Raglan Roosters had its most exciting loss of the season on Saturday when it was beaten by the invitational FIFA Under-20/Over 20s side that included former All Whites James Bannatyne.
Roosters captain Bjorn Ledwig said the soccer game in Raglan on Saturday was quite an event, and getting three goals past the former All Whites goalie was no small achievement.
“It was the most exciting thing that has happened to the club in a while,” Bjorn said of the game, which ended in a 3-5 loss to the Roosters, winners of the Waikato Sunday Social League first division.
The game was the first of several exhibition matches around Waikato to raise awareness about the FIFA U-20 World Cup next year, which New Zealand is hosting for the first time. Eight of the 52 games will be held in Hamilton.
James, who was also Hamilton sales and marketing manager for the world cup, hoped that a group of Raglan fans would come to the games “flying the Raglan colours” and support the tournament.
He said Saturday’s match in Raglan was a great family event that had a “real festive feel” about it.
Junior soccer players had a kick around before the adults’ game and enjoyed the inflatable kick wall set up at the Te Kopua soccer field. Some fans also tried their luck shooting for goal against James at half time.
In addition to James, who was goalie for the All Whites off and on for about 10 years until 2010, the FIFA U-20 Over 20 team included some national women representatives from the Football Ferns and Hamilton East MP David Bennett.
Football Fern Helen Collins, who could not play for the invitational team because of injury, came along to support the occasion. She said the world cup would help raise the profile of the sport and was an opportunity to see the next world soccer stars.
Bjorn said it was “mind blowing” to think that some of the players New Zealanders would see at the world cup next year would become multi-million dollar earning superstars over the next few years for clubs like Manchester United or Barcelona.
“When you think about it [the 2015 world cup], it’s extremely special,” Bjorn said.