Māori Language Week: Past Māori Players

Words: ACFC Media

Friday 17 September 2021

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Today we conclude our Kiwitea Street Origin Story series on the contributions of Māori footballers to the successes of Auckland City FC and Central United FC.

Earlier this week, focus fell on the role Oceania Player of the Century Wynton Rufer had on Central United FC's first ever Chatham Cup victory in 1997 and this week we turn to the impact a raft of players had on the domestic and international stage.

We begin with goalkeeper Ross Nicholson. Nicholson was part of both Central United FC and Auckland City FC's successful teams of the early 2000s. A New Zealand international who won 13 caps for his country made his full debut in a 1-0 defeat to Oman on 22nd June 1998.

Nicholson played 345 times for Central United between 1993 and 2005, winning two National League titles and three Chatham Cups and he was a key figure in three of Auckland City FC's ISPS Handa Premiership titles between 2004 and 2009. Nicholson kept goal for the Navy Blues in their inaugural OFC Champions League title victory in 2006 and featured in both games at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in 2006 against Al Ahly of Egypt and Jeonbuk Motors of South Korea.

Nicholson has the most number of appearances for any Auckland City FC goalkeeper, having played for the club 100 times and is ahead of Jacob Spoonley (99), Tamati Williams (93) and Enaut Zubikarai (84). Now 46, Nicholson was still an active player in the Lotto NRFL as late as last season and has a board position with Māori Football.

Another New Zealand international, Clayton Lewis, spent two different spells with Auckland City FC, his first between 2015 and 2017, his second during the 2019-20 season after returning from England after a two year spell with Scunthorpe United. Now a key figure for the Wellington Phoenix and and New Zealand U-24 side that excelled at the recent Tokyo Olympics, The 24-year-old played 67 times for the Navy Blues and scored 18 goals. He played at two FIFA Club World Cups for the club and

Lewis' Navy Blues career dovetailed neatly with that of another midfielder in Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi. Hudson-Wihongi debuted for New Zealand in a 1-0 friendly win over Oman and was part of the New Zealand side that won back the OFC Nations Cup in a penalty shoot-out victory over Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby in 2016. Eight caps for his country at senior level, Hudson-Wihongi also played at age-group level for New Zealand at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2015.

Tamati Williams is the second goalkeeper to feature on our list with the 37-year-old former fashion model and 1-cap senior New Zealand international part of Kiwitea Street folklore in his two different spells at Auckland City FC. A penalty shoot out hero at the FIFA Club World Cup when the Navy Blues defeated Moghreb Tetouan when he saved Ahmed Jahouh's spot kick in a 4-3 win.

Williams habit of saving big penalty kicks continued when he stopped Colin Marshall's effort in the OFC Champions League Final, 2nd Leg, at a crucial juncture in the tie to preserve the 1-1 score line. Williams won a FIFA Club World Cup bronze medal, four OFC Champions League titles and one ISPS Handa Premiership titles during his spell at Kiwitea Street before going on to a professional career with Dutch side RKC Waalwijk and later AaB in Denmark. He made his one and only appearance for New Zealand at senior level in a friendly with South Africa when replaced Glen Moss as a second half substitute.

Another player who left an indelible mark on Kiwitea Street was five-cap New Zealand international defender Riki Van Steeden. Nelson-born Van Steeden started life as a striker with Nelson Suburbs in the 1990s before signing a professional contract with Carlton SC and then the Football Kingz. Van Steeden redesigned himself as a defender when he joined Auckland City FC under Allan Jones and he helped the club to three successive ISPS Handa Premiership titles and its first OFC Champions League title.

Van Steeden's greatest contribution came when he scored a dramatic last gasp winner against African champions TP Mazembe in the fifth placed playoff at the FIFA Club World Cup, a goal that secured a bumper payday for OFC, New Zealand Football and the clubs of the ISPS Handa Premiership. The 3-2 win remains one of the greatest results in the history of the club.

New Zealand international striker Logan Rogerson is playing his trade in Finland with HJK Helsinki and recently won a loan move to former Finnish champions FC Haka. Rogerson joined the Navy Blues in 2019-20 season and helped the club to an ISPS Handa Premiership title and won plaudits for his pace, skill and commitment, scoring 11 goals in 29 games before trying his luck in Scandinavia. Rogerson, 23, made his international debut for New Zealand in a 1-0 win over Oman in 2015 and also played in the A-League with the Wellington Phoenix.

Another former New Zealand age-group international who left his mark on Kiwitea Street was Kara Waetford. Born and raised in Auckland and with whakapapa links to Ngāpuhi and Ngātiwai, Waetford was a stalwart for Uni-Mount Wellington before finishing his playing career with a flourish at Kiwitea Street. Waetford is now an Advisory Chair for the boy's hostel of InZone Education and a keen coach of cricket and football.

While this list of players is by no means exhaustive, there are a raft of other players to have worn the yellow and navy blue colours of our clubs at Kiwitea Street and include former Melville United and Hamilton Wanderers forward Stu Watene, who made one appearance for the club in 2006-07 in the ISPS Handa Premiership. 

A number of players who played their football at Kiwitea Street with links to tangata whenua include New Zealand international midfielder Moses Dyer, former Central United FC players Hoani Edwards, Ben Hall, Willie Clark and Darrin Brown. Auckland City FC youth teamers Keegan Inia-Ashdown and Tane Gent are also part of the story as well as Thomas and Oscar Spragg, and former Navy Blues defender Jesse Edge, whose whakapapa links to Ngāpuhi through his father.

Putting together this acknowledgement was not without its challenges, nor can we claim any notion of perfection, in fact, we acknowledge a paucity of broader accuracy, but hope this initial action opens the door for discussion.

If you were left out of this series and you played for either Auckland City FC and/or Central United FC in the past, and have Māori ancestry, we would love to hear from you and listen to your story.

This is a project that we hope to push forward so that players from ALL backgrounds also get in touch as we prepare future Kiwitea Street Origin Stories from all our players and members in the not too distant future.

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.

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