Christchurch United captain bounces back from tough professional stint

Joel Stevens joined Christchurch United from National League champions Wellington Olympic after...
Joel Stevens joined Christchurch United from National League champions Wellington Olympic after being recruited by coach Ryan Edwards. PHOTO: JIM WATTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Christchurch United’s new captain is bouncing back from some dark professional days overseas – and enjoying his football again.

Joel Stevens joined United from Wellington Olympic this season, after winning last year’s Central League and National League – where he was man of the match in the final.

Before then, he’d had two stints playing professionally in Sweden’s second and third-tier competitions, and spent time with the Wellington Phoenix in Australia’s A-League.

But Stevens said being at United was probably the most fun he’d ever had in football.

Ryan Edwards.
Ryan Edwards.
“We just play fun football. We try and bounce the ball around.

“With all the young players in the team, it just all works, it all bounces off each other.”

He said his forays into the professional side of the sport hadn’t gone well, despite some successful team results.

He helped Värnamo go from the third tier to the first with two consecutive promotions, only for his contract to not be renewed.

“It didn’t matter if you were the best player on the field, sometimes you just didn’t play well because you didn’t fit into the system,” he said.

“Sometimes you have some players you don’t get along with. I don’t love playing with people that are overly arrogant or anything like that.

“I just think you should all be mates when you’re on the field, and enjoy it no matter what.”

But he said he still harbours dreams of getting back to the professional level.

“If a professional club, probably more at home at the moment, like around New Zealand, came to me, I would probably go, or consider it at least.

“It’s not my main priority right now, but of course I would.”

Christchurch United captain Joel Stevens on the ball during his side's 4-3 win over Universities....
Christchurch United captain Joel Stevens on the ball during his side's 4-3 win over Universities. PHOTO: JIM WATTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Stevens made the move south from Olympic in the off-season to be closer to family after the birth of his first daughter in December. He and wife Grace are both from Dunedin, and have family across the South Island.

Stevens said he had looked at a number of clubs in the area before deciding to join United.

“We were considering Dunedin as well to go back home.

“Cashmere (Technical) as well, I played for them a little bit when I was younger and I know most of the players because a lot of them played for Southern when I was there.

“I talked to them a lot, but then Ryan (Edwards, United coach) came to me with what their plan is for the future, and everything was quite shiny and I was pretty excited, so I wanted to give it a go, and I think it was a really good decision.’’

Stevens has started the 2024 season strongly, scoring four goals, with United winning their opening three games to sit at the top of the Southern League table ahead of Saturday’s match against Dunedin City Royals.

Their closest challengers are Cashmere Technical, who slipped from their 100 per cent win record after a 4-4 draw with Coastal Spirit, and Nelson Suburbs, both two points back.

Tech take on Selwyn at home this weekend while Nelson travel to play Universities.

In other matches, Nomads and Coastal meet – both teams are in the top half of the table.

Ferrymead Bays have also impressed and host FC Twenty 11 who are rooted to the bottom of the table, having scored zero goals and conceded 26 in their opening games.

Southern League round 4 (Saturday)
  • Christchurch Utd v Dunedin CR, United Sports Centre, 2pm
  • Universities v Nelson Suburbs, English Park, 2pm
  • Ferrymead Bays v FC Twenty 11, Ferrymead Park, 2.45pm
  • Nomads v Coastal Spirit, Tulett Park, 2.45pm
  • Cashmere Tech v Selwyn Utd, Garrick Park, 2.45pm
Chch Utd 9; Cash Tech 7; Nelson 7; Nomads 6; Coastal 5; Bays 4; Selwyn 3; Dunedin 1; Universities 0;