'Fairytale' season for resurgent Selwyn United as club set sights on National League

Selwyn United director of football Chris Brown (left) and president Stan de Rooy reflect on a...
Selwyn United director of football Chris Brown (left) and president Stan de Rooy reflect on a breakthrough season for the club’s first team. Photo: Geoff Sloan ​
A year ago Selwyn United were in danger of being relegated from the Mainland Football premiership until a win on the final afternoon. The club’s resilience was tested again during 2021, with two tense victories highlighting a ground-breaking campaign which culminated in qualification for the new National League. Chris Barclay details the Rolleston-based organisation’s steady development to a competitive force in one of the province’s fastest-growing areas.      

It wasn’t a goal of the month contender, but it made Selwyn United’s year.

Substitute Ollie Sims’ messy winner at Saxton Field won’t be going viral, yet the toe-poke will live long in the memory of first team players, support staff, management and fans.

Take head coach and director of football Chris Brown, who thought a Luke Blackie 87th-minute equaliser was scant consolation from the trip to Nelson Suburbs on October 2.

“It was a crazy 30 seconds really. We managed to win the ball back. Will Fairley crossed the ball in, it bounced off two or three people and it fell to Ollie who poked it home. Everyone was off the scale in terms of happiness and excitedness,” Brown said. 

Sims, who was first coached by Brown as a 13-year-old, secured a place in the club’s folklore as Selwyn United claimed the Southern League’s final berth for the revamped National League by a point through a 2-1 victory.

Selwyn United players celebrate qualifying for the National League after beating Nelson Suburbs...
Selwyn United players celebrate qualifying for the National League after beating Nelson Suburbs with a late Ollie Sims goal. Photo: Darren Booth
Three other clubs were in the qualification frame during a fluctuating final round, but once Christchurch United lost to Dunedin’s South City Royals with 10 minutes left on the clock in Nelson, Selwyn United somehow engineered their latest remarkable comeback.

In last year’s Mainland Football premiership, Selwyn United were in danger of relegation until a 2-1 win on the final afternoon condemned Western to the second-tier championship. 

Making the eight-team Southern League, the prerequisite for the upcoming National League, was also left late with an 85th-minute save from veteran shot – and in this case penalty – stopper Pieter-taco Bierema necessary to protect the 2-0 margin required to advance at Nomad United’s expense.

Brown savours those wins, though he nominated a 4-2 premiership defeat to Cashmere Technical in May – after Selwyn United led 2-0 with eight minutes to play – as the cornerstone of this campaign, the launching pad for a six-game unbeaten sequence in the premiership.

“That game was the catalyst for the boys going ‘actually we’re not far off’, we’d pushed them all the way.”

Team spirit was never an issue – 95 per cent of the squad that diced with relegation in 2020 reported for pre-season training, dedication synonymous with the rise of the club covering one of Canterbury’s fastest-growing areas.

An amalgamation of the Rolleston and Ellesmere clubs in 2013, Selwyn United toiled five years to gain promotion to the premiership.

Brown and fellow Englishman Lee Padmore, who attended the fabled Crewe Alexandria football academy, have been involved with Selwyn United from the outset after coaching in Australia.

“It’s been a rollercoaster ride but it’s been a fun one. Last year was a tough year, this one has been kind of a fairytale story,” Brown said.

Now Mainland Football’s director of football, Padmore was the original head coach when the joint venture was based at Rolleston’s quaint Brookside Park.

Although his career path has taken him to town, Padmore’s legacy is a fixture at Foster Park, according to Selwyn United president Stan de Rooy.

“Lee was the driving force in the early years of the club, setting the tone for Selwyn’s footballing culture and playing philosophy. He had the drive to ensure players have a continuous pathway in their footballing development,” he said.

Selwyn United’s junior programme ensures a steady stream of talent is developed at the club....
Selwyn United’s junior programme ensures a steady stream of talent is developed at the club. Photo: Karen Casey
Brown, a college mate of Padmore when they studied in Leeds, took the wheel of the first team in 2019, and ironically the Southern Motorway development has made life easier for the coach, and club.

“The motorway has been the biggest thing. People realise you can get out (to Rolleston) and back in 10-15 minutes. Once you’re onto the motorway it’s a quick route,” Brown said.

