As the current crop of All Whites were kicking off their campaign at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, back home a group of their predecessors were sharing stories of the country’s first ever appearance at a major footballing event.
This month marks the 35th anniversary of the 1982 FIFA World Cup, in which the All Whites made history with a debut showing. Their presence in Spain came at the end of a record-writing qualifying campaign that galvanised the country, planting football firmly in the national psyche for the first time.
In the process, the team was thrust into the spotlight and many of its key players became household names, including inspirational captain Steve Sumner, who sadly passed away earlier this year.
Many of those famous faces gathered in Auckland recently to celebrate the anniversary of that ground-breaking campaign and Bobby Almond – a rock in the heart of the All Whites’ defence on the road to Spain – says it was a memorable weekend.
“Our main function was on Saturday evening and there were about 30 people attending, including players and support staff – it was a great night,” he says.
“That team had such a bond so we enjoy being together. We like to look back on the memories, have a laugh, have some fun and enjoy each other’s company, no matter how old we are now. Our plan going forward is to make our way to Spain for the 40th anniversary in 2022, if we’re all still around!”
As well as enjoying a celebratory dinner, members of the squad also attended races at the Avondale Racecourse – where an event was named in their honour – and Alexandra Park, while some played a round of golf together and others watched the team 1982 assistant coach Kevin Fallon now coaches, Manukau City, eke out a 1-1 draw at Mt Albert Ponsonby in Division One of the Lotto NRFL.
While spirits were high throughout, there was a sombre feeling at times after the recent passing away of Sumner, who finally lost a long and brave battle with prostate cancer in February.
“Our 20-year anniversary was in 2002 and we then had the 30th in 2012 so we were looking at doing it every ten years. But with the death of Duncan Cole in 2014 and the passing away of Steve Sumner, it made a lot of us realise how important it is to stay acquainted and keep in touch,” Almond says.
“We had a quiet moment at the dinner, not just for our two team mates, but also for our masseuse Dutchy De Ridder and, more recently, Harry Dods, the chief fundraiser of the campaign. We remembered them in the best way we could and stood side-by-side to look back on the memories of those particular guys.”
Invitations to the get together were not just limited to the playing squad and support staff – all others associated with the historic campaign were also warmly welcomed.
“One of the things that sticks out for me is that Graham Veitch, who was TVNZ producer at the time but was unable to make the event, said to me ‘I just can’t believe how you guys still take the time to think about the people around you’. To me, that was a small snippet of how these people viewed us and how we viewed them.”
Almond attributes that down-to-earth mentality which ran throughout the squad to the amateur status of most of the players.
“Apart from about three or four of us, we were all amateurs and working in a full-time job,” he recalls. “So we were pretty grounded in terms of how we saw life and dealt with other people. I think that in its own way made it special.”
Led by coach Anthony Hudson, the current All Whites set up is run in a highly-professional manner and Kiwi players are now making a living from the game in some of the world’s top leagues.
Almond believes Hudson’s men are capable of getting New Zealand to a third ever appearance at the FIFA World Cup but will need a slice of good fortune along the way.
“It’s like anything, to get the success you need to have the right ingredients and a certain amount of luck to do it,” he says.
“The good thing is that they’ve now got so many professionals within the New Zealand squad and, from a skill and preparation level, there is a readiness to go out there and do the job. They only need to look back to what was achieved by the 1982 and 2010 boys to know they can get there.”
It’s debatable whether the All Whites would now have such a large group of professionals to pick from had those individuals not been inspired by the class of ’82 and Almond is proud that he and his team mates were able to leave such a legacy.
“It’s a good feeling to look back on the past and see what’s been done to help get our people where they are now. It’s fair to say that, no matter what ranking we are, New Zealand are now more well-known than we’ve ever been in the world of football.”
All Whites 1982 FIFA World Cup squad
Richard Wilson (Preston Lions, Australia), Frank van Hattum (Manurewa), Barry Pickering (Miramar Rangers)
Glenn Dods (Adelaide City, Australia), Ricki Herbert (Mt Wellington), Dave Bright (Manurewa), Bobby Almond (Invercargill Thistle), Adrian Elrick (North Shore United), John Hill (Gisborne City), Glen Adam (Mt Wellington), Sam Malcolmson (East Coast Bays)
Brian Turner (Gisborne City), Duncan Cole (North Shore United), Steve Sumner (c) (West Adelaide, Australia), Keith Mackay (Gisborne City), Kenny Cresswell (Gisborne City), Allan Boath (West Adelaide, Australia), Peter Simonsen (Manurewa), Billy McClure (Mt Wellington)
Wynton Rufer (Miramar Rangers), Steve Wooddin (South Melbourne, Australia), Grant Turner (Gisborne City)
Coach: John Adshead
Assistant coach: Kevin Fallon