By Jimmy O'Caroll
The romantic version of the Grizzlies’ beginning is a group of mature athletes deciding it was time to create a team that would play quality football and do justice to the beautiful game at the Masters level. The more realistic version was a group of old fellas who were playing for the Bears deciding they couldn’t be bothered chasing young guys around the pitch anymore and thought they should take advantage of Pete Withers retiring from serious football to cobble a team together.
The first season in 2010 saw them placed in Division 3. The squad was made up of a solid base of Kiwi born thoroughbreds and a few pommy immigrants. Adding to this powerful mix was our American import, Paul Shubert the 3rd, who apparently had represented the American Marines. Paul’s time with the team was relatively short and the standout memories mostly relate to the times he shot in the hamstring just as he was about to reach full flight and deliver on his promise.
Those early years also saw a number of other interesting characters join the squad. Boxaldiniho, whose comedic contribution often outshone his contribution on the field. Posh Laurie, who was not only living in a student hostel with hundreds of young women (and his wife) but was the fittest 54 year old you’ll ever meet. There was also Errol whom Mowbray affectionately called Elvis Costello. Mowbray, whose performances in goal became legendary, took Errol under his wing and could often be heard on the field providing constructive feedback to him.
That first couple of years the defensive structure revolved around a goalkeeper called Jimmy, who was fondly remembered as the guy “who had dodgy knees and couldn't bend down!” His unique approach to the keeping role, coupled with defenders like Liam, Billy and Westy who all felt giving away penalties was a requirement for a good defender, meant clean sheets were quite rare, potentially extremely rare, possibly even non-existent. However, the team's strategy was ensuring the attacking prowess of Withers and Barts, along with their supporting crew of Chalky and Serdar, scored more goals than they let in. The successful application of this strategy meant they won Division 3 in year one and came second in Division 2 the following year. Therefore, the Grizzlies ended up reaching the heady heights of Division 1 of Masters Football in 2012, a level they have maintained ever since.
Sustaining Division 1 status required management to enter the transfer market regularly over the years to maintain a high quality squad (for high quality read heaps of players to cover for those that broke down). Dead wood like Jimmy were cast aside and replaced by quality like Mowbray in goal, who was after many years of sterling service replaced by Brooksie. Tawa AFC royalty such as Piney, Richie Martin and Cam Riley also joined the squad. In desperate times, some lesser knowns, like the Woods brothers, were also recruited. There have been too many players involved with the team to individually name each one but they all have contributed to the Grizzlies culture of compete hard, but laugh harder.
The 2021 version of the Grizzlies is a much more competitive beast, especially when the second team is not playing in Waikanae. As of writing the team is sitting in third place having only dropped one game this year. There was far more reflection on that loss than in previous years, perhaps an indication of the higher standards expected by the retired star goalkeeper and new governor, Richard Mowbray, of Football Central fame (great football gear at competitive prices - new store at 1/3 Raiha Street, Porirua). The team bounced back from the loss with a 5-0 trouncing of the EFC Hammers featuring a hat-trick by Welsh Woody.
It is important to note the Grizzlies are not just a football team and their philanthropic nature needs to also be reflected on. Every year the team works tirelessly raising money through quizzes, race nights, or death raffles, to give a deserving group of partners and children a reprieve from the pressure of looking after their family Grizzlies member. Not only does this provide crucial stress release for despairing and distressed families but it provides an important cash injection to the pubs and restaurants of towns around New Zealand. The Grizzlies have always been, and will always be, a giving group.
Remember, once in the Grizzlies, always in the Grizzlies (see Dan Wood regarding the social member subscription fee).