The 1940s - The Fall and the Rise

  26 August 2013   John Bradbury   History
 

After the grand success of winning the Division One championship in 1939, Petone had a mixed season in 1940, the Petone Borough’s centennial year. The team lost most first round games but then had an unbeaten run in the second round of matches. But World War II was starting to impact on the club with players that had enlisted in the armed forces either having left to fight or being required to go to training camps every second week-end.

 

Throughout society there were numerous events organised to raise money for the Sick, Wounded, and Distressed Fund and, in June, Petone played against Hutt and raised 50 pounds and 3 shillings for the cause. Maybe that doesn’t sound much? In today’s money that is about $4500!

 

It was as long ago as September 1940 that a proposal from the Petone Borough Council and the Hutt Borough Council was accepted by the Hutt River Board for Gear Island and, in particular, the land currently occupied by Memorial and Sladden Parks, to be developed for sporting pursuits. I recall that while at Wilford School I would go after school with friends to play in the area and we would raid lettuces from the market garden that used to occupy what is now the artificial turf! Indeed, it wasn’t until the late 1950s that drainage and earthworks began to transform the vision of a park into the reality that was Memorial Park in 1960.

 

The War very nearly put an end to the club’s existence. Indeed, in 1943 a team was only able to be fielded for 2 games before withdrawing for the rest of the season! And in 1947 and 1948, the club was able to field only junior teams in local competitions.

 

A vital factor to keeping the club going was Andy Leslie. He had coached the 1st team, played several games from 1942 through to 1945 when injuries allowed, and then coached and managed club and representative junior teams. His efforts on and off the field were acknowledged by the club in 1945 when he became the first club member to be awarded life membership. In 173 league appearances for the club he had scored 215 goals – a phenomenal feat!

 

No surprises then that Leslie was a key factor in raising Petone from the ashes in 1949. Aware that there were many post-war immigrants from Britain staying at the Fort Dorset army camp in Seatoun, Andy teamed up with former leading players Peter McVean and Jimmy Campbell to visit the camp to encourage players to join the club. Their mission was so successful that they eventually secured enough players to fill three teams. The club’s top team was placed in Division Two A, the equivalent of a 3rd division, reflecting its absence from the scene for two years. This was despite a prior WFA undertaking that any club having to recess because of the War would be reinstated in the grade it had been playing, and despite pleas from the club for senior B status on the basis of the quality of players it had attracted from the immigrants’ camp.

 

In giving their decision, the WFA graciously stated that, although in a lower division, Petone could compete in the Chatham Cup competition and get a taste of senior football, which would serve as useful experience should they be promoted at the end of the season. What followed was simply breathtaking. In their first two games our team scored 29 goals and conceded1! From two seasons of having no senior team at all, the club then went on to win the Chatham Cup in a final watched by some 12000 people at the Basin Reserve. The team, coached by Andy Leslie, raised the profile of football in Wellington, capturing the imagination of the public with its skilful play. The team was nick-named ‘the Settlers’ after the New Settlers’ Association’s Supporters Club, which was essentially a British organisation formed to follow the team every Saturday - its numerous members wearing scarves and berets in Petone’s colours of blue and white.

 

The team did not even have a home ground at Petone Rec and only played two games each at North Park and Sladden Park - the rest away. But the WFA scheduled all of its seven Chatham Cup fixtures at the Basin Reserve, inspired no doubt by the large crowds and increased gate-takings.

 

An interesting consequence of having won seven Chatham Cup games, two of which involved replays, was that the 9 games altogether only allowed the team enough weekends to complete just 9 championship games – all unbeaten. This left the team in 3rd place in the Two A championship. Several clubs argued that Petone should not be promoted because they hadn’t won the championship. Other clubs thought that promotion to One B would be sufficient, but thankfully a majority favoured Petone being promoted to One A – the top division – on the basis of their proven quality.

 

The Chair of the WFA, one Mr Cudby, stated “due should be given to the clubs that had kept the game going year in year out without hitting the headlines like Petone”. One can only wonder at the reactions this comment in the local media would have drawn!

 

Two of the Chatham Cup winning team went on to become long serving players and club administrators – Wally Hewitt and Dave McKissock – and both were later awarded Life Membership of the club.