Put together a highlights reel of Steve Sumner’s career and it’s hard to know how you would choose any of his achievements as his greatest.
The inspirational skipper of the 1982 All Whites, Sumner has pretty much achieved everything the game in New Zealand can offer.
At club level, he’s taken home five national league titles and six Chatham Cup winner’s medals.
He played 105 times for his adopted country; 58 of those appearances were in A-Internationals in which he found the net 22 times, a remarkable return for a midfielder.
Off the pitch, he’s been recognised twice by FIFA, winning their Centennial Award in 2004 and their Order of Merit in 2010. And he can now add the ONZM to his name since this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.
For all his footballing adventures, Sumner still rates the Chatham Cup as something special – the competition that gets his heart racing.
This weekend, the 2016 edition of the Chatham Cup reaches the semi-final stage, with Waitakere hosting Three Kings United and Wellington’s Miramar Rangers travelling to Birkenhead United.
Sumner won’t be at either game. Instead, he’ll be a guest of honour at English Park in Christchurch, the ground where he played many club and representative games.
He’ll be using the occasion to help promote the launch of Blue September, the national awareness campaign run by the Prostate Cancer Foundation.Sumner, now 61, has been undergoing treatment for a year since being diagnosed with prostate cancer, a disease that has brought out the gladiator in him. He treats the challenge of chemotherapy and building his strength with the same focus and commitment he gave to every footballing challenge.
New Zealand Football has declared this weekend as #playitforsteve – a weekend where every club and every footballer in New Zealand can show their support for Sumner.
If you coach a junior team, tell the players about the All White captain who feared no one and add three cheers for him at the end of your match.
If you manage, coach or captain a senior team, don’t just thank the opposition, the refs and the folk behind the bar – add a thank you for Steve Sumner and for all he’s done for the sport in New Zealand.
Or you can simply mark the weekend with a Tweet or a Facebook update, acknowledging a decent bloke who continues to inspire.
All Steve is asking is that you also give a plug for Blue September, and encourage men to go to their doctor for a prostate cancer check-up.
I have been an admirer of Sumner since he arrived in New Zealand as an 18-year-old, one of several Preston North End players who found their way to Christchurch.
Following his career, I’ve seen the difference he can make to a game and the players around him.
There’s no better example than in the All Whites’ opening game of the 1982 FIFA World Cup finals.
By half-time, New Zealand were trailing 3-0 to Scotland. Those of us watching the game on television in the middle of the night then had to put up with a panel of British pundits telling the audience it was going to be a walkover.
Not long into the second half, Sumner scored one of his 22 international goals, an ugly toe poke from less than a metre.
As we cheered from our sitting rooms, Sumner grabbed the ball from the net, tucked it under his arm and marched back to halfway. No elaborate goal celebration; just a look of determination and body language that oozed self-belief.
It was inspirational stuff (New Zealand lost the game 5-2 but won much respect for their performance), and nearly 35 years later, Sumner continues to lead by example.
This weekend, let’s show him we’ve heard his call to get behind Blue September.
And let’s not waste the chance to thank him.
Blue September: https://blueseptember.org.nz
[Josh Easby is a long-time football writer whose current obsessions with the game are as club secretary for Cambridge FC and as a committee member for the supporter group Friends of Football.]
Categories: All Whites
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/