The 1960s - Consolidation at Memorial Park

  26 August 2013   John Bradbury   History

Three major developments characterised the club’s progress through the 1960s: the move to the new Memorial Park, the building of the first football club gymnasium in Wellington in 1967, and the emergence of a strong Junior Management Committee which was to have a very significant impact on the club through to today.


Moving from just one ground at Petone Rec to three pitches at Memorial Park, and later four, not only gave the club quality, almost manicured, playing surfaces but it also provided a basis for increased and sustained growth – especially of junior football. In 1960, the first team continued to play at Petone Rec and lower grade games were played at Memorial Park. The 1960 Hilton-Petone Tournament, then an end-of-season knock-out competition, was the first occasion for top football to be played at Memorial Park, but from the 1961 season Memorial No.1 became the home ground for our first team. There were however no home and away fixtures schedules in those days, with the Wellington FA determining from week to week what games it wanted to schedule at its major venue - the Basin Reserve.


The playing surfaces prepared by the resident groundsman, Arthur Porter, were legendary. The current No. 4 pitch was a hockey ground with a surface so good that it hosted a New Zealand v India test match. Training and practising for all junior and senior teams was in the rather compact area between Bracken Street and the No.1 goalposts. And most would remember the grandstand located where Capital Football’s offices have in recent years been built. Committee meetings were held in the tiny cold room near the entrance to the changing rooms, for many years since used as storage for nets, corner flags and the like.


The growth of junior football was such that by 1962, while there were three teams, as there had been for some years, there were now nine junior teams. A Junior Management Committee had been formed in the late 1950s, and by 1962 it not only exercised a lot of responsibility but it brought together a nucleus of people who, along with their families, have been prominent in the club’s successful performance on the field and in administration and management. By the time the decade had ended, the seniors still fielded three teams, but there were by then 18 junior teams.


Researching the recent article about the Blair family’s four generations in the club going back to 1932 was something of a ‘find’ from a club history point of view, but of course the Pickering family has achieved the same feat in just 50 years and over a much wider scale. Without mentioning other family names and risking omissions, clearly the club has a number of three generation family members and they generally have involved people prepared to take responsibility and make a contribution in one form or another.


On the playing field the first team had an up and down decade, unfortunately being relegated to the 2nd division for a season on three occasions but always bouncing straight back. In 1962, while in the 2nd division, the first team scored 96 goals with some amazing personal tallies. Indeed, 1962 produced some startling figures: the first team had a 15 -1 win and on the same day the second team won 23 – 2! But again on that same day, the third team lost 15 – 1. They lost to Hungaria who were just starting out on their meteoric rise to the top of Wellington football with some highly skilled players.


We had Tony Evans and John Ryan selected to play for New Zealand in 1964, Tony being the first Petone junior to achieve that honour. And then in 1968, the Central League was formed, with the club starting off in the 2nd Division for a couple of seasons.


With the growth of the club continuing and demands on Memorial Park becoming greater, the Management Committee took on the project of building a gymnasium, mainly so that junior and senior teams could practise when the grounds were invariably closed in wet conditions. The gym was the first built by a football club in Wellington and took up the whole floor space inside the outer concrete block walls - the office, tuck shop, storerooms and clubrooms being in-built in later years. It was a huge undertaking to acquire the necessary Council planning approvals and the Council-guaranteed finance from the bank to go along with money raised by debentures sold to club members. And the engineering requirements were a challenge with very deep piling into the underlying swamp.


The gymnasium was also used as our clubrooms with after-match socialising on beer crates for seats and flagons of refreshments packed into Phil Pickering’s car from the New Central Hotel (usually then referred to as the Flying Jug, and now the Fireman’s Arms) every Saturday afternoon. It was not warm in the gym! The beer was cold and people didn’t drink wine then. And we had no plumbing, leaving women to find suitable bushes and men to be perhaps less discreet. But from those early days, the club has always had convivial after-match hospitality and functions that have attracted good numbers of members and friends, and especially families.

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