Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Media and celebs set to clash in curtain raiser

Herald on Sunday journalist and part time soccer player Michael Burgess. Photo / File.
Herald on Sunday journalist and part time soccer player Michael Burgess. Photo / File.

It will be football, but maybe not as you know it.

Tomorrow afternoon at Eden Park a host of sporting figures, media personalities and celebrities will clash in a special curtain raiser to the Phoenix clash with Adelaide United.

Team New Zealand skipper Dean Barker takes on former Black Cap Dion Nash, while Niko Kirwan (son of Blues' coach and All Black legend Sir John) faces off against three time Olympian Steven Ferguson. There are several prominent footballers - including former English Premier League player Neil Emblen and ex All Whites Noah Hickey and Harry Ngata. Warriors cult figure Joe Vagana will also take the field, along with long time Breaker Paul Henare and former Kiwi Tea Ropati. The match will also figure television presenters James McOnie and Andrew Mulligan, as well as established football reporters Jason Pine and Andrew Gourdie.

As you might expect, though there has been minimal training sessions, the trash talk has already started in earnest.

James McOnie (team two)
"I'm worried that my achilles heel will be my achilles heel but I will try to tough it out," says the TV presenter.

A footballer in his younger years McOnie plays more touch rugby these days but retains a natural affinity for the round ball.

"My last game like this was before the David Beckham [and LA Galaxy match] in Auckland," says McOnie. "I was really good that night but I had been dining out on that game too much - actually I have been dining out too much as well."

McOnie's strategy is to come out with all guns blazing and make the most of any early chances.

"I can promise 90 seconds to three minutes of quality and after that I may not be a factor."

McOnie is particularly wary of Dion Nash, who he labels as the "most competitive man in the world."

"He will do anything to win," says McOnie. "He will run all day - he will even run out of the stadium like Forrest Gump if necessary and will do anything not to lose."

McOnie's jersey will be emblazoned with 'Napoleon Dynamite' tomorrow, a heartfelt tribute to one of his favourite film stars.

"I thought about Han Solo but that would be a lot to live up to," says McOnie. "Napoleon is the ultimate underdog; the hero from nowhere - and that is quite inspirational."

Harry Ngata (captain of team one)
As skipper, the former Hull, Kingz and All Whites representative already has a solid strategy in place.

"Niko Kirwan is going to do all of the running and [radio commentator] Jason Pine has a few wheels too," says Ngata. "We will put Joe Vagana up front as a target man to do some damage and he is also assigned to take James McOnie out of the game. It could be a royal rumble between those two."

Ngata has barely played since he retired a decade ago but is counting on plenty of "pass and move, hot potato football" to make up for any match fitness.

Dion Nash (team one)
Apart from cricket, Nash played rugby growing up but did enjoy a couple of successful 'social football' seasons at University. He last played in a tribute match for the 1982 All Whites some years ago and is wary of the challenge tomorrow.

"If the ball finds me it will be okay," says Nash. "If I have to go and get it there could be problems. Eden Park is a big ground."

In the best traditions of several top football managers Nash says he has completely disregarded the opposition, preferring to focus entirely on his own side.

"We will be sweet and sour - we have some obvious strengths and weaknesses," says Nash. "[Sky TV presenter] Andrew Mulligan will probably be the weakest link - he won't offer much - he will just stand there and talk. We will rely on the youth of people like Niko and the skills of those former All Whites."

Noah Hickey (captain of team two)
Hickey is wary of breaking down ("I'm sure there will be tonnes of deep heat and strapping tape before the match") but is looking forward to making the most of the occasion.

"I'm quietly confident," says Hickey. "No, actually, to be honest, I'm extremely confident. I have personally selected my team and while we haven't had any training sessions it will all come together on the day."

The match kicks off at 5.45 with the main event (Phoenix vs Adelaide United) set to start at 7.30pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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