Soccer: Another Armstrong aims high

By Terry Maddaford

Showing all the naivety one might expect from a 14-year-old, Bridgette Armstrong admits she did not have a clue what her father, Ron, had achieved as one of the best soccer players to pull on a New Zealand shirt.

The question arose because the wide-eyed youngster has the chance to join her father as a winner of a major New Zealand soccer knockout competition if her Glenfield Rovers team get through tomorrow's home Knockout Cup semifinal against Western (Christchurch).

While it is unlikely Bridgette will have recovered sufficiently from a foot stress fracture to play tomorrow, she will be sideline cheering her team-mates on in the hope they can win through to the August 25 final.

Her father will then be able to call on the experience of such an occasion to calm any pre-match nerves should she get that opportunity.

As a member of the all-powerful Mt Wellington club, Ron Armstrong fashioned a second-to-none record in the Chatham Cup - the male equivalent of the Knockout Cup.

Armstrong played in seven finals, many under his mercurial father Ken as coach, between 1972-1983 and again in 1990, winning five times.

He was also involved in a ninth as a coach but came up short when Mt Wellington lost the 1996 final to Waitakere City in Napier.

Bridgette admits she was not aware of what her father had achieved but, nevertheless, admits the chance to play in such a final is the most exciting thing she has had to look forward to in her fledgling career. "He hasn't really told me what he did in football," said Bridgette this week.

The Long Bay College pupil has dabbled in a number of sports including rugby, volleyball and touch and, away from school, eventing - when she and her horse stay in shape.

"I've been riding horses as long as I can remember," she says fondly. "But my horse is injured at the moment and could be out for another year."

How about falls? "I've lost count of that," she says.

But it is in football where she seems most likely to make her mark.

Her proud dad admits she can play off both feet. "Better than me in that respect," said Armstrong, who made his mark as possibly the best left back [Bridgette's preferred position] to play for New Zealand.

But, just as quickly, he insists there has been no pressure from him or wife Jenny - who played under him when he coached the Mt Wellington premier women in 1983-84 and was good enough to play for Auckland.

"She has been kicking a ball for as long as I can remember," said Armstrong. "She has always played with her older sister Nicole and her brothers Richard [who plays for the Glenfield Rovers under-19 side] and C J, who plays for Albany."

It was not until the past couple of seasons she has played in all-female teams after first kicking a ball as a 5-year-old [and for many years thereafter in boys' midget teams].

Provided she recovers from her injuries - she has also had to recover from a broken hand and has had stitches in her knee - Bridgette has a chance of making the New Zealand team for next year's Fifa World Under-17 World Cup here. Should she make that there would be no prouder father than Ron Armstrong.

He turned his back on the very real chance he could have had to join his Mt Wellington team-mates Brian Turner, Ricki Herbert, Glenn Dods, Glen Adam and Billy McClure at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, opting to put his job before football.

"I have two big regrets," says Armstrong. "In 1982, it was my call to put my job before football. And, before that when I was at Aston Villa, I was too honest when I was given the opportunity to play with George Best.

"I was asked to go to Stockport where he was playing but I told them that I was going on holiday and did not think it was fair to join them for only two or three games."

Back to the Chatham Cup, Armstrong has clear memories.

"In my first final, in 1972, I scored twice from the spot but we finished up drawing 4-4 with Christchurch United, we drew the replay 1-1 and I scored another penalty in the second replay but we lost 2-1," said Armstrong.

"In 1990, I scored a penalty which I thought had won it but Christchurch United came back to level it 3-3. I then missed from the spot in the shootout and we lost 4-2 on penalties."

One thing is certain. Bridgette Armstrong will not be high on the list if Glenfield are taken to such a decider but, if that situation arose, who would ever bet against an Armstrong coming up short?

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