the importance of representing your local town are paramount.
Watching Sacred Heart College take on St Kentigern College last Friday night at Bill McKinlay was a glimpse into a Friday Night Lights future for football in New Zealand.
The main stand full, the pitch lined with supporters who genuinely cared about the result, and a derby like atmosphere in the middle of an Auckland winter. Throw into the mix one of the biggest rivalries in high school football and it was no wonder that a many of the local football community decided to attend.
High school football has the opportunity over the next five years to take the lead in the Auckland football landscape.
Most people feel a connection to their local school, even after they have left, but more importantly current pupils and their families genuinely care about what happens in the school environment – academic, cultural, and sporting.
However, if high school programmes can produce good quality football then spectators beyond the school ranks will also attend.
There are over 25,000 registered football players in Auckland and many more people who have an interest in the sport. At present there is nowhere to watch a decent football match in Auckland during winter.
High schools can fill this gap with competitive football with a high level of on-field quality. If this can be achieved it would be no surprise to see crowds topping 5000 in future.
However, to make high school football compelling it needs to showcase great young talent.
High school American football has the hook of local spirit but fans also watch because they know that is where they may see the best of a future generation – the next Tom Brady or, for those a little older, the next Joe Montana.
It is no different for high school rugby in Auckland. This is where fans can watch future All Blacks. High school football can present a platform for future Premier League stars.
Winning vs. Development
For this to happen schools are going to have to develop talent.
There is no doubt schools are prepared to invest in their football programmes. Danny Hay is the current Sacred Heart Director of Football while Chris Zoricich fulfills a similar role for St Kents. Both schools have access to facilities and both want to win in order to showcase the school.
The biggest challenge for the coaches will be to develop players through the five-year school cycle while consistently winning championships. Principals will be focused on the end result but to get that outcome, football programmes need to improve young players before they reach Year 12 or 13.
While the Friday night game was high on intensity, the first half was certainly a frenetic contest. In the second half Sacred Heart were able to get the ball down and play with more composure and were deserving of a 2-0 victory.
The great irony is that Friday Night Lights at Bill McKinlay is what watching football at national league level in New Zealand used to be like – small stadiums packed with a vocal crowd in the middle of winter cheering on teams that genuinely mattered to them.
More nights like that is definitely the pathway towards an improved winter profile for the sport in New Zealand. Developing exciting young players will help make those big crowds for high school football in Auckland become a reality.
Share this Post