John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for APNZ.

Photo recall: Thirty years on, the '82 All Whites are still her heroes

Kiwi soccer fans were ecstatic when our team qualified for the World Cup

Susan Boniface holding up tokens of her affection. Photo NZ Herald / Photo Research Emma Land
Susan Boniface holding up tokens of her affection. Photo NZ Herald / Photo Research Emma Land

When other teenagers were writing up Christmas wish-lists, 14-year-old Susan Boniface was writing to the Herald, urging her compatriots to rally behind the triumphant All Whites after a stunning victory kept the soccer team's World Cup hopes alive.

In December 1981, the All Whites faced a tough task as the sport's top competition loomed. They'd never made it to a World Cup and, after an inauspicious start to the qualifying campaign, the chances of them jetting to Spain the following year seemed outrageous. New Zealand had to win in Saudi Arabia by at least five goals.

For keen soccer player Susan Boniface, the stakes could hardly be higher. "We'd exhausted the other routes by drawing or losing," she recalls.

Late on Friday night, December 19, the soccer-mad Bonifaces huddled around the television in their Howick living room with fingers crossed to watch the match broadcast from Riyadh. Susan had convinced herself the All Whites still had a chance.

"We watched all the games in the middle of the night. We wouldn't let our mother watch because she was bad luck," Susan jokes.

After 16 minutes, Wynton Rufer scored. Just a minute later, Brian Turner added another. A Steve Wooddin goal made it three. Three became four, then five, after more goals by Rufer and Turner before half-time. The Saudis got nothing.

Mum had a restless night. "I think we jumped on the bed after every goal."

The family gritted their teeth for another 45 minutes. No goals were scored and when the full-time whistle blew, the no-hopers were just a match away from football immortality. "We managed to stay in there by the skin of our teeth," Susan says.

The 14-year-old fired off a letter to the Herald, urging people to turn up at Auckland International Airport for the team's homecoming the following week. She held up tokens of her affection when the paper visited on Monday. The next day, crowds gathered at the airport to see their heroes arrive.

There would be more crowds after New Zealand beat China on January 10, 1982. Susan's father, Alan Boniface, a football player and referee, was among the pilgrims. He skived off from his job at ANZ Bank to watch the All Whites arrive. "The next morning in the New Zealand Herald, there was a big photo of the crowd welcoming the team back and there was me standing right in the middle of it," he says. "The manager said, 'Where were you yesterday afternoon?' I got into big trouble for leaving the bank."

Susan became a top female footballer, even causing a kerfuffle when soccer bosses said she couldn't play in the boys' leagues. "Somebody decided girls couldn't play with the boys any more. There was a whole lot of uproar. We were on the news."

Women's soccer leagues wouldn't allow under-16s but Susan battled through and kept playing until she went to England on her OE. She has since married, had three soccer-mad sons and followed countless All Whites games, but the early 80s players are still special for her. "I guess I have childhood perception and passion around the '82 squad and their success."

Susan's family are now closely involved with Hibiscus Coast AFC. Next Friday, they'll have their eyes on the telly when New Zealand take on New Caledonia in Dunedin - and mum won't be consigned to the bedroom.

- Herald on Sunday

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