It was a goal that Allan Pearce will always remember.
The final of the OFC Champions League 2007 saw Waitakere United meet Ba FC in a two-leg home-and-away tie.
After losing the first encounter 2-1 in Fiji – where Waitakere’s Commins Menapi scored a crucial away goal – United lined up at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland on April 29, 2007 for the return match.
As the home leg rumbled into the second half at nil-all, the stage was set for Pearce’s goal; Waitakere’s Jeff Campbell swung a free kick towards the box and when the ball floated back to Pearce, he nodded it home in the 55th minute.
It gave Waitakere a 1-0 victory, making the score 2-2 on aggregate and the New Zealanders won via the away goals rule.
“That was really, really cool because you don’t get many opportunities to be in finals and when you do get into a final, to score in a final and for it to be the goal that ultimately wins it is pretty special,” Pearce said as he cast his mind back 13 years.
“To score the only goal in that game is pretty cool. It was obviously just a tap-in, but it was good to be there.”
Despite being a striker, Pearce also cleared a ball off his own line in the opening half as Ba poured on plenty of pressure during the second leg.
Former New Zealand international goalkeeper Michael Utting – in the twilight of his career – also pulled off a string of fine saves and was named man of the match.
“He was exceptional that day,” Pearce said of Utting’s performance.
Waitakere ended the match with only nine players. George Suri was sent off with 45 minutes left, while Craig Wylie was given his second yellow card in the dying stages.
Captain Danny Hay was ruled out of the game and the New Zealand Herald’s match report sung the praises of Graham Pearce – Allan’s brother – who did a great job in defence while playing with an injured calf.
Waitakere’s win was only possibly because they kept the tie alive in the first match.
New Zealand teams have been long aware of the unique challenges of playing football in the Pacific Islands and the first leg of the final of the OFC Champions League 2007 was no different.
On April 21, 2007, Waitakere United arrived at Ba’s arena of Govind Park where 10,000 people were in attendance.
“We kind of stopped just outside the ground and had to walk in with everyone just staring at us and that was quite intimidating and then we walked into the changing rooms,” Allan Pearce recalled.
“Then I remember going out to warm up and there were tons of people, we had to walk through them, we had to move everyone and obviously there was a bit of hostility with regards to that from their part.
“Then the game started and I just remember the deafening noise of being at Ba and it’s always pretty good, especially at the start and they had a couple of shots early and it was pretty well on as soon as the crowd got involved, we knew it was going to be a hard day.”
Ba went ahead 1-0 in the seventh minute of the first leg through Ronald Chandra.
“That was a big blow to us,” Pearce said. “I remember just being under the pump. I remember thinking to myself ‘it will be fine; we’ll just ride that out and we’ll win 5-1’.”
The score remained 1-0 at the break and Pearce said there were some choice words exchanged among their team.
That friendly internal fire sparked them into life as Menapi helped them draw level before Josaia Bukalidi scored for Ba as the Fijians took the first leg 2-1.
“They were a very good team and they had some very good players in that team, and they were big, and they were strong.”
But despite being behind after the first match, Pearce said they remained confident.
“We always knew that going back home we would have a really good chance and that’s the beauty of playing a home and away leg.”
Pearce’s deft header in the return leg sent Waitakere United to the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan in 2007 where they lost 3-1 to Iranian qualifier Sepahan and were bundled out of the tournament.
But their Champions League title will always be in the record books and what made it more remarkable is that Waitakere United were a late addition to the competition following the withdrawal of Vanuatu’s Tafea FC.
The New Zealanders edged crosstown rivals Auckland City FC on goal difference to top Group A as New Caledonia’s AS Mont-Dore finished third.
Ba went through Group B unbeaten to make the final as they got past Tahitian club AS Temanava and Marist Football Club from the Solomon Islands following a series of home and away matches.
That 2007 triumph wasn’t the only continental success Waitakere enjoyed though as they also won the Champions League in 2008, defending their crown with a 6-3 aggregate win over Solomon Islands club Kossa FC.
The home leg again proved valuable for Waitakere because despite going down 3-1 in the first match, they powered home with a 5-0 victory in the second game with Pearce scoring twice.
Now retired, Pearce, 37, last played for Auckland premier club side Three Kings United in 2018 after stepping down from national league duty for Waitakere United in New Zealand four years earlier.
The former All White runs a physiotherapy practice with his wife in Auckland, and they have two young children.