A brief history of the mighty BNU
By the Ratgirl
Settle yourselves down now little children, because it’s time for you to hear the story of how the most popular football club in the country* became the most popular football club in the country. For those of you who’ve had a taste of football Brooklyn-style, you could be forgiven for thinking there was never a time before Brooklyn. It seems impossible that there could have been a time when the Wellington football scene was so sadly lacking, but here it is. All laid down in black and white. Or black and red, depending on your perspective. In fact, although this story starts back in 1916, it really wasn’t until the early seventies that Brooklyn became the mighty force it is. It’s had its share of toils and snares on the way. But nothing we couldn’t handle, right boys and girls?
Brooklyn Norther United was born in 1972, as were a number of the club’s most successful and influential players of all time. The club itself, unlike most of the players born that year, was actually a reincarnation – the product of two of Wellington’s finest football clubs. The two clubs, as the name would suggest were the small but sprightly Northern, and the mighty Brooklyn United.
OK so that’s pretty old, but that doesn’t make it a hundred years old. To get there, we need to go way, way back.
The original Brooklyn United club started out as Institute Old Boys in 1916 and competed in the
Wellington leagues until 1953. The club was fairly successful, reaching the North Island final of the
Chatham Cup in 1950 and providing players for a New Zealand team playing Australia at the time.
Strangely, the score of the trans-Tasman clash has been omitted from the history books, and there
are few old-timers keen to recount the event. Even after a few whiskies. Really.
Although the club started out pretty nicely, things weren’t exactly going to plan. The club was
reorganised in 1956, which is when it changes its name to Brooklyn United. Sadly, the reorganisation
did bugger all for its divisional position (which was actually its only problem in the first place), that is,
a name change didn’t give it first division status. But then it wouldn’t have done, would it.
So with heavy hearts and a brand new name, Brooklyn United was desperate to make it to the top
and no one knew how to get there.
Let’s move on to the next part of our joyous union. Northern.
Northern was formed by members of Wellington’s Chinese community and first fielded a team in
1949. Giving itself a year to get sorted, in 1950 the first team made its first big move, being
promoted from seventh to sixth grade. And it must have liked how it felt, because over the next few
years, the team continued up through the ranks until it finally settled itself in first division in 1956.
Although there were a number of memorable players (and games for that matter), there’s hardly
anyone around who can remember them, so you’ll need to use your imagination. One notable
mention however, was a Mr Tommy Walker, who’d played for Waterside back in the 30s and as part
of a team of four-time finalists in the Chatham Cup. He was the guy responsible for coaching the side
up through grades at the awesome rate of one a year.
So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out where we’re heading now – on the one hand we’ve
got the skilful, small and perfectly formed Northern side, and on the other we have the shiny-new-
name-but- we-can’t get-into- the-first- division Brooklyn United.
You’d think this is the part where the super-successful club looks fondly on the small-time one and
offers it the chance of a lifetime. Like Jimmy Grimble or something. But that’s not at all what
happened. You see, even though Northern was as successful as any club might ever aspire to be, it
was having difficulty attracting players. It’s possible that because it was so successful it was having
trouble attracting any mates (your classic “tall poppy" syndrome) but then again, it may have been
the other way around. Either way, one thing’s for certain – you can’t stay on top if you don’t have
any players. So it wasn’t so much a case of Northern throwing out a lifeline for a less successful
(albeit bigger) club with loads of mates, but a case of two clubs identifying their shortcomings and
finding out that each had what the other needed. It’s all very Disney really.
There are a number of recorded theories on why Northern wasn’t popular, and most of them are
reasonably offensive. One reasonable theory is that it was because Northern didn’t really have an
association with a particular area of Wellington (perhaps potential players thought they were going
to have to train in the Hutt or something?). If that’s the case, partnering up with a club that had a
Wellington suburb’s name in its title was an inspired touch.
In 1971, Brooklyn United failed to qualify in the Central League entry tournament, and this seemed
like the perfect time for the clubs to finally get hitched. The rest as they say, is history. Brooklyn
Northern United was strengthened by the union and finally enjoying the best of both worlds: its
members’ exceptional football skills and its ability to make friends and attract players. It’s remained
that way ever since.