Words: ACFC Media
Tuesday 27 July 2021
Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa - Auckland City FC is forging closer links with Māori Football Aotearoa as the club looks to evolve and nuture its growth in the modern era.
Māori Football Aotearoa participated in the Clash of Cultures at Ngahue Reserve last week that saw three teams compete with the touring Cook Islands U-15 boys and U-16 girls teams.
Two boys teams and one girls team featured. Atarangi Māori and Arawhiti Māori, two teams from the youth boys development programme faced the Cook Islands U-15 boys while the Pounamu Māori (U-16 girls team) faced off against the Cook Islands U-16 girls.
The boys next steps forward include competing for a place in the Nga Toa o te Motu initiative and then the Nga Whanapoikiri Taiohi Tama (U-16 boys squad).
The Cook Islands Football Association touring complement included teams of U-15 boys and U-16 girls as part of their build-up toward reintegration into OFC's regional tournament structure in the future.
And one participant with strong links to his Māori heritage and Auckland City FC is youngster Niko Tarawa.
Niko has played for Māori Football Aotearoa sides for the past three years and is proud to celebrate the many multifaceted sides of his cultural heritages.
Tarawa, of Ngāti Ranginui and Croatian descent, remembers his first tour with Māori Football Aotearoa with fondness.
"In 2019, I went to Australia with the Nga Whanapoikiri Tama Toki Toa (U-14 boys team) as part of a tour and I was very young at the time but a lot of the older boys helped me out when we were there.
"It was a good experience but we lost to Australia in the first game, I scored a goal in the second but unfortunately we lost that game as well - but overall it was a good experience," Tarawa said.
"To represent Māori Football Aotearoa means a lot to me. I represent my ancestors, my family and it means a lot I can achieve that by playing football.
"Auckland City FC and Central United FC mean a lot to me as well. When I play football, I represent all of these things and it makes me feel proud to do so. It's a very good feeling.
"The clubs at Kiwitea Street are multicultural and I think that will grow even bigger in the future.
"When you have a lot of cultures playing football we can connect with each other in a positive way through our sport," he said.
Auckland City FC is keen to forge closer links with Māori Football Aotearoa and Kaitiaki Phill Parker, Ngāti Manawa, spoke eloquently about why these threads have a potentially strong bind.
"This is the way of the future. We need to acknowledge and embrace each other for our individuality and who we are and who we represent past, current and future.
"Niko has a very special connection to Māori Football Aotearoa, he can not only whakapapa to his Māori ancestry but he's also Croatian and Dalmatian.
"In the late 1800s Māori and Dalmatian came together to create what is known as 'tarara', the Dalmatian-Māori people.
"There have been many many descendants of this union among our people, people who have gone on to be All Blacks, politicians and much more besides.
"It's a very special and unique blend. Niko doesn't only represent Māori but he also represents his Croatian-Dalmatian culture - he's a young person who represents everything that Auckland City FC is, past, current and future," he said.
Of the short to mid-term future, Parker reflects on the outcomes of the Clash of Cultures series positively.
"It's always a hard question to answer when we're asked to predict the future for Māori Football Aotearoa. We're always looking to raise the bar each time and we've raised the bar again by joining with our tuakana.
"Our next objective is to go to the Cook Islands, to go back to one of the ports our people originated from and revisit our home and go and find out what happened there and reconnect there with our whakapapa and our past," he said.
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