By Cordwainer Bull
It’s hard to recall a historical precedent for Dane Ingham being expelled from the All Whites team camp this week.
While many a player has been overlooked for selection for not scrubbing up in the first place, to be flown in, kitted out and then sent packing breaks new ground and commands a special place in the relatively small Rogue’s Gallery of miscreant All Whites.
“He came in but he was unfit, his body fat was high, and we’ve given him a couple of fitness tests and he’s not where he needs to be,” All Whites coach Anthony Hudson said, in sending Ingham packing back to Brisbane, where he is either now running madly or commiserating with a dozen Castlemaine XXXX and a plate of pork scratchings.
Others can pontificate on the appropriateness of Hudson’s action. All I will note is that in terms of sports science paraphernalia, Hudson has done for fat callipers what Joe McGrath (All White coach 1997-98) did for heart rate monitors.
But as the first player to be formally bombed from camp for fat crimes, I’d argue it officially makes Ingham our tubbiest senior international.
That’s a remarkable feat for an 18-year-old.
So let’s chew the fat on this one.
Fitness has been an All Whites mantra since the year dot. Because we are not as good as most other teams outside of Oceania, in any given match we will spend a lot more time chasing the ball, which means we need to be able to run an awful lot more.
Not being fit is a national crime.
As fans we have long been conditioned to forgive lack of pace (think Plodder Christie) or lack of ability (insert your own choice here) but never being fat or unfit. It conspires against the Kiwi ethos of “getting stuck in”, which is all we ever ask for.
While I was happy to induct Ingham into our New Zealand Fat XI, his new-found stature also posed the obvious question of who exactly he has dethroned as our most officially unfit All White.
I’d have argued the great Steve Wooddin (11 brilliant goals in 24 A internationals) who had a miracle left foot, but was a most reluctant trainer. Former All White assistant and head coach Kevin Fallon (1980-89) was happy to confirm that as a fair choice.
Fallon said Wooddin had sailed close to the wind a couple of times in late 1980 and early 1981, underperforming in fitness sessions in team camps at Mt Smart Stadium.
“But he was such a talent, such a gem of a player, I had to put up with it,” Fallon said. “Steve just didn’t like running. I certainly tried to get him fitter, but we couldn’t drop him because we needed him on the pitch.”
Indeed, Wooddin’s five-star performance in the home draw against Australia was considered the single most outstanding individual contribution of the 1981 Oceania campaign.
But he was a character, hard to push, and his indolence extended to other spheres of life. Fallon recalled how he was the only All White on tour to turn down the opportunity to visit the Great Wall of China.
Fallon: “Steve told us that ‘when you’ve seen one wall, you’ve seen them all’. He preferred to sit in front of the TV and watch a Chinese play that he couldn’t even understand.”
Fallon was arguably New Zealand’s most hard-arsed coach ever, a notoriously tough disciplinarian and sometimes brutal taskmaster. He would run with his players, and anyone he beat was immediately in trouble. (Now there’s an idea, Anthony.)
So in a funny sort of way, for Fallon to acknowledge there were times fitness measures weren’t everything perhaps also speaks to the Ingham thing. Some players are expendable, others aren’t.
Indeed, some might argue there was no compelling case for Ingham being there in the first place, and it’s the ultimate insult when a departing player does not require replacement.
In that regard Ingham was very droppable. But imagine if Chris Wood jetted in and somehow failed the dreaded fat callipers – and in his teenage days there was the odd suggestion Wood was a bit beefy.
But now that we have publicly established that fatness and unfitness is a “thing” with the All Whites I would like to plead with team officials to add new bio details for those glib player profiles and pen portraits.
Please, pretty please, give us their beep test results and their fat measurements – chest, abdominal and thigh will be fine – along with their weight and height. This stuff is now so topical and much more interesting than their favourite food or favourite colour.
Meanwhile we also need to learn a lot more about Fatboy Ingham. Us aberrant fans often prefer to take the rogue over the role model. The devil has all the best tunes, and we prefer Keith Richards to Cliff Richard.
Yet we know so little about Inflatable Ingham. Is he a laid-back character like Wooddin? Or a bit of a lad? Does he like jumbo buckets of KFC? What is his favourite beer? Does he smoke?
Whatever the answers, our All White reprobate ranks are unamusingly thin, even with the addition of Ingham.
There was the booze-fuelled, stinky cigar-smoking goalkeeper Michael Utting, who was suspended for breaking curfew at the Confeds Cup in Guadulajara in 1999. And you’d have to include the angry mud-throwing, headlight-smashing Grant Turner from the 80s.
Billy Harris was a special case, bombing himself out of All Whites team camp, unhappy at chicken and chips being the designated pre-international meal for a Dynamo Minsk game in early 1987 (though Fallon reckoned it was really because it didn’t like being woken up at 6.30am for the early morning runs).
More under the radar in early 2000, was Arran Lines – a sly one, boffing a Westie female fan in dark shadows in the early hours at the Viaduct during a team camp in the late 90s. (The women’s sister was delightfully quick to reveal all the sordid details to Sitter fanzine.)
But that’s not many. So even just to stop young Dane sulking over a double cheeseburger and coke, please nominate your fattest and unfittest All Whites in the comments section below.
[Cordwainer Bull is a fat former Waikato United programme columnist. His hobbies include collecting “Be Nice To Fat People” stickers and colouring in. His favourite player was Declan Edge, the only player officially permitted to eat chocolate during the All White camps of the mid 1980s.]
Categories: All Whites
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.