Petone - The Home of Wellington Football

  26 August 2013   John Bradbury   History

Petone was at the heart of the beginnings of football in the Wellington region. The Petone Wanderers club played and won the first ever match (against Wellington Rovers) in 1889 and hosted the second match, also against Rovers, at a pitch virtually on the site of Petone Pak‘nSave, one of our sponsors.


A year later, the Wellington Football Association (WFA) was formed (the 125th anniversary due in 2015) and the relocation of its headquarters a few years ago fittingly brings the administration of the game in Wellington to Petone.


Those early years were difficult and the Wanderers Club’s fortunes fluctuated as it faced the problems of transport to and from Wellington, where its only opponents were based, and the inner team conflict arising from industrial disputes at the main employer – the Woollen Mills, where Cornish Street now stands. Unsurprisingly, organised football in Petone was disbanded by 1895.


But 1898 saw its resurgence in the form of our club, founded as the Petone Association Football Club and now the oldest club in Wellington surviving in its original form. Its prospects in those early days were enhanced by having one of New Zealand’s most eminent citizens and father of New Zealand’s scientific institutions, Sir James Hector, as its Patron; the highly respected Mayor of Petone R C Kirk as its President; and a lawyer (and 1st team player) H H A Renai as Secretary/Treasurer.


The St Augustine’s Vicar, Rev. J D Russell, although a local referee, was a vice president and hosted management meetings at his vestry, and a local doctor was also involved. The club’s origins were characterised by a rounded and professional approach to the club’s management, along with financial stability and community support.


The club had a team in the Senior Championship (as well as a youth team) and played its first game at Petone Recreation Ground on 14 April 1898 against Wellington Rovers. On field results did not match off field support. In a five team competition, with eight games a season over the first three years, our team failed to score a goal until the 4th match in 1899 – and that was a Swifts own-goal!


Our first five years saw us win very few games, this despite the availability of a good ground at Petone Rec. seeing us have much home advantage - over our first five seasons, the WFA scheduled a total of only four of our games away – two at the Polo Ground and two at Newtown. The other four clubs, all Wellington-based, took the steam train to Petone Station and walked to the ground. At least they were usually well-rewarded with championship points for their journey and costs!


But, with seven players retiring and key administrators no longer being available, the club’s team was withdrawn from the senior championship in 1905 and didn’t re-emerge until 1908.


A highlight of reports on our matches in 1908 reminded me of a story about Gary Stapleton a few years back. The Evening Post reported that “shortly before time, with the score at 2-2, Petone's vice-captain and goalkeeper, McKinnon, stopped a hot shot from a visiting forward but in attempting to clear, accidentally threw the ball through his own goal. This was probably due to the fact that the light was failing and he could not discern his position.”


A low key on-field start for the club in its first ten years was followed by a decade in which local churches and World War I were among the causes of major impacts on our club.


From 1910, St David’s and St Augustine’s churches formed football clubs with several teams taking part across all divisions except Division One. Not only were parishioners registered to play for them but they also succeeded in hiring a ground at Petone Rec from the Petone Borough Council, causing much anxiety for our club, which was forced to use privately owned fields in the borough.


In 1914, a common feeling was that the hostilities in Europe would only be a short affair but, by early 1915,one hundred and fifty young men from Wellington who had been playing football had left or were due to leave for the War, with others enlisting week by week. Petone was one of the clubs worst affected.


The WFA decided for 1916 and 1917 to exclude all men of an age for service from playing and did this by restricting competition to grades under 21 year olds. This removed sensitivities around those who hadn’t enlisted, given that so many had already perished or been severely wounded before the major battles in Europe.


The Club Patron and former President, H J Palmer, who was also manager of the Empire Hotel, was among those who volunteered and was in the September 1917 Reinforcements sent to France. He returned at the end of the war as a sergeant.


The WFA senior competitions resumed in 1918 but, such was the impact of the War that our club wasn’t able to put teams together until 1919.

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