John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Sad our icon even has a price

Piri Weepu and the All Blacks should be the only ones to know what pulling on the actual black jersey feels like, because they've earned it. Picture / Getty Images
Piri Weepu and the All Blacks should be the only ones to know what pulling on the actual black jersey feels like, because they've earned it. Picture / Getty Images

If black jersey must be a souvenir then cost should match the legend.

They should be charging a thousand dollars for the All Black jersey, if they must put it on sale.

This is a garment that generations of New Zealanders have dreamed might come to them in a locker room under a grandstand humming with the anticipation of the crowd above.

There is no other way they would deserve it.

In their dream they handle it with awe, having never seen the black fabric and the fern so close, never touched it before.

It came as a shock to see our icon in shops when rugby went professional. Adidas had done inspired work, helped by the rugby union's resistance to their trademark stripes. They had removed the white collar and produced a sleek, smoky black statement of pure strength. But did they really have to sell it?

It was a price we had to pay, I supposed, for the professionalism that had vastly improved not just the jersey but the standard of rugby we can watch today.

I couldn't blame the makers for trying to reap as much as they could from outfitting the All Blacks, and consoled myself that Kiwis would never wear it. Tourists and toddlers maybe but nobody who knows what it really means.

In the tourist category we could include locals whose enculturation in the game is relatively recent and goes not much deeper than its gear. To them the jersey is a "strip", soccer is "faught-bawl" and they use that abominable diminutive, the "ABs".

If these characters have given adidas a market for the jersey in New Zealand they should be charged like the wounded bull. I'm wounded.

A respectable reason for buying the jersey (but not for wearing it like a dick) is that the price helps support rugby. Adidas and the Rugby Union should have said so this week.

With more aggressive public relations advice they could have made a virtue of the local price and gently suggested that online purchasers are letting down the side.

There is, after all, plenty of less sacred regalia for genuine supporters to wear. At Eden Park last Saturday night I was surrounded by black and silver ferns on scarves, caps, beanies, jackets and face-paint. It was glorious.

You could sense that the World Cup is going to be a blast. The enlarged stadium is looking magnificent, the bus transport worked a treat, the crowd is ready to sing - we sang the Australian anthem as well as our own - and the team is hitting the heights Graham Henry seeks.

There is just one thing still missing. The crowd is ready to sing but it doesn't have any songs.

You don't get a New Zealand crowd singing on cue from an intercom or a mock-conductor on the field, neither of which was attempted at Eden Park last Saturday night but they are the sort of devices rugby organisers tend to use when they bother.

A better way, it seems to me, would involve a little subterfuge. Somebody should quietly recruit 100 keen singers from secondary school choirs, select a few Crowded House choruses, train the secret choir down to crowd pitch and give them some of the seats still available for most games.

It wouldn't matter what section of the stadium they were seated, if they launched into a well known tune, the crowd last Saturday night would have taken it up with gusto.

Before long, one or two tunes would become crowd favourites and would erupt at frequent intervals unprompted. If crowds of reserved Englishmen can do it, we can. Well Kiwi women will, anyway.

The World Cup can be about much more than rugby, and it has to be. As taxpayers we haven't spent all this money to win a rugby title. Rugby is just the best thing we do.

We do it well enough to bring a big event here. I was in Europe last month and the one thing everybody knew about New Zealand was that we are about to hold the World Cup.

But really we haven't spent all this money for world attention either. This is for us. It is to enlarge us.

If the World Cup works as intended we might never spend another week carping about the prices of national products such as milk and our prime sporting emblem.

We might no longer hear it suggested that it is somehow wrong for farmers to charge more than the makers of flavoured fizz-water, or that a premium should not be paid for something that is priceless here.

We could look back in embarrassment that everyone from the Prime Minister down took cheap shots at a global sportswear brand for perfectly normal marketing practice.

If the World Cup works as well as it might, we'll not worry about the price of an icon, we'll sing.

- NZ Herald

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John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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