Napier City Rovers celebrate being back in the top flight. Video / NZ Herald
Kicking a football – let alone becoming one of the National League’s most promising talents – was a world away from the first 10 years of Ta Eh Doe’s life in a refugee camp in northern Thailand.
And the 21-year-old wouldn’t be showing his wares in the league for Napier City Rovers if it wasn’t for the love of his parents who successfully managed to gain refugee status in New Zealand when he aged just 10, or ongoing acts of generosity from a schoolteacher once the family arrived here.
Doe again had a standout game for Napier City Rovers in their dramatic 2-2 draw with Miramar Rangers last Saturday, a result which maintained the club’s unbeaten start to the National League.
His backstory is just as inspiring as what his play this season has been to team-mates and fans in the 2022 Central League and the first three rounds of the National League.
Doe’s parents were born in war-ravaged Myanmar but managed to escape the country and took shelter in a refugee camp in northern Thailand. Doe was then born in the camp in 2001, about a decade before his parents managed to secure refugee status in New Zealand.
“There was a war going on [in Myanmar] . . . it wasn’t too good . . . they had to find a place for themselves that was going to be safe,” he said ahead of Sunday’s clash with Auckland City.
“I was born there in the camp. I grew up there . . . it was rough [but] we made the most of it and just enjoyed life.”
After spending the first 10 years of his life in the refugee camp, Doe’s family finally was able to secure their passage to New Zealand.
“Our parents just wanted a better life for us,” he said.
Doe’s family settled in Wellington after their arrival in New Zealand.
It was there that he met a man who has gone on to become his “second father”, his then primary school teacher Corey White who was instrumental in helping him chase his football dreams.
“He’s had a significant impact on my life and I wouldn’t be where I am without him,” Doe said. “He helped me settle into New Zealand and he was the one that got me into football.
“My parents didn’t have much money so they couldn’t really afford to pay for me to join a football club. He got me into a football club and supported me. After I’d left primary school he continued to support me and pay for all my football fees.
“Mr White became like a second father to me.”
Doe said his parents hadn’t closely followed his football journey, instead they were keen on him following academic achievements.
“But I am not too interested in that,” he laughed.
But since relocating to Napier for both Napier City Rovers’ Central League and National League campaigns they had been to five of his matches.
“It was great seeing them there,” he said.
What they witnessed was a young man who has both excelled in a big move away from his hometown, and also a significant shift on the football pitch.
He was judged Napier City Rovers’ MVP – Player of the Year at their post-Central League awards night. He also won the Supporters Player of the Year award.
That personal success came from him playing as a defensive midfielder, a big shift from previously being a striker, winger and attacking midfielder for much of his time playing in Wellington.
“This year, I have kept on moving back and now I am a defensive midfielder. I am enjoying it . . . I don’t care where I play as long as we get the wins,” he said.
Moving from Wellington to Napier had been a “big” lifestyle change.
“Living away from family was hard, and away from my girlfriend and friends,” he said.
But the football club had been supportive, he had made mates and had also enjoyed learning how to be more independent.
On the pitch, Doe has been a prominent figure for Napier City Rovers in their first three National League matches of the season.
Their unbeaten run includes a 1-0 win over Wellington Phoenix Reserves, a 1-1 draw against Christchurch United and then last weekend’s 2-2 draw against Miramar.
The team was up 2-0 late in the match at Bluewater Stadium, before Miramar scored two late goals – including a controversial penalty.
They go into round four of the National League in fifth place – but had they held onto the 2-0 lead they would have been in top spot via goal difference.
Doe said he was happy with his personal form, but most importantly for him was how his side was going.
“Every time I go out I always want to be the best player and do everything I can to help the team get a win,” he said. “I hate losing.”
And just as a kind-hearted teacher started helping Doe more than a decade ago settle in New Zealand, he is now helping out young Kiwi kids in his own way.
Doe works as a teacher aide at Napier’s Nelson Park five days a week. He also helps with the school’s after-school care programme.
“Most of the kids know [I play for Napier City Rovers],” Doe said. “A few of them have been to my games and some of them play for the club.
“I really enjoy what I am doing.”