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94’s the aim

New Zealand 0, Australia 1
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland, May 30 1993

94's the aim

One of the greatest football memories of my life will always be screaming my lungs out along with 35,178 other football lovers at Westpac Stadium in Wellington for the All Whites’ World Cup qualification four years ago. I have great optimism that being there this year for the final push for Brazil 2014 will be just as wonderful. But moments such as these have been a very long time coming. Before 2009, New Zealand’s World Cup journeys had only ended in tears since 1982. I always say that adversity is the active ingredient in the sweetest of successes, and only through deep suffering and despair can you truly appreciate the good times – but nobody knows this the way All Whites fans do. Because they lived it for so long.

A couple of months ago we moved house. During the dreaded packing, I came across an old treasure I thought had been lost forever – a match day programme from my first ever All Whites game – the New Zealand leg of the Oceania Final of the qualification phase for USA ’94. I remember absolutely nothing whatsoever about the match itself. History shows it was won by Australia 1-0. We lost the tie 4-0 on aggregate. Seems like as good a reason as any to erase it from your consciousness. But in isolation the programme is a great window into the not so distant football past.

What stood out to me when flicking through the well-worn pages, was how over the past 19 years, so much has changed about the way the game in New Zealand and Oceania is run. For starters, of course, Australia have now long since departed the confederation for the greener pastures of Asia, so matches like this sadly simply don’t occur anymore. But the most far reaching change is related to the fact that emblazoned all over the publication is the red, white and gold livery of tobacco sponsorship, now outlawed. It is so much more than simply a cosmetic change. The amount of money they were clearly pouring into the game must be the stuff of dreams for today’s administrators.

An article inside the programme appears to suggest that the “94’s the aim” moniker and theme that ran through the entire qualification campaign was designed in a British American Tobacco boardroom, as “the New Zealand Football Association formalised an agreement with its major sponsor, Winfield Limited, that would provide assistance and focus for the daunting task of qualifying for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.” Then you look at the match schedule for the campaign… South Korea, Lokomotiv Moscow, China, England (two internationals in Auckland and Wellington), Celtic, Brighton, Southend, Tranmere Rovers, Sheffield United, Newcastle, Scunthorpe, Werder Bremen (two games in Auckland and Christchurch), Holland – and those are just the warm-up matches!

There is some great nostalgia to be found in the squad lists for the game. Harry Ngata, Fred De Jong and Vaughan Coveny are still household names. Clint Gosling, Michael McGarry and Billy Wright were solid internationals. Papatoetoe’s Michael Ridenton is nostalgia value in his own right, but also for the fact his son is now kicking around the senior football traps. You know you’re getting old when you start watching the offspring of players you used to watch.

I have mixed feelings about tobacco sponsorship. On the one hand, cigarettes are an evil and nobody should take blood money to promote them. On the other hand, I’m not sure anyone takes up smoking based on a football programme or billboard. There’s also the fact that for all the money they poured into the sport, let’s face it, didn’t really get us very far. Up to 1993, New Zealand and Australia had played each other 47 times with only 11 All Whites victories. Money clearly doesn’t buy success. If it did, we might have witnessed De Jong contending with Maldini and Gosling with Baggio at USA ’94 (I’m sorry, were there other teams there too?). Instead we appear to be more competitive internationally now than we were then. Makes you think…

Categories: All Whites

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots football enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent club on earth - A.S. Roma. More info (including e-mail address) can be found here: https://in-the-back-of-the.net/about/

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