Words: ACFC Media
Thursday 27 May 2021
Auckland City FC have achieved unparalleled success at club level in Oceania and this month marks 15 years since they won their first continental title.
The 2006 OFC Champions League – known as the OFC Club Championship at the time – was the first senior club competition in the Pacific to be held after Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation.
This meant the tournament was wide open and a new champion would be crowned as Australia’s Sydney FC had triumphed in 2005.
Two pools of four converged in New Zealand for the event, including Fiji’s Nokia Eagles who punched their ticket courtesy of the four-team preliminary round in February.
Heavy rain in the Auckland region meant conditions were challenging and a number of games had to be moved to the outer pitches at North Harbour Stadium.
City found themselves in Group A alongside Tahiti’s Pirae, Marist of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinean outfit Sobou FC.
Group B consisted of New Zealand’s YoungHeart Manawatu, the Nokia Eagles, Vanuatu’s Tafea and AS Magenta from New Caledonia.
The previous year’s regional club competition that was held in Tahiti had planted the seed for a small rivalry between Pirae and Auckland City after the Tahitians got the better of the Kiwis 1-0 in the group stages.
That loss coupled with a stoppage-time defeat to Sydney FC meant Auckland City didn’t get out of their pool in 2005, which provided a valuable lesson.
Longstanding Auckland City FC Chairman Ivan Vuksich said his team approached 2006 with a different attitude.
“I think after our experience in Tahiti in 2005, we realised that you can’t just have 10 or 11 good players, you needed 15 or 16. You needed depth and you needed a system,” Vuksich said.
One of the most valuable pieces of recruitment Auckland City did was acquire the services of former South African international Keryn Jordan.
The striker had enjoyed a prolific season on New Zealand’s domestic circuit in 2004-2005 for cross-town rivals Waitakere United and he added something extra to City’s attack.
Auckland City got through the group stages with three wins from as many matches, including a wild encounter with Pirae where both sides finished with nine players as a lone goal from Graham Little in the 85th minute secured the points.
Pirae also emerged from Group A, while on the other side of the draw, YoungHeart Manwatu and the Nokia Eagles qualified for the semi-finals.
An all-New Zealand final was on the cards and when Auckland City beat the Eagles 9-1 in their final four encounter, it looked a distinct possibility.
But Pirae were determined to get another crack at City and two goals in the opening 10 minutes helped them to a 2-1 victory over YoungHeart Manawatu who had Solomon Islands international Benjamin Totori on their books.
This set up the showpiece game at North Harbour Stadium on Sunday, May 21, 2006.
Pirae were led by Jose Hmae and Tahitian international Naea Bennett who provided plenty of firepower.
But Bennett was a religious man who refused to play on Sundays, which meant he was unavailable for the final of the tournament.
It was a huge loss for Pirae and was one of the major storylines of the final, but it was Jordan who dominated the headlines.
The striker scored a stunning hat-trick to lead Auckland City to a 3-1 victory but he had more than just football on his mind when he took the pitch that day.
While the celebrations flowed back at City’s Kiwitea Street clubrooms, Vuksich noticed something was off with their prolific forward.
“He looked a little bit glum and I just put it down to being absolutely exhausted,” Vuksich recalled.
“But then he rang me the next morning, believe it or not, and said ‘Ivan, I need to talk to you urgently and I thought ‘what the hell is this about?’.
It was at that meeting where Jordan told Vuksich that some recent tests revealed his cancer had returned, an illness he had been battling on and off for five years.
“He didn’t tell anybody in that week, played the games, scored a hat-trick and was absolutely exhausted,” Vuksich said.
“I’ll never forget him telling me that with tears coming down his eyes, tears were coming down my eyes when he told me.”
Jordan’s heroics sent City to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan later that year and although they were unable to win either of their matches, the regional title kickstarted a strong run of success.
City went on to win another eight OFC Champions League titles, including seven in a row from 2011-2017.
They also lifted the trophy in 2009 where Jordan scored a hat-trick in the first leg of the decider as City beat Koloale 7-2.
The Navy Blues won the competition 9-4 on aggregate and Jordan is the only person to have scored trebles in two OFC Champions League finals.
Jordan eventually passed away due to cancer in his hometown of Pretoria in 2013 at only 37.
Vuksich said Jordan, who scored 61 goals in 79 games for City, was an important part of their club’s history.
“He went through a tough time, but he was very courageous, never complained and just played what was in front of him.
“He’s never forgotten, each year we remember him.”
This article reproduced courtesy www.oceaniafootball.com
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