Fullback Frank Belt had not even heard of the Chatham Cup until last year. But the former Hull City professional now finds himself on the verge of winning one of New Zealand sport’s most coveted prizes for the second season in succession.
After arriving in Auckland via stints in Australia and the United States, the Englishman was a member of the Eastern Suburbs squad that lifted the trophy in 2015 and is now in line for another winner’s medal if his Waitakere City side can get the better of Birkenhead United in this season’s final on Sunday.
“I’ve played against Birkenhead a few times and am very confident,” he says.
“That’s not to say they’re not a threat because it’s cup football and anything can happen, it’s about who takes their chances.”
Despite Belt’s fighting talk, Waitakere will go into the match as slight underdogs as Birkenhead are regarded as one of the better sides in the NRFL Premier League while the west Aucklanders have spent this season earning promotion from Division One.
But Waitakere made light of facing a higher-ranked opponent in the semi-final – in which they swept aside second-placed Premier League team Three Kings United 6-1 – and Belt believes a similar performance is possible.
“They’re a good team but there’s no reason why we can’t go out there and dominate, like we did in the semi-final,” he says.
If he can once again come out on the winning side, Belt will not only earn another Chatham Cup gong but a fourth trophy in just two years. Suburbs completed a rare league-and-cup double last season – the club’s first since 1965 – and, remarkably, Belt is now involved in another double bid with Waitakere having earlier wrapped up the Division One title.
“It’s been fantastic here, the boys have been absolutely brilliant and there’s some really good players,” he says of his Waitakere experience.
“You look at guys like Butsy (Jake Butler), Rhodesy (Paul Rhodes), Hago (Anthony Hagan) and Stevie (Steven MacDonald) – they all have a lot of talent and if you put that group over in England they’d be able to succeed.”
Belt is a man who knows quality when he sees it after training with the likes of African superstar Jay-Jay Okocha and ex-England internationals Nick Barmby and Ray Parlour during his Hull City days.
“Obviously, the professional standard is on a different level and those guys were a cut above the rest, you could definitely tell. They were so physical and fit as well.”
Having grown up in a culture where the FA Cup was king, Belt admits he knew little of the New Zealand equivalent and has only come to appreciate its significance in recent months.
“When I was at Suburbs, there was a few of us UK boys there and we didn’t really get into it that much. But it’s been massive at Waitakere and I’ve soon realised that it’s a big, big competition. There’s a lot of Kiwi lads in the side and they all speak about it really highly,” he says.
“With every round you get past, the pressure starts to come on a bit more and you realise just how big it is – it’s a great tournament.”
Unfortunately, the former Bridlington Town player has played less of a role than he would’ve hoped in both cup campaigns due to injury and actually used last year’s final to get back to full fitness.
“In my third or fourth game for Suburbs, I did my ankle ligaments the worst I’d ever done them,” he recalls.
“I just couldn’t get right and my comeback game was actually the Chatham Cup final, which I started on the bench because I wasn’t fully fit. But I came on at the start of the second half and then it went right through to extra time so I ended up playing a big part in that.”
Away from football, Belt is enjoying his time in the City of Sails and is glad he chose to try his luck down under.
“The main thing for any Brit is the weather because the winters are a bit shorter here – it’s the other way around in England. But the culture is also great and it’s a nice way of living out here – it’s a lovely country.”
A real feast of football is on offer on cup finals day this Sunday at QBE Stadium with a junior girls 5-a-side tournament being held in the morning to kick off the FIFA Live Your Goals Week before the Women’s Knockout Cup final at 12pm and the Chatham Cup final from 3.30pm.
Birkenhead United are favoured to claim the men’s honours with the TAB offering odds of $1.65 while Waitakere City are paying $2.15. In the women’s showpiece, Glenfield are tipped to triumph at $1.80 while Forrest Hill Milford United are at $4.00.
Waitakere City player Frank Belt on the Chatham Cup and his time in New Zealand
2016 National Cup Finals
Forrest Hill Milford United vs Glenfield Rovers
Women’s Knockout Cup Final
Sunday 11 September, 12pm
Birkenhead United vs Waitakere City
Chatham Cup Final
Sunday 11 September, 3.30pm