NZ Football remembers Steve Sumner

Steve Sumner after receiving his ONZM for services to football last October. Photo: Marty Melville www.photosport.nz

A host of influential figures in New Zealand football have provided their thoughts and reflections on the life of All Whites legend Steve Sumner, who has sadly passed away after a battle with prostate cancer.

New Zealand Football CEO Andy Martin

It’s a really sad day for football in New Zealand and, first and foremost, our thoughts are with his family and friends. We hear a lot of stories about Steve but really he and the gang of 1982 are responsible for where we are today. They kick-started football in New Zealand and what’s gone on since has all really been down to what they enabled us to do. So football in New Zealand has a lot to thank Steve for.

The word legend is used very frequently these days but that’s exactly what he was. He was a tough player, a real hard nut and he got away with a lot of things that wouldn’t happen today on the football pitch. But I think latterly, and certainly in the time I’ve been in the country, Steve has just been fantastic. He’s been very humble and has given advice to help Anthony and I settle into the country and give us some context about football here. A lot of people won’t see what’s gone on behind the scenes but he’s been a real confidant for me personally.

People knew Steve was in a bad way and we wanted to make sure Steve was recognised for all the work he’s done for football. We were fortunate that it coincided with the 125th anniversary, having Steve there and involved front and centre cutting the cake was very special. But even more so was the New Caledonia game, there were a lot of people in the stadium who were there for Steve and I think that was a great way for him to go out – to see all of those legends together for one last time.

This weekend we’ve asked all the clubs to acknowledge Steve’s tremendous contribution to football with a minute’s applause before the games. As we know, Steve was heavily involved in the prostate cancer campaign and so for that the players will all be wearing blue armbands as well. We’re really pleased the clubs are getting behind this and it will be a special weekend and celebration of Steve’s life.

I think he’ll be remembered as a real tough player who shook New Zealand, a rugby country, into realising there was something else out there called football.

Audio

New Zealand Football CEO Andy Martin

Steve Sumner with Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy during his nvestiture ceremony at Government House in Wellington. Photo: Marty Melville / www.photosport.nz

Steve Sumner with Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy during his nvestiture ceremony at Government House in Wellington. Photo: Marty Melville / www.photosport.nz

Former All Whites coach Kevin Fallon

My earliest memories of Steve would be as a young player-coach at Gisborne City, whenever we played Christchurch United he was always a handful. Every time I saw his name on the team sheet I knew we’d have to make plans for him because, if we didn’t, we’d be punished. Steve was a player that somebody had to pick up at set plays and somebody had to mark him because you couldn’t let him just float around in midfield – you had to facilitate for his talent on the field.

As a player, he could be a real handful to coach because he wanted things done absolutely spot on and he wanted effort from his team mates. He wasn’t an easy player to handle when he was younger – in his later years he certainly became much easier to get along with but in the earlier days we used to have some battles because he was strong-willed and was always his own man. So he was a handful for any coach but that was mainly because he wanted things done 100 per cent – he was one of those type of players and that suited me fine. He was a leader but he wanted perfection.

I’ve been in touch with him over the phone and text for the last 18 months and it’s quite interesting because, in the last one I saw, he was more concerned about Aidy, as he called Adrian Elrick, and that everything was okay after his heart attack. I thought it was amazing that, with all the problems he had himself, he was still worried about one of his team mates. I think that spells out everything about him.

If there’s any budding young All White out there or an U-17 player who’s on the first step, he needs to take a look at what Steve has achieved. You don’t know where to start – he’s got a letter from the queen of England, FIFA sent him a special medal, he’s in the New Zealand Hall of Fame, he scored a goal every four or five games in an All Whites shirt, he’s won everything in the league and the cup many times over. It was a fabulous career.

Audio

Former All Whites coach Kevin Fallon

Steve Sumner celebrates with former team mate Ricki Herbert after the Herbert-coached All Whites beat Bahrain to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

Steve Sumner celebrates with former team mate Ricki Herbert after the Herbert-coached All Whites beat Bahrain to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Photo: Andrew Cornaga / www.photosport.nz

Former All Whites team mate Sam Malcolmson

It’s a day of sadness but also one of reflection. We’ve not only lost a great football player, we’ve actually lost an outstanding human being.

