Words: ACFC Media
Sunday 12 September 2021
AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Kiwitea Street celebrates Māori Language Week as we take a look back at the contribution of Māori footballers to the achievements of Auckland City FC and Central United FC from 1962 to the present day.
Club chairperson Ivan Vuksich opens our account noting the beginning of football at Kiwitea Street in 1962.
"As everyone knows, Kiwitea Street is the home of two distinct but closely related football clubs in Auckland City FC and Central United FC.
"We were formed by immigrants from the former Yugoslavia with most of them coming from Dalmatian region including its beautiful islands.
"People came to New Zealand after World War 2 seeking new opportunities and freedom from the pain and displacement caused by the biggest conflict in human history.
"Football was our unifying force, the only game our people knew and one that best encapsulated and spoke to the heart of Central United FC's club members.
"Football, or 'nogomet' as we called it, is our national passion. Integration into New Zealand society wasn't easy for us. There was a lot of racism, a lot of obstacles in our way and a lot of rejection.
"Our first application to join the New Zealand football whanau was flatly rejected.
"This sense of rejection helped ferment one of the chief tenets of the spirit at Kiwitea Street and that is we are a club open and welcoming to all who wish to play football, no matter their background," Vuksich said.
Players came to Kiwitea Street from every cultural background you can imagine - Chile, Costa Rica, England, Peru, Scotland, Argentina, South Africa, Wales, Spain, Croatia, Germany, the island of Ireland, Samoa, most were New Zealand-born, many from other diverse immigrant families and, of course, there were many players who were Māori.
"The Māori players who have played at City and United makes for a very impressive read and certainly evokes a lot of special memories for me as a supporter of our clubs.
"Many of them have played for the New Zealand national team such as Wynton Rufer, Ross Nicholson, Clayton Lewis, Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, Riki Van Steeden, Logan Rogerson, Moses Dyer and many more," Vuksich said.
While assessing the achievements of Māori footballers at Kiwitea Street evokes memories of Chatham Cup, National League, OFC Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup victories, Vuksich says it's easy for Māori and Pacific footballers to slip through the cracks.
"We've got a list of players on a database and we've had to track their nationalities or changing status as they obtain New Zealand citizenship over the years but we've never taken a deep dive into whether or not our players or staff have a preference for how they identify culturally.
"We currently have players from 40 different nationalities, either born here or abroad, who have represented our clubs at Kiwitea Street which illustrates just how far and wide people have come to play their football here with us and how enriching that has been.
"We're talking about Māori footballers but it is very possible, even highly likely, that during this week of acknowledgement that we've missed out people who have a strong identity in this regard, or perhaps for whom their self-concept has changed or evolved over time.
"What it has meant is that it feels important now to ask that question and to record that in future so that when players from all backgrounds come to us we recognise them, their feelings on the matter and celebrate that.
"I would encourage any of our former players from Auckland City FC or Central United FC to contact us if you've not been mentioned and would like to be in future and we can make that right.
"We've always celebrated our past achievements but ultimately we are only a football club and, contrary to popular opinion, we are small compared with other clubs in our city in terms of the scale of our operation.
"We have to work doubly hard to deliver football to our members and it's easy to miss a detail or two when you're going at that pace.
Vuksich says Central United FC became a place where people felt they were welcome to play their football if they didn't fit elsewhere during the 1960s.
"It was a different time with different societal values and people had a tendency to see things in a very binary way.
"In many ways, we felt like outsiders ourselves and understood what it was like to sit outside the tent and so we made sure that we welcomed everyone who wanted to find a home with us here at Kiwitea Street.
"We're keen to explore all of the stories of our former players, no matter where they are from, and it seemed right and proper we retrace our steps from Central origins and the exploits of Māori players here at Kiwitea Street.
"Up until recently, we've not had much to do with local iwi but we do have strengthening bonds with Māori Football with many of our youngsters involved with the programme that is set up and established there.
"Māori Football is doing a great job bringing young people closer to their heritage with football as the vehicle to make that happen.
"I hope everyone over the next week enjoys our celebration of Māori Language Week and I hope you also look forward to our future Kiwitea Street Origin Stories which will feature players from all around New Zealand and the rest of the world.
"In a modern age where society seems terribly divided it seems important to look at the things that divide us but also study and remind ourselves of the things that also make us similar, human," he said.
Te Wiki o te Reo Māori - Māori Language Week 2021
Te Wiki o te Reo Māori – Māori Language Week has been celebrated in New Zealand since 1975. It acknowledges and celebrates the Māori language as a unique cultural treasure for all New Zealanders.
Māori Language Commissioner Rawinia Higgins confirmed the dates for this year’s Māori Language Week would be from the 13th to the 19th September 2021.
Te reo Māori has its origins in East Polynesia. The language is closely related to Tahitian and Cook Islands Māori and to a lesser degree to Hawaiian and Marquesan. In recent years, the use of te reo Māori has become more prevalent and people are working hard to ensure the language is rejuvenated and preserved for future generations.
Each year The Māori Language Commission sets a theme for the week, and a range of activities, promotions, and events encouraging the use of te reo Māori take place around the country. This page highlights te reo Māori resources and links to library events celebrating Māori Language Week.
For more information about Māori Language Week, please visit here.
If you were a former player of either Auckland City FC or Central United FC and wish to make known your iwi affiliation or cultural heritage please contact the club here.
Sunday 1 October 2023, 3pm, Kiwitea Street, Auckland