Soccer: Knight rang in the changes

By Ben Guild

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Bay of Plenty Times sports writer Ben Guild caught up with John Adshead after the former All Whites coach was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday honours list. What followed was a conversation on a wide range of topics ranging from the onset of professionalism in football to the Springboks' ill-fated tour of New Zealand in 1981.

On the difference between amateur and professional football:

"I remember the '82 campaign mostly in detail. It was a very special time in your life. It's very different today - the job was very different. I had amateur players and whereas Ricki (Herbert) is now ringing presidents and chairmen and managers of clubs to ask whether they would release his players, I was calling employers and wives to get that same thing, because it's not easy when you have a husband that gets involved in something that went on for so long like our campaign did."

On the All Whites now having an easier road to qualify for the World Cup:

"I'd be very happy with it if I were the manager or the coach. You can't decide what Fifa wants to do. As a football confederation you have to do what fifa tells you. If Fifa suddenly turns around and say Oceania are going to get direct qualification then that's the law of football so that's what you do - you win your confederation.

I think with Australia choosing to go through Asia that's made our path through Oceania a little bit more comfortable. We've beaten Australia in the past and we will beat them again at times, but the fact that we played 15 games to get there and travelled is very different from today.

But Oceania is far more difficult. You don't take games in Papa New Guinea or Fiji or anywhere in the Pacific lightly. They are difficult places to play in. I mean, I lost 4-0 to Fiji in my rein, in Fiji. So you can have upsets over there.

People will say that it's a far more comfortable road than it was in our day but then Ricki is dealing with professional players, and that has it's own difficulties as well."

Mistakes following the 1982 campaign:

"Did we capitalise on it? I don't think we did. We learned a lot about international football as managers, coaches and players. We were all in this rollercoaster together for the first time. I believe we all learned more than the administration did. I think we became a problem - one of our biggest problems has always been our geographical position.

I remember back at the end of 1982 I was imploring the New Zealand Football Association to change things. We knew that Asia didn't want us because we were taking one of their places, but I would have - and pushed very hard for it to come to pass - for New Zealand to go into the CONCACAF. It'd still be a Pacific Rim thing, but then you would have opened the doors to the Mexicos, the Americas, and it would have been a very different development. It would have been a better development than if we had just stayed in Oceania.

We had put our names on the board and countries were saying they would come, and I don't think they took advantage of that in a structured way. They sacked me immediately afterwards so I was never going to be a part of that. I didn't agree with the administration on going back to a day where players used to get paid a few dollars a day for being in camp. I thought we were bigger than that."

On courting the media during the Springboks tour:

"The '82 campaign was the first time that we ever got media in football. We didn't get any space and then suddenly there was an All Blacks tour in 1981 with the Springboks.

There was a change about our national sport. People were very much against it. It was a problem, and we recognised that problem. We started to court the media or I did - very much so. I saw that Springbok tour as an opportunity for our game as we were just starting off in April 1981, when we played Australia on the first game of the (qualifying) and no one realised that campaign was going to last for 18 months.

It came at the perfect time when rugby ... some were disappointed, some were angry and there were different feelings around the country. I think we were the first people to open up our dressing room doors and allow the cameras in. We used to have rules and regulations, but as my players came in at half time there was a camera filming in the corner. We took that to the World Cup which was gobsmacking, because if you look at the movie from the World Cup we probably gained nine minutes or so extra time than they would have given us if we had not done that.

So from a media perspective and trying to sell our game, I think we gave the public of New Zealand, who had sort of adopted us because of what was going on in rugby, everything they wanted. Our crowds were bigger, there were buses leaving to our games from rugby clubs, so that was a great opportunity that we took."

Is the current administration making the most of the recent World Cup campaign:

"I think it's a lot better now. Ricki is structured in his planning and he's got the money. With Australia going, most tournaments we can qualify for now. The game is different now, it's able to look ahead and plan what it wants to do. The biggest thing that we lost was Rothmans, because Rothmans gave us the structure, planning and long-term development. We knew that when the Rothmans sponsorship was in - rightly or wrongly - that we could take a child from 10 to 20 years old."

On the next generation of players coming through youth academies:

"I don't work in it, but I do talk to people who do, and those that work in junior football tell me we have good children in very young age groups, and they say there are a couple around the 14, 15 and 16-year-old age mark that are a little bit more special than maybe the Rojas' were. Phoenix is a pathway but it is very difficult. I should know - I had the job. When you have these young ones like Rojas you're there with teenagers and are you going to put your faith in them? It's like what I did with young Brockie years ago. We weren't going very well. I had cancer and couldn't attend any training sessions, the dressing room wasn't as happy as it could be because individuals were working against you, but that's another story as well. At the end of the day I just threw these kids in and they didn't do themselves or the side any harm."

On whether the All Whites of 1981 would have played South Africa:

"No, definitely not. You have to look at the difference between the international organisations. I mean, Fifa is Fifa and the IRB is the IRB. The IRB is paperweight whereas Fifa is probably more powerful than the United Nations if you want to analyse things that have gone on over the years. There was a team of international footballers selected to go to South Africa, and they arrived in South Africa to be met by Fifa representatives that told them there was nothing to stop them from playing football on the tour. Nothing at all - except that they would never kick another ball in a Fifa tournament again. And they all went home. You never saw an international football game in South Africa in that time - you did see a lot of cricket."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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