Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A World Cup flashback

Before the All Whites, there was another team of underdogs who’d captured the world’s imagination, and mine.  And I don’t mean the 1982 New Zealand soccer team.

Sure, it was great to see them in the World Cup in Spain—and since I was holed up in hospital at the time getting a knee repaired, I managed to see all their games.  But since the team and its management was largely made up of itinerant poms, rather than Kiwis, the excitement was more than a little muted.  And the results of all those games were, let’s face it, embarrassing.

But this time it’s different, isn’t it. Today’s All Whites are not exactly all local boys, that’s true—no-one could really call naturalised Dane Winston Reid a local, not without crossing their fingers and all their toes—but in Reid and Tommy Smith and sundry other Kiwi irregulars plying their trade overseas (don’t call them amateurs) coach Ricki Herbert has scoured the world to make up a cracking team from our diaspora. A team with real character.

Just like that other team of footballing underdogs who took a whole nation on a great sporting ride in the early nineties: the Irish. As a ride, that was a hell of a good one too. I remember it well.

Honorary Irishman Jack Charlton had put together a team made up from the Irish diaspora, from anyone who’d ever had a drink in Kilburn. From that famous game in 1988, when they beat the English 1-0 in the Euro champs in Stuttgart, to reaching the Quarter Finals in the 1994 World Cup, it was a haze of success and celebrations that I was lucky enough to follow. I blame my Irish drinking companions for that. Too many years drinking with Irishmen in London got me bitten with their World Cup bug, but sure and everything it was a great time to follow Irish soccer.

And until last week, that 1994 tournament was the last time I watched a soccer game. But as I wandered home on Monday morning after yelling my head off in an Italian restaurant in Auckland (thanks to everyone at Gina’s), the parallels almost made my smile wider.

Houghton The time in the morning was the same, and it was still an Italian restaurant. But that time it had been in a little village in the west of England, and the Italian staff were far less gracious than the fine people at Gina’s when that famous first-half goal by Glaswegian Irishman Ray Houghton followed by seventy minutes of resolute defence gave Ireland their famous victory over an Italy featuring football icons such as Roberto Baggio and Roberto Donadoni, neither of whom were able to score. “Ooh aah Paul McGrath, Say ooh ah Paul McGrath!!

That morning, the staff threw us out before the game was over (probably because of our singing, to be fair) so we had to enjoy the 1-0 victory over the Azzuri over the radio.  But we sure as hell did enjoy it. “We’re all part of Jackie’s Army!”

You can get some idea of how much fun it all was—and could be here—from this YouTube clip celebrating Saint Jack’s team song. “Put ‘em under pressure!”

From this hilarious scene from the Roddy Doyle movie, The Van.

And from this Christy Moore song harking all the way back to that famous Irish victory over England in Stuttgart in 1988.


PS: For all the fun that was, this is why I haven’t watched soccer since then: Soccer Players Faking Injuries.


  1. I used to coach junior football.

    I also coached schools of excellence, and Representative football.

    I coached several teams to represent the Western Bay of Plenty.
    I had to go round and watch all the games and pick the best 16 players.

    Rory Fallon was on of them I coached, and taught at schools of excellence.

    From the age of 10 - maybe even younger his father (the big gorilla - the less said about him the better) would have him up every morning coaching, training and honing his skills.

    Rory Fallon is there only through years of dedicating his life to learning to play football, and he totally deserves to be there, and I take my hat off to him.

    Tony Lockhead is another Tauranga lad, and goes to show what a good coaching environment we had around here a few years ago.

    Much credit must go to a guy called Tom Randles for that - A brilliant Football mind and a great coach and motivator.

    Dane Reid looks and sounds like a Kiwi at least.

    New Zealand are good at employing people from other countries to represent them - most of the all Blacks are hardly Kiwis are they.

  2. The composition of the New Zealand FOOTBALL team is bloody interesting. Just two overseas born players and Smeltz was one of those (from memory his father was in the U.S Army and stationed in Germany at the time) So it’s all but home-grown – far more so that say The All Blacks who continue to rob the Islands to make-up their numbers or The English Rugby team which features the ex-Warrior Shotayne Harpe!

    The fact football is ‘THE’ global game and players ply their trade overseas to make a quid is irrelevant – that’s the nature of the sport and it’s not run by a Stalinist regime like rugby in New Zealand, which has an out-dated policy to discriminate against players who choose to play overseas.

    At one stage against Italy there were five players of Maori decent playing when The All Blacks could field just two on Saturday night versus Wales – no ridiculous cries from them for a Maori anthem or need for a haka either!

    Kiwis love an underdog.

    Go The All Whites!


  3. In World Cup 2010...New Zealand draw with Italy holding. It's great...


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