Wednesday 23 June 2010

I had a Dream...

After 90 minutes of often heart stopping action and four of the longest minutes of ‘injury’ time in the history of sport (to me at least), the full time whistle was blown. The New Zealand All Whites had held Italy, the Azzuri, the reigning World Cup holders to a deserved 1-1 draw. That’s worth repeating: the All Whites held Italy – yes, Italy – to a draw at the World Cup. And that’s the World Cup of football (soccer), the round ball variety.

Let’s rewind a couple of hours. My clock radio alarm went off at 1.15am and I dragged myself out of bed. Torn between the desire to crawl back under the cosy duvet or creep into the lounge and rug up in front of the TV I chose neither. This early morning wake-up was different. The sound of the vuvuzela was calling and the nerves were already jangling.

There’s nothing quite like a big game – but if I have one golden rule about ‘big games’ it’s that you need to experience them with other people. And so it was I found myself on my friends couch at 2am. I kicked, headed, jumped and prayed the entire match. I found myself transformed into an All Whites diehard – gone was the patriotic Englishman that arrived in Auckland some 8 years ago. The All White in me had been found.

Paston, Smith, Nelsen, Reid, Bertos, Lochhead, Elliott, Vicelich, Fallon, Smeltz, Killen and Herbert wrote themselves into not just NZ folklore, but World Cup legend. A performance built around discipline, sound tactics, commitment, passion, skill and, perhaps most importantly, an understanding of their own abilities was produced like very few have ever been before by a group of New Zealanders. The rank outsiders had not become contenders but they had become credible. The team that reached the World Cup finals along the easiest of qualifying routes had delivered the honest, raw romance that the world had been waiting for. Free of prima donnas, the All Whites gave football back to the people.

The match itself appeared in places to take an eternity, yet in others it fairly raced by. The anxious moments to see quite how the Guatemalan referee would react to the Italian synchronised divers kept coming. The long range shots, countless corners, last ditch tackles and magical saves built a sense of expectation as the minutes ticked by. The full time whistle naturally bought much celebration and relief. But we shouldn’t see it as full time.

Dreams are strange in that they often project a reality that one has not yet come to terms with. A reality that seems so far away but within touching distance all at the same time. Football in New Zealand has struggled for years to gain widespread coverage. That the All Blacks only featured on the news bulletin today as they were playing football in training perhaps gives an indication of how far the sport has come in just this last week. Football is now as real in New Zealand as it ever has been.

And as I got back home and collapsed into bed, my ears still ringing and head still buzzing, I thought to myself what a ride that was. And what a dream.

A dream that stretched beyond 94 minutes of football.

A dream that football in NZ grasped the moment and produced more moments like this in the future.

A dream that our Little Kickers would be the All Whites of the future – displaying the same passion, commitment and skill on the world stage in the years to come.

I had a dream last night. Then I fell asleep.


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