There are loads of people within the Waikato who make a huge volunteer commitment to football. In many ways that is what keeps our code ticking at community level week in and week out.
But for the purposes of this blog I thought I would highlight the efforts of one particular personality that Soccer United is this year sponsoring, if only because her impact has been so remarkable and so important to the ongoing development of our female footballers.
I first met Tarena Ranui about 5-6 years ago, when she was just beginning a coaching role with Northern United, Waikato-Bay of Plenty’s biggest football club, and I was a dad with a football-playing daughter.
Since then Tarena has developed a girls football programme that is without peer in the Waikato, and probably much wider, and we as a code have become the beneficiaries of this.
Her contribution to football, especially in the junior girls area, has been quite remarkable and selfless. As a result we have a nucleus of football-playing girls (my daughter Iona included) who just now assume that there has always been this energy and sophisticated planning around the girls game. (Truth bomb: There hasn’t.)
Tarena’s drive and vision has created immense possibilities for the girls who have come within her orbit. Indeed, her impact has been so obvious it has left many of us wondering what sort of state the game would be in if Tarena HADN’T stepped up.
At senior women’s level Waikato football has a solid and lengthy history. In the days of national women’s tournaments Waikato were champions in 1988 and 1989, twice rolling the powerful Auckland team in the final. In 1995 Anne Smith’s Waikato Unicol team beat Petone 3-1 in the final of just the second National Knockout Cup (now the Kate Sheppard Cup).
Then in 2010 Claudelands Rovers won the same trophy, beating Three Kings 5-4 in the final. And of course a couple of weeks back Hamilton Wanderers contested the final of this competition.
But while there has been pioneering work and an ongoing focus at top senior level, establishing a pathway for the next generation to get there is another story. At this level, Tarena has largely filled the void herself in a volunteer capacity.
For two years I served as Northern girls co-ordinator, and as a team manager and got to see Tarena’s work up close. A Ngaruawahia school teacher by trade, she coached four afternoons or nights a week and then took 2- 3 junior games on Saturday morning, plus the Melville United U15s or U16s on the Sunday.
Because she has always put herself out there, Tarena has had to fight a fair few battles along the way.
Tarena took a very “socialist” approach to coaching. Everyone was equal. All players were coached the same, and treated the same. At Northern, she took the brave step of effectively disbanding a Firebirds team which had essentially been hand-picked to be the best.
Instead she preferred to develop a wider “squad” atmosphere for three teams, who all trained together.
This had a really positive impact, which I could soon recognise in my own daughter. It is easy when you are a good player in a team with other good players. But when you suddenly find yourself a good player in a team where you have to show a bit of leadership, it helps develop you. You have to grow emotionally.
Iona flourished, as did everyone. The whole dynamic was very encouraging.
This year Tarena has continued her journey and is operating as the director of women’s football at the Melville United Academy, overseeing the girls youth teams (and also coaching their women’s first team).
In one sense it is a logical progression to the work she has done at junior level for the previous five years.
But it is also a massive thing to be driving the only female football academy in the Waikato.
This has never been done before and is so important for the whole province.
The fact that 40-plus girls have signed up is not only huge in itself, but also a tribute to her input from previous years.
With few other support mechanisms in place, a couple of years back my brother Darby and I tried to make Tarena’s work a bit easier by offering support with transport.
This season Soccer United are proud to be continuing this tradition by sponsoring
Tarena with a signwritten Hyundai Sonata car, in conjunction with Research Motors, RFM Rentals and Lotto Sportswear.
But the sad fact is we can’t do everything ourselves.
If there is somebody out there who is similarly appreciative of the role Tarena is playing within our football community and could maybe help with a business fuel card, please get in touch.
The good news is we have left space on the car signwriting for a logo.
Yours in football