“We’ve got a core of players in the 20-25 age group, a lot of them live in the city for the social life but they always get out to training and get out to watch other teams within the club,” Brown said.

Accessibility – and National League qualification – has made the club more attractive, though Brown said the nurturing of home grown talent has been a key building block of the organisation.

Former Rolleston stalwart Jamie Carrodus has racked up more than 170 appearances while at the other end of the experience spectrum the line-up that pipped Nelson Suburbs 2-1 featured a trio of 16-year-olds, who are ideally destined for professional careers.

Finn Surman, Matt Sheridan and Jonny Sims have already headed north to the Wellington Phoenix academy, losses the club are content to absorb.

“That’s what we’re about. If they’ve got better things to go to we actually want to make that happen and push them on to that,” said de Rooy, who estimated 90 per cent of the clubs players were aged under-19.

Selwyn’s population boom should at least ensure the club regenerates its player stocks, from the ground up.

“There’s so much building going on. We’ll probably find the number of six to 10-year-olds coming through will be quite high,” Brown said.

“There’s plenty (of potential members) around, it’s just about what numbers we can stretch out to fulfill everybody’s needs.

“Numbers will grow to a point where there’s potential for another club to form.”

Membership revolves around the 1200 mark; de Rooy expects that number to jump by 200 or so in three years.

The club fields more than 90 teams, from First Kicks Football to the Masters side that headed to Blenheim for a tournament last week. Hopefully, a team will join next year’s women’s premiership.

“The prediction is with current growth we’d be looking at 110 teams in 2028,” de Rooy said.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better – superclub Cashmere Technical can beg to differ – so de Rooy was wary about expansion with the Foster Park headquarters at capacity in spite of sporting 15 grounds.

The club lost one of six floodlit pitches to hockey, but as compensation the district council will turn the No 1 field from grass to artificial turf.

Selwyn United is hoping a team will join next year’s women’s premiership. Photo: Karen Casey
Selwyn United is hoping a team will join next year’s women’s premiership. Photo: Karen Casey
A playing surface able to handle an increased workload is an off-field triumph for a club which also has hubs in Darfield, West Melton, Leeston and Lincoln.

“Our player base has spread so our resources have to be spread as well,” de Rooy said, revealing the budget to mark white lines on the pitches was $25,000 a season.

The artificial turf installation is on track for next season, other goals have been fulfilled ahead of schedule.

“We wanted to be a solid (premiership) team and not in the relegation zone all the time so we’ve actually reached the National League a lot earlier than we thought we would,” de Rooy said.

“We just wanted to keep improving and keep building a stable, well-recognised club within Canterbury that performs well and the first team is only a small portion of our club, we need to remember our youngsters and all the other teams.

“Our club is always based on growing our own talent,” he said, pinning dominant centre-back Mitchell Cockburn as a poster boy for that process. 

“We don’t just go hunting for players in other clubs that would bolster our first team. Although the success of our first team is great, we’re still a community and high performance club.”

However, making the National League, which is scheduled to start next month providing four Auckland clubs are able to participate, could create a selection quandary.

“If we get players approaching us we’re going to have to be very balanced,” de Rooy said.

“The one thing we don’t want to do as a club is end up with an environment where the younger players coming through that are striving to work hard to get into that first team are then getting getting pipped at the post by people just walking in, people that may not be committed to the club, they just want to play for a team that’s doing well.”

Sponsors, meanwhile, are welcome to state their case.

“We’re talking to another big sponsor that approached us after we made the National League. It’s an area we really need to push because in Selwyn we can only get grant money from pubs that have pokies, and there’s not many in the area,” de Rooy said.

“That’s where the teams in town have a big advantage over us and of course you’ve got clubs like Cash-Tech and Halswell that have got money from way back.

“I’m not saying they’re sitting on pots of gold but they’ve got that infrastructure from way back, they’ve got old members that have got their own businesses that are potentially funding some of that stuff.

“As a fledgling club, it’s an area we need to pick up on. What value can we give to them?

“Certainly the National League gives them a little bit. Ollie’s goal might have great ramifications down the track.”

 

 

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