The All Whites have ruined sport forever

I was happily doing my year of live sporting events – a bit of cricket, a Phoenix game, a dash of roller derby – when my football-loving workmate said she was organising a group outing for the All Whites versus Bahrain FIFA World Cup qualifier match.

I have a vague memory of the last time the All Whites made it to the World Cup, in 1982. I was seven years old, and I remember being aware that this New Zealand sports team was doing quite well in some sort of international sports event, sort of like the Olympics, but only with soccer.

It took me a few years before I realised that rugby union was actually the sport that New Zealand was (then) really good at, and that its football prowess was just an early ’80s one-time special.

In “Heading For the Top”, one of the two ’82 World Cup anthems, Ray Woolf sang “We’re heading for the top and aiming for the future and we won’t ever stop while we are in control.”

Evidently control slipped away and the World Cup became something that Brazilians and Argentina were really good at (and England wanted to be really good at) but not something that New Zealand could do.

But somehow, a generation later, the All Whites were doing all right and had ended up with this magical match scheduled against Bahrain.

Hang on – let me just look at up Bahrain on Wikipedia. Ok, Middle East, constitutional monarchy, small island nation (OMG! Same!!!), largely Muslim, “many tall skyscrapers”, oil.

A planeload of Bahraini supporters came to town, with the curious sight of a young fellow in Cuba Mall decked out in a chavtastic red tracksuit, phat trainers and a white keffiyeh. Yeah, life’s pretty sweet when you have oil.

I figured that if Bahrain had supporters decked top to toe in team colours, it was the least I could do to dress in a bit of white. A look inside my wardrobe revealed two white tops (one “I work in an office and I hate my life” the other “I am wearing a tuxedo but I am a lady. Is this not outrageous?”), and also a white Teletext branded skivvie, which just deserves to die.

So I went off to the Warehouse and picked up a white tee for $9, and teamed that with some white sneakers. But I didn’t wear any more white because I’m like a vampire and would probably burn up. (The top and sneakers just let me sparkle, like vampire Edward.)

With my pale threads, I headed off to the Cake Tin, where I found myself surrounded by people in white Afro wigs, white sheets, white industrial coveralls, fake sheiks in white robes, as well as those donning official garb.

I joined my group in the stands, cheered on the ’82 All Whites, and found myself getting all emotional during the singing of the national anthem. Then suddenly the game began.

I found it easier to follow than I did during the Phoenix game, but our seats were low and almost behind a goal and so it was sometimes hard to see what was going on. But the reaction of the crowd – cheering, booing – was a good indication of what had happened.

Near the end of the first half, the stadium suddenly erupted in massive, massive cheers. It was goal, an absolutely necessary goal. I yelled. I jumped up and down.

The second half was a great big bucket of tension. Oh God – a whole 45 minutes in which the All Whites had to ensure that Bahrain did not score. The tension was racked up to an almost intolerable level with a Bahrain penalty shot that goalie Mark Paston – yes! – saved.

Somehow after that, the time flew by. The last 10 minutes of the game (so marked by the White Noise supporters’ top removal ritual) were a mix of impending euphoria and more of that deliciously sickening tension.

The three minutes of overtime felt like the entire stadium was balanced on a knife edge. But then it happened. The game ended with a score of one-nil to New Zealand.

The entire stadium (except for the now sullen red corner) erupted in a mass of cheering and smiling and yelling and stranger-hugging. I found myself jumping for joy – and I can’t actually think when the last time I jumped for joy was.

I decided to walk home instead of taking the bus. The streets were filled with happy, happy, happy people celebrating their arses off. After 27 years, New Zealand was going to the World Cup.

But I realised that as far as my life of sport goes, there’s never really going to be another sporting event like this. Pretty much everything else will pale in comparison – not even New Zealand in the 2011 Rugby World Cup grand final could even come close.

Well, the All Whites World Cup qualifier of ’09 may have ruined all other live sport for me, but it was worth it.

Adulation ruling the nation

Wind, rain, Phoenix

Football or fußball or soccer is a game that’s always lingered in a distant corner of my life with really being anything that I’ve paid much attention to.

In fact, my knowledge of football can be summed up thusly:

  • Manchester United.
  • David Beckham.
  • “Fever Pitch” by Nick Hornby.
  • The Hillsborough tragedy.
  • Hooligans.
  • That time in the early ’80s when the All Whites did quite well.
  • Gary Lineker.
  • Sven Goran Erikson.
  • Ulrika Jonsson. (That’s enough – Ed)

I’ve had a vague New Year’s resolution this year to watch more sport. So far all this has meant was seeing a cricket game back in April, but when one of my workmates announced she was organising a group outing to a Wellington Phoenix game, I jumped at the chance to get more sport in my life.

So I showed up to Westpac Stadium with the group and we quickly moved from our allocated seats over to aisle 22, for this is where the rowdy Yellow Fever supporters sat. This was, I was told, where all the fun happens.

Spectators

I soon learned that football is reasonably easy game to follow: you have the ball and you need to get it in your goal and also stop the other team getting the ball in their goal.

It’s also quite hard to score a goal, and I like this. Not that I know anything about rugby, but it seems that in that game, you can score points by hurling the ball over pretty much anything. But because it’s harder in football, when a goal is scored it’s just that much sweeter.

And football is about crowd chants; proper chants, not just Exponents lyrics.

There’s the “Wellington is wonderful” chant (“We’ve got the wind, the rain and the Phoenix”) to buoy the spirits of the team, and then things like the mysterious “She fell over! She fell over!” chant to diss the South Australian visitors.

Actually, on the subject of Wellington being wonderful, it really is great that not only does Wellington have a professional football team, but the stadium it plays at is conveniently in the city, right next to the train station.

The big highlight of the game was The Goal. Yes, there was only one (the final score – one-all) but it was just a brilliant moment. Everyone got up and yelled and cheered and waved their scarves in the air. I also waved my newly purchased Phoenix scarf, and discovered that my voice goes all squeaky when I yell.

Goal

But in between the goal and the near-misses, I was surprised at how graceful football is. The way the ball sometimes flows between the players, bouncing from head to head, shooting from leg to leg. Oh right, that is why they call it the beautiful game.

I left the stadium, wandering off into the cold spring night, no longer a stranger to the appeal of football, and indeed feeling seduced by its charms.

Scarf-wearing

Futbol and Burger Rings

I have friends in other countries who are currently despairing at the Fußball/Football/Futbol-mania that is currently gripping their nation.

So it makes me a little bit relieved that while New Zealand prides itself as being a proud sporting nation, it’s not actually good enough at football to have even qualified for the World Cup.

Best stick to the fringe sports like rugbys league and union, eh?

Sometimes when I visit the local dairy during the day, I’ve noticed staff there making up bags filled with various grocery items. The contents of a typical bag would be loose tobacco and rolling papers, a large bag of Burger Rings, a packet of Toffee Pops and a 1.25 litre bottle of Coke.

At first I thought it was maybe an order for an invalid, but then I thought it was strange that such a person would be ordering no basic staples, just junk food and smokes.

But today I finally figured it out. I saw a Department of Corrections logo on a list and realised it’s for prisoners down the road at Mt Eden Prison.

See, life on the inside isn’t all that bad when you have your weekly Burger Rings ration.