Footballers prepare for season openers

Marlborough’s footballers are looking forward to a full season of on-field action in 2021.

After last year’s Covid-disrupted season, fingers are crossed that players will be able to stretch their legs and show their skills over the next few months free of interruption.

Saturday sees the first competition games, with the province’s flagship side, Rangers AFC, opening their Nelson division one campaign at home against Nelson FC, while Marlborough men’s division one and two sides begin their bids for local honours.

The successful 2020 Rangers AFC combination. Photo supplied

Twelve teams will line up in those competitions, six in each.

Division one will be contested by Bottle-O Masters, Call Care Hotspurs, Call Care Trojans, Rangers Development, last year’s Knockout Cup victors Central Wolves and Central Buccaneers.

On Saturday, Masters meet Hotspurs and Trojans take on Rangers at A and P Park, while Central clubmates Wolves and Buccaneers play each other at Athletic Park.

In division two, Central Privateers meet Rangers Masters and Rangers Clubs of Marlborough take on Call Care Spartans, both games at A and P Park, while Picton tackle Redwood at Endeavour Park.

In the women’s division, three local teams will play in a social league while Liquid Action Blenheim Valley Bullets will play in Nelson’s top women’s competition, which starts on May 1.

Marlborough Football will have an interest in two nationwide competitions this season. Rangers AFC are entered into the long-standing and highly-prestigious Chatham Cup while BV Bullets are confirmed in the Kate Sheppard Cup, the equivalent of the Chatham Cup for women’s teams. Draws have not been completed yet.

Rangers AFC, who completed a superb 2020 season with victory in the Nelson division one league, will again field an imposing squad.

Changes have been made for the 2021 competition. First up is a qualifying round to determine who plays in Tasman Trophy division one and two.

Sixteen teams are split into four pools, each team playing the other with the top two sides moving into division one. Rangers are drawn against three handy sides in the qualifying stages - FC Nelson Karenni, FC Nelson Locomotive and Wakefield First XI – so will have to find their feet from the outset.

Rangers have had quite a turnover of players. Classy defender Liam Sluiter has moved out of the district this season, striker Carl Connor-McClean is playing in Nelson, as is midfielder Martin Delgado. Scott Belsham, Dan Diamond Tana Connor-McClean and Ollie Baker are also absent for a variety of reasons.

Into the mix come Ryan Palmer, Keagan Mortimer, Aaron Hayes, Bjorn Waechter, Dylan Endersby, goalie Liam Kennedy and two sets of twins - Liam and Josh Clamp, plus Boyd and Kane Elvy.

Marlborough Football general manager Andrea Smith-Scott says senior grade numbers were looking on par with last year.

In the junior and youth leagues, numbers also appear to be very similar to last season.

The women’s, youth and junior players will lace up their boots for competition kick-off on April 17.

Outside of club football, Andrea and her team are gearing up for the region’s “biggest year ever”.

In September, the region will host the New Zealand Secondary Schools girls’ tournament.

A representative tournament is likely to follow hot on its heels and then the 2021 South Island Masters Games where Marlborough Football will run the football and Futsal programmes.

Then they will gear up for a major primary schools’ tournament in early December, featuring 55 teams.

For anyone interested in more information on playing football in Marlborough, or to look at which junior football programmes are available, check out marlboroughfootball.co.nz

Rangers AFC squad 2021

: Jordan Columbus, Tore Waechter, Julian Delgado, Harrison Pine, Sam Pearson, Jono Masters, Adam Rose, Aaron Hayes, Keagan Mortimer, Bjorn Waechter, Ryan Palmer, Dylan Endersby, Liam Kennedy, Liaqm Clamp, Josh Clamp, Boyd Elvy, Kane Elvy. Manager: Wolfie Waechter