The end is set to ar­rive in be­nign fash­ion

The Northland Age - - Sport -

So there he was, The Off­sider, glad to see a new NAKFA Sev­ens twi­light foot­ball cham­pi­onship kick off on Wed­nes­day evenings last week.

It was some­thing like the 16th time the an­nual event had been run since be­com­ing es­tab­lished on the Far North sport­ing cal­en­dar back in 2003 (the year he had ar­rived to take over the role of lo­cal sports­buster, only to be told no se­nior foot­ball was played in the area). Over the past decade and a half, he had of­ten farmed the tour­na­ment out to oth­ers want­ing to use it as a fundraiser — to set up a team, take some kids over­seas, etc — but it had come home to roost for the past two sea­sons.

No wor­ries there, but of some con­cern had been a drop in in­ter­est. For the first 14 years, de­mand had been sky-high and there sim­ply hadn’t been enough room for ev­ery­one. But for those past two sea­sons, he’d lit­er­ally had to bail folk up in or­der to try and get enough teams for both the so­cial and se­ri­ous di­vi­sions.

Maybe it had just reached plain old sat­u­ra­tion point, but he won­dered if that spell of ap­a­thy could be blamed on the Rise of the De­vice, with more and more peo­ple turn­ing in­stead to so­cial me­dia and on­line gam­ing for di­ver­sion rather than the tra­di­tional pas­times.

Think a be­nign in­ter­pre­ta­tion of The Ter­mi­na­tor se­ries where the Skynet cor­po­ra­tion un­in­ten­tion­ally al­lows ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to de­velop to the point it ac­tu­ally turns on mankind.

The Off­sider was one of those mid­dle-aged late­com­ers to the party who’d been sucked into the abyss of so­cial me­dia over the past year, but that had only served to make him more de­ter­mined to lay the gaunt­let down to the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

He wasn’t alone. Two men from com­pletely dif­fer­ent back­grounds in two sep­a­rate in­ter­views on the wire­less the other day spoke of the same thing. One, an Ir­ish singer-song­writer, spoke of the disin­gen­u­ous man­ner in which Face­book could be so alien­at­ing, for ex­am­ple with a user post­ing some­thing, only to re­turn the next day and end up crest­fallen be­cause it had re­ceived no likes. “Imag­ine if I was a 14-year-old kid,” the muso pon­dered.

Ad­mit­tedly, kids in Kaitaia ap­pear in no im­me­di­ate dan­ger of los­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to be out­doors. For starters, there’s touch on Tues­day, ath­let­ics on Wed­nes­days, mini-mod league and so­cial net­ball on Thurs­days and mini-ball on Fri­days. It’s the same for towns all over the Far North thanks to the de­ter­mined ef­forts by var­i­ous fa­cil­i­ta­tors want­ing to keep the old ways alive.

The thing with the NAKFA was that un­less you had a max­i­mum eight teams in each divi­sion, it risked be­com­ing lop­sided. You only needed one team to not turn up on any given night — be­cause of school prize­giv­ing, end-of-year camp, Christ­mas work party, etc — to throw the draw into con­fu­sion and make your av­er­age anx­i­ety-rid­den wretch feel like throw­ing in the towel.

Old Mate’s re­sponse was . . . it didn’t mat­ter. He just wanted to see the event go ahead so he could en­joy a kickaround along­side some good friends in a re­laxed en­vi­ron­ment. Which harkened back to one of the main rea­sons the Foot­ball Sev­ens had been es­tab­lished in the first place: to re­sem­ble the kickaround ca­su­ally ar­ranged in the vil­lage green on a Sun­day where the team that won wasn’t the one which scored the most goals but that which strung the most passes to­gether.

Those but­ter­flies The Off­sider felt be­fore ev­ery night of ev­ery NAKFA tour­na­ment — the fear that no one would turn up — could be dis­re­garded by imag­in­ing two fic­tional char­ac­ters whis­per­ing in his ear; like Kevin Cost­ner’s char­ac­ter from Field of Dreams be­ing told, “Build it [a base­ball pitch] and they will come,”, and MAD mag­a­zine mas­cot Al­fred E Neu­mann, grin­ning stupidly and ask­ing, “What, me worry?”

Any­way, open­ing night last week did prove alarm­ingly quiet, with most drift­ing off be­fore the fi­nal round but for two teams, who’d both been de­faulted but de­cided to stay on and play each other in a match with noth­ing at stake. As he packed up, the laugh­ter that came from the field and dark­ness fell will hap­pily haunt The Off­sider right up un­til the dawn of the im­pend­ing apoca­lypse.

"Those but­ter­flies The Off­sider felt be­fore ev­ery night of ev­ery NAKFA tour­na­ment — the fear that no one would turn up . . . "

■ The Off­sider is Age sports­buster, Fran­cis Mal­ley. Re­spond at sports@north­landage.co.nz

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