I went to Scots College primary school. I went there for a few reasons. My father died when I was five and my mother needed to go back to work. Scots College had a handy bus system that picked pupils up and dropped them off quite near my mother’s work. My mother also thought that going to a boys’ school might keep a strong male influence in my life, and that going to a school with a religious aspect to it might let me make up my own mind about religion. A lot of my identity is tied up in my experiences at Scots College, and it undoubtedly shaped me although not always how was intended. While I have an enormous fund of stories to draw on about my time at this school I will stick to the subject, which is soccer. Well, soccer and who I am.
I must have started school at Scots College in 1979 or perhaps late 1978 (I had about a year at a school in Khandallah first). Because it was the late 1970s and early 1980s while I was there, and because it was New Zealand, and because Scots College was a bastion of conservatism, there were only two sports offered to the boys. In summer you played cricket, and in winter you played rugby. Problematically, my mother had absolutely no desire for me to play rugby which she regarded (more or less accurately) as a rather violent game in which only children might get maimed, trodden on and eye-gouged. New Zealand, it seems to me, was not a place that was particularly tolerant of people with views like my mother’s in 1979. The mainstream view at the time seemed to be, in short, if you had a penis you bloody well played rugby.
My mother enrolled me at a soccer club in Khandallah.
I believe that to achieve this my mother had to have a meeting with the Head Master to explain why I wasn’t playing rugby. Looking back on it this seems extraordinary – that schools could be this narrow and dogmatic – and it reminds me why a lot of change in New Zealand has been for the good. People often think that New Zealand becoming more accepting of diversity is just to do with accepting people from other cultures into our country, but I think it is also about accepting other cultural ideas, and foods, and sports, as well as people. Rather than telling people who come here to assimilate, we have gotten quite a bit better at accepting that we don’t all have to be the same. Well, some of us have.
So I played soccer for a couple of years along with the other bunch of weirdos, freaks, and unhappy, pastey sons of ex-pat Brits until a couple of funny things happened: the Springboks came for the tour in 1981 which turned a lot of people off that game (briefly), and New Zealand went to the Soccer World Cup in Spain in 1982.
For a brief moment in time soccer was popular in New Zealand. One of the lesser known seismic changes that occurred with the arrival of the Labour government in 1984 was that Scots College, in my last year at that school, started its first soccer team. This was very exciting, and I dutifully showed up for the trial one day after school. To my utter amazement I wasn’t picked (I’m actually still a little miffed about it), and so ended my time at Scots in a soccer sulk. Nevermind, I carried on playing soccer and enjoying it right through to university in the mid-1990s, by which time you could look another New Zealand man in the eye and tell him you played soccer and he wouldn’t automatically assume you were a homosexual (which, of course, is fine if you are – another thing we got our heads around in the 1980s).
Getting up at 2am this morning to watch what was frankly a very boring game of soccer between Paraguay and New Zealand reminded me of the excitement of 1982. I watched the All Whites get roundly thrashed by all comers that year, and then I watched as a really wonderful Brazillian team (Zico!) inexplicably were defeated by Italy. It was the first World Cup I paid any attention to, and I have watched them all – more or less – ever since.
It has been a long time since I leapt off the couch in excitement watching sport, but when we scored a last minute goal against Slovakia that’s exactly what I did: I leapt up and started running around the room doing a kind of strange whispered scream (it was late, and the rest of the family were in bed). Thinking back, I think the last time I did this was when Jonah Lomu scored his most famous try against England in the Rugby World Cup.
Having that jubilant feeling a few nights ago, and then looking out my kitchen window across the valley after the game this morning and seeing lots of other people’s lights on at 4am, reminded me how this kind of thing is good for a community. It is bonding. It also reminded me that this kind of shared, national TV event is increasingly rare. Broadcasting monopolies probably are bad like they say, but their great former good was their ability to create national moments. These moments are rare now in a world of pay TV, and internet news. Mind you, I can hardly be advocating we return to the days when there was only one company making TV in New Zealand, and the 6 o’clock news could be bumped if the All Blacks test went over time.
Still, it was nice to sit down in the staff room this morning and be with a group of people who had gotten up to see the game. We had something in common related to being in New Zealand.
It doesn’t really matter that the All Whites aren’t progressing any further. We don’t really deserve to. The All Whites played well, but I don’t think you should really go into the top sixteen if you can’t win games. It doesn’t matter though, it was a great run of results against the odds. Exactly how much against the odds was made clear when I read the Wellingtonian this morning and it informed me that the Italian goalkeeper is paid more than the entire New Zealand soccer team combined. Apparently the combined salary of the Italian team is over $300 million.
Which is ridiculous, but which also explains why there isn’t much sport on free to air TV anymore. If you’re going to pay people millions of dollars to kick a ball around why would you give coverage away for free? Sport has changed along with everything else between 1982 and 2010. The All Blacks are now full time professionals with all kinds of extra responsibilities like trying to sell us Rexona, and Weet-Bix and Ford cars, but then again I don’t watch rugby much anymore. On the other hand, at the school where I teach there are three soccer teams, and some volleyball teams, and basketball teams, some hockey, cricket, tennis…. That’s a bit better I think. A bit less of the penis=rugby culture of 1970s New Zealand.
So, I suppose I am saying something as mundane as this: in the 28 years between New Zealand’s two appearances at the World Cup both New Zealand and myself have changed quite a lot, mostly, but not entirely, for the better (probably). Oh, and this:
New Zealand: 3 points…