Founders – The Inaugural Year
The history of the Whakatane Town Soccer Club can be traced back to its first competition year of 1954, when the development of the Whakatane Board Mills brought many skilled workers from the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Holland and Finland. These were football playing countries, of course, and it wasn’t long before the new immigrants were forming teams in the district. The Boardmills and ‘Town’ teams were raised almost simultaneously, the latter being made up of those players who didn’t work at the mill. Kawerau and Edgecumbe teams quickly followed.
There is not much written material relating to those early days but some of the original pioneers of the game in the Eastern Bay still live in the district, and from the stories they tell one can form a picture of the difficulties they faced in introducing football to a sceptical population.
According to Football fanatic, Alf Brooks, such was the novelty of the game in this area that when the local sports shop (Tyson sports shop, next to Shapleys) was approached for a ‘soccer’ ball, they had to send to Wellington to get one.
Joost Bylsma who was the Goalkeeper in the first Whakatane team clearly recalls that the main driving force behind its formation was Alec Town, a local butcher who had previously played in Auckland. The first Bay of plenty league consisted of Board Mills, Whakatane Town, Kawerau, Edgecumbe, Te Puke, two teams from Tauranga, and three from Rotorua. In the words of Alf Brooks…”much of the travel to away games was along narrow, dusty, unsealed roads”.
From such humble beginnings the club has progressed to a modern organisation with first class facilities and a large number of senior and junior players. One can admire the foresight and diligence of those men and women of the 1950s who laid the groundwork for our club and our sport to prosper.
Clubrooms – Vision to Reality
Those early pioneers of soccer in Whakatane were people of vision who were not content to just kick a ball around for their own amusement. They wanted to establish their sport on a permanent basis and to provide social amenities and facilities that are necessary for the success of any sport.
Consequently, fund-raising was always an important part of their activities, not withstanding the general antipathy of the community towards this “foreign” game. There was also a commonly held view among the Borough Councilors of the day that further building on the Domain (Rex Morpeth Park) should be resisted.
As far back as 1966 the soccer officials for a one-storey building drew up a plan, but this seems to have lapsed for reasons which have not been recorded. It wasn’t until the early 1970’s that the Soccer Club was in a position to make a serious approach to the Council on the basis of plans prepared by now Life Member Dick Manktelow in association with Messrs Marks, Sedcole & Stiles Registered Architects and Structural Engineers.
After much deliberation between the parties which by this time included the A&P Association and the local Cricket Association, the Council finally approved the construction of a two-storey pavilion. The letter of approval was dated 22 August 1973.
The Cricket Association, which had made no financial commitment to the project but agreed to spearhead a fundraising drive, eventually withdrew altogether and their place was taken by the Citizens Brass Band who were about to vacate their premises in Francis Street.
With agreed funding from the various parties involved, together with some financial assistance from Government, construction of the building was able to commence over the summer of 1973 / 74.
If people thought that getting the project to this stage was difficult they soon realized that the hard work was only just beginning. Being reliant mainly on voluntary labour, the task confronting the builders was immense. There was a limited amount of time that the workers could spend away from their families, while holding down daytime jobs and carrying on the day-to-day running of the Soccer Club.
Money was always a problem, too, as the basic financial contributions made by the various parties were soon overtaken by inflation. This gave rise to many imaginative fund-raising initiatives, including the demolition of an old house in Goulstone Road to make way for the Alice Stone pensioner flats. The Club received the princely sum of $ 200. – for this work.
By mid 1975 the building was partially in use by the organizations concerned, although there was still a great deal of interior finishing to be done. Funds had once again dried up, so the Club was forced to approach a bank for a loan. This was refused and work would have to come to a halt had it not been for the timely intervention of the Mayor, Rex Morpeth, who acted as personal guarantor with the bank to secure a loan of $ 5000. – which gave the Club the impetus to finish the job.
To the relief of all concerned the building was officially opened on the 2 April 1977, with Sheila Brooks, wife of Club President, Alf Brooks, doing the honours in the presence of the Mayor, some Councilors and many supporters. Mrs Flossie Jarrett was on hand to perform a similar ceremony to open the band room.
In the early 1980’s the Citizens Band moved to larger premises in Valley Road and sold the band room back to the Soccer Club. The purchase was greatly assisted by an interest free loan of $ 10,000. – from club benefactor, Ned Kelly. Towards the end of the decade the room was dedicated to the late George Ferguson who had done so much to bring the building project to fruition.
Negotiations have almost been completed for the A&P Association to relinquish their share of the building subject to guarantees concerning their use of the building on Show Days.
The Club is deeply grateful to all those people, many of them now departed, who in so many ways gave their time and energy to establish a home for Soccer on Rex Morpeth Park. Their vision has indeed become a reality.