BAZZA: Plains Rangers player Barrie Hawkes has been playing football for 50 years. Photos Troy Baker D8851-005/016

FOR the 64-year-old Plains Rangers player affectionately known as Bazza, the Grey Fox, or, “by the occasional discourteous opponent,” as Grandad, the game often coined ‘the beautiful game,’ is indeed, exactly that.

Barrie Hawkes considers himself lucky. First taking up soccer as an Invercargill schoolboy nearly 50 years ago, Barrie is still playing soccer today; first division, for his team of the past 27 years, the Plains Rangers.

“I don’t play every game anymore,” says Barrie who has been tailing off the Saturday fixtures that have dominated winter months for most of his life. “I play when I’m needed.”

But for the 64-year-old defender, passion for the game remains undiminished.

“It’s a great game, a fast-moving game of skill. That’s the standout for me,” Barrie says.

“And size doesn’t matter. You can be big and strong, or small. It’s the skill that will count.”

Apart from playing himself, the Awakeri Primary School teacher has also been responsible for igniting a passion for the game among younger generations. Nurturing a love of football within his own family – with all four of his and wife Rose’s now grownup sons being soccer players – Barrie is also well known in the Awakeri community for his many years of service in the Awakeri Junior Football Club.

President of the club (which currently fields 12 teams) for the past 31 years, and additionally, coaching for 15 of those years, Barrie has been fostering the sport in the Awakeri community for more than three decades.

It’s been a good fit for a teacher, he says. “I’ve loved being able to share enthusiasm for football with the students. It’s been a cool thing, a good way to interact with the kids and it’s also another tool to teach with.” It’s a role he says he’s going to miss come the end of the year.

Thirty-three years after moving to the Eastern Bay to take up his position at the school, Barrie will retire from his teaching post at the end of this year.

“I haven’t yet formally resigned but it’s common knowledge that I’m going to,” he says.

And along with it, he will also be stepping down from his long-time presidency of the junior football club, which is based at the school.

His many years with the club will be cherished, he says. “There’ve been so many highlights for me over the years. It’s always such a pleasure to watch talented players much later on who I saw start out in the Awakeri Juniors years ago.”

Barrie says his own soccer career has included just one gap, a long break of six years when his children were very small.

“When we arrived in Awakeri in 1986, I thought I’d given it up,” he says. But as his sons grew, becoming enamoured with the game themselves, Barrie says he was lured back to the game and found that he “loved it more than ever”.

The following years would see he and his sons playing together on the same team, all members of the Plains Rangers at some point or another. “A fantastic experience” he says.

Barrie considers himself lucky to have never suffered the serious type of injury that often retires older soccer players. “I’ve broken a few bones in my feet over the years but nothing that’s ever put me out for more than a few weeks.”

And his love for the beautiful game, extends far outside the Eastern Bay. An avid supporter of The Phoenix, Barrie tries to get to see their games when he can, and he keeps a keen eye on any international club featuring New Zealand players – “currently West Ham United and Burnley,” he says. But, above all stands his fondness for and allegiance to his own club, the Plains Rangers.

“It really is a great club,” he says. “Plains Rangers is very inclusive, social, and it’s been such a pleasure to play alongside a lot of the players over the years such as Aaron Muggeridge, and Christian Wetting”.

Barrie says of the club president and coach who has been playing for the club since he was 15-years-old. “They’ve got the passion, like me.”

Like the slogan on a shirt gifted to Barrie whose message he reckons is “pretty much right,” Barrie is continuing to live his life by the motto, “Football is life … The rest is merely details”.