Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

The golden team: When NZ hockey struck gold

40 years on the 1976 men's team are still New Zealand's only Olympic hockey medallists. This is their story.

Trevor Manning paid to play for New Zealand at the Olympics.

And the battered star of the 1976 Olympic hockey final, when a bunch of everyman characters upset Australia to win gold, kept paying a price long after the team returned home.

The fanfare that greeted the golden squad on their return from Montreal has long died down, with hockey yet to get near such heights again. The 1976ers are still our only Olympic hockey medallists.

Former New Zealand hockey chairman David Appleby, who might have been in the 1976 side but for the chance to become a partner in an accountancy firm, was determined their story still needed to be told.

 The New Zealand hockey team waiting for the presentation of their gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
The New Zealand hockey team waiting for the presentation of their gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

It has led to the book Striking Gold, by former New Zealand Herald journalist Suzanne McFadden, which is released today.

"I thought our story might have been told a lot earlier but I suppose it comes down to cost," says Manning, the Wellington wharfie who moved to Kaitaia in the Far North two years ago.

The memories came creeping back for the 70-year-old as he talked to the Herald about a golden time in his life, including the sacrifices his late wife Lorraine made for his career.

The goalkeeper's story typifies the old Olympic ideals and realities, and Striking Gold - three years in the research and writing - gives a remarkable insight into the players' lives and a very different sporting age.

Manning had to pay $200 to book his place in the Olympic team. He bought his own gear, including imported $300 pads, and borrowed kickers for the Olympics because his had rotted. Manning didn't even have moulded-sole boots for the astro turf, removing sprigs from his standard boots instead. Muslin wrap protected his arms and he wore a cloth cap. Never mind - famous deeds still ensued.

Trevor Manning, gold-medal winning goalie for the New Zealand men's hockey team at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.
Trevor Manning, gold-medal winning goalie for the New Zealand men's hockey team at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games.

With 10 minutes remaining in the final, and New Zealand leading 1-0, an Australian thunderbolt smashed Manning's left kneecap which was exposed by the design of the pads when his leg was bent. Legend was about to be made as Manning played on with a cracked kneecap, the agony turning to ecstasy as he helped keep the surging Australians at bay.

An operation in Montreal would have been too expensive, so he flew back to New Zealand in plaster to a hero's welcome and had the kneecap wired together in Wellington. Financial matters weren't so easily fixed.

"The first 13 weeks after coming back, having a mortgage, a young family... the stress factor was pretty high," recalls Manning. "You could break out of prison and cut your hand and qualify for ACC. But you come back with a gold medal and get nothing. It took ages for anything to come through and I eventually got $50 a week.

"The injury certainly caused me a lot of pain over the years, and it led to hip problems as well. I had that constant Olympic reminder. But the book has thrown up a lot of wonderful memories. We really bonded together as a team."

Manning's gear, including the pads and even the broken cast, sit in the Hall of Fame in Dunedin, and will one day be joined by the bit of wire which held his left knee together before he had reconstructive surgery just a couple of years ago.

The "human side" to the 1976 triumph is what inspired Appleby to underwrite Striking Gold and he has optimistically printed an initial 3000 copies hoping sales will even be good enough to help the hockey coffers.

Appleby says the selfless attitude of the 1976 team has always shone through, epitomised by vice-captain Jeff Archibald insisting that his fellow selectors drop him for Arthur Parkin during the Olympic tournament.

"Can you image that... dropping yourself for an Olympic final? There were no egos, no standouts in this team," says Appleby.

He will give a copy of Striking Gold to the men and women in the 2016 Olympic squads, who include Archibald's son Ryan.

"I wasn't aware of things like Trevor's financial situation before and after, the sacrifice he made to even get there, and the aftermath of what he went through with the broken knee," Appleby says.

"All sports can learn from the past and particularly from this bunch, because they have delivered a lot down the years. The passage of time makes their stories even better.

"If there's a message for the current teams, it is that the sum of the parts is much bigger than the individual."

Manning returns home from the 1976 Olympics holding the gold medal he won while playing with a smashed kneecap.
Manning returns home from the 1976 Olympics holding the gold medal he won while playing with a smashed kneecap.


The New Zealand hockey team celebrating at the 1976 Olympic Games.
The New Zealand hockey team celebrating at the 1976 Olympic Games.

Where are they now, and what did Olympic gold mean to them? The stars of 1976.

Paul Ackerley

Ackerley passed away in 2011, aged 61, soon after being diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, and not long after a hockey re-union in Christchurch. His wife Rosemary said Ackerley, who coached the New Zealand women for six years, got "enduring" satisfaction from his Olympic gold.

Jeff Archibald

Played more than 100 tests, and his Rio-bound son Ryan is a world class midfielder for the Black Sticks. Archibald snr played club hockey into his 40s, and is now a golfer at The Grange in Auckland. The gold medal helped his "inner confidence".

New Zealand lost to Pakistan in pool play before winning gold.
New Zealand lost to Pakistan in pool play before winning gold.

Tur Borren

A "corporate doctor" for companies in strife. Had triple bypass surgery last year. Semi-retired. The lessons of Montreal helped shape his business life. "The gold medal was my ticket," he says.

Alan Chesney

Put 'Olympic gold medallist' on his business cards, when selling insurance in Australia. Now has a health consultancy in South Africa. The medal "opened a few doors for me".

John Christensen

Works in regional Government, grows hazelnuts in North Canterbury, and still cycles with 1976 team mate Selwyn Maister. Cherishes the Montreal memories and the bonds formed.

Greg Dayman

The Auckland architect says he is staggered by the number of people who still remember the 1976 triumph and watching the final on TV.

Tony Ineson

A lot of the players suffered physically - Ineson had knee problems. Headed adidas in New Zealand. Ineson, who is in Christchurch, says Montreal gave his sales-orientated career a boost. "(but) it's history now."

Alan McIntyre

The Wellington stalwart, who worked for Statistics New Zealand, retired to Hawkes Bay after a 2008 heart attack nearly killed him. He still enjoys being recognised for the Montreal triumph - "that's made a difference to my life".

Neil McLeod

Along with fellow reserve goalie Les Wilson, McLeod was controversially denied a gold medal. Montreal elicits mixed emotions - he is proud of his part but "pissed off" he never made it on to the field.

Barry Maister

The Christchurch schoolteacher became head of the NZ Olympic committee, and remains on the IOC. Described as a shy teenager, he says Montreal transformed him - "an incredible confidence booster...it opened doors...I've had an incredibly charmed career".

Selwyn Maister

Continued to play a huge part in sport and hockey, and still coaches little kids. Lives in rural Canterbury, and current chair of Paralympics NZ. The educator revels in the inspiration his medal has given others.

Trevor Manning

The Olympic final was the Wellington wharfie's last game in goal - he played in the outfield for Karori seniors. "1976 didn't really change my life...I'm the same old me."

New Zealand players rejoice at the end of their hockey match against Australia.
New Zealand players rejoice at the end of their hockey match against Australia.

Arthur Parkin

The Aucklander, a former teacher who owns an artificial turf company, was driven on by two "humiliating" misses in the final. Had a crack at joining the European senior golf tour. Montreal opened doors and he treasures the team bonds formed.

Mohan Patel

Deputy principal at Mangere College, where he has been for 37 years. "For me, the journey was more important than the end result," he says of 1976.

Ramesh Patel

Also a teacher, the gifted team baby went on to play 123 tests and become NZ Hockey CEO for 21 years. Still proud of being the first Indian in a New Zealand team. "That gold medal put the icing on the cake for my career and my life".

Les Wilson

The goalkeeper, a railway worker, kept playing for New Zealand and Wanganui, and only recently put down the stick. Olympic triumph didn't help financially but he still finds it "nice" when people remember 1976.

Ross Gillespie

The 80-year-old Gillespie, who owned a sawmilling business, says people are still interested in hearing about 1976 when they find out he was the coach. Gillespie oversaw the rebuild of his and wife Barbara's home after it was wrecked by the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.


 New Zealand striker Ramesh Patel (No15) shoots but Australian goalie Robert Proctor saves.
New Zealand striker Ramesh Patel (No15) shoots but Australian goalie Robert Proctor saves.

Auckland writer Suzanne McFadden has brought one of the great New Zealand sports stories alive in Striking Gold, about the 1976 Montreal Olympic gold medal-winning hockey team.

The book, underwritten by hockey identity David Appleby and released today, captures the stories of the men who made a dream come true in a different sporting age.

McFadden, a former Herald sports reporter, chats about her labour of love and tells us why her first book isn't actually a hockey book.

Where did this start?
David Appleby (accountant, former New Zealand player and hockey chairman)...I was actually on the way to hospital with sharp stomach pains - I needed to have my gall bladder out - when the phone rang. He said 'There's a fantastic story that has never been told.' He believed this team had never got the recognition they deserved...his life goal was to make sure they did. It sounded like something I'd love to do. You couldn't wish for a better first book situation - time to research, willing participants and the safety of knowing you would get a fee.

Were there any serious glass-half-empty moments?
I struggled with the thought of writing 80,000 words. When I tried to sit down at the keyboard I freaked out. I had done the research, interviewed the all of the players, travelled around New Zealand talking to them, some two or three times. It took me four months to type the first words. I was petrified. I'd wake up in the middle of the night thinking 'I'm letting all those people, those players, down'. A couple of players said 'hurry up before we die'. I told the publisher 'you have to set me a deadline'.

That is a world class writer's block. Moving on...any favourite stories?
...John Christensen...his father said he had to play rugby, but he went to Redcliffs School in Christchurch which was hockey mad. They had a teacher obsessed with the game - there was a barrel of 10 bob sticks and at playtime there would be one huge hockey game that could go on for days. Three of the kids from that school won Olympic gold in '76 - John, Tony Ineson and Alan Chesney.

Your best find...
A yellow box of Kodak transparencies in (goalkeeper) Trevor Manning's attic. He had never even looked at them. There was not a lot of footage from the time...that box contained the only photo of the entire team. I said 'holy heck Trevor - do you realise what you've got here'. Can I have a second great discovery? Selwyn Maister found a 1930s letter from