I played in the national league in 1974 and Steve had just come over – he was a brash teenager. Then we played in the Chatham Cup final against each other that year and got beaten – that was Steve winning another medal, as he did often to become one of the most celebrated players in New Zealand football. We went on tour together in 1976, our first games for New Zealand were together and we share the same birthday. Then of course there was the 1982 World Cup run which brought us close and, from my personal point of view, there was the Christchurch earthquake in 2011.

That’s when Steve and I became true friends. I was living in Christchurch all on my own and he phoned me up to see how I was. He said he hadn’t heard from his daughter Tori and was going to look for her. Apparently she was in a building that could have been coming down, he picked her up and everything was okay but that was the start of us becoming very close to each other.

He will be remembered as one of New Zealand’s most celebrated players. Obviously that was because of his performances but I think you can also look at the four traits of Stevie – his passion, sincerity, honesty and loyalty to a fault.

Audio

Former All Whites team mate Sam Malcolmson

Ricki Herbert, left, and Grant Turner watch as Steve Sumner shoots for the All Whites in 2-2 with Saudi Arabia on the road to the 1982 FIFA World Cup. Photo: Anthony Phelps / www.photosport.nz

Ricki Herbert, left, and Grant Turner watch as Steve Sumner shoots for the All Whites in 2-2 with Saudi Arabia on the road to the 1982 FIFA World Cup. Photo: Anthony Phelps / www.photosport.nz

Former All White Noah Hickey

Straight away I thought of how much I’d miss him. His text messages and the way he carried himself were always positive and he was just a go-to – it’s losing a mate before it’s got anything to do with football.

He was the captain of football in New Zealand for me – for every generation who ever played in the national team. To lose a guy like that makes all of us have to look in the mirror and think, what part of what Steve did can we play now? That’s what he’d want. He wouldn’t want us to necessarily be talking about him, he’d want us to be talking about what we can do for the game.

I don’t know how he managed to send so many text messages. Of all the people I’ve talked to, everybody seemed to get them. He was one of those guys who, when they pass away and everyone starts talking about their relationship with them, you realise that he had that same relationship with everybody which is a phenomenal feat.

I think the text messages will be my main memory because even when he was struggling with pain and everything he’d say, ‘It’s a beautiful day, have a great one’. If you can have a guy like that who’s in that sort of pain saying it’s a beautiful day then you can’t ever think it’s not. When the boys qualified for the 2010 World Cup and I got to commentate with him, Rory Fallon scored the goal and Steve was sitting next to me – he gave me this bear hug that my ribs are still getting over. That was pretty special.

Audio

Former All White Noah Hickey

Steve Sumner celebrates with All Whites team mates after a 1982 World Cup qualifying game at Mt Smart, Stadium in Auckland. Photo: Martin Hunter/ www.photosport.nz

Steve Sumner celebrates with All Whites team mates after a 1982 World Cup qualifying game at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland. Photo: Martin Hunter/ www.photosport.nz

Former All White Ivan Vicelich

We’ve lost a legend of the game in New Zealand, not just in football but a sporting legend that led New Zealand to our first ever World Cup and managed to score on the world stage. He was just a true leader and gentleman of the game. I admired Steve for the way he portrayed himself throughout the media and the game. He was well liked and a real asset to the game.

They played in that 1982 World Cup early in my life and, as I was growing up, the memories and the clips you saw on TV were an inspiration. Steve inspired a lot of generations of footballers, not just mine but even later on. That’s something special and it’s great that he stayed involved in the game throughout his life and was able to celebrate the many different and wonderful times in football in New Zealand.

The 2010 World Cup was another great experience for sport in New Zealand and a lot of those players had inspiration from 1982 and had close connections to those players. For us at the time, we enjoyed the 1982 squad talking to us and mixing with them.

I’ll always remember my interactions with him – whenever I met him he was always very positive about football and life. That carried on right until the end and that just goes to show what a man Steve was. He was a real gentleman and that positivity feeds into other people. That’s something that not everyone has and was definitely a big part of him.

Audio

Former All White Ivan Vicelich

Related Topics:

Comments

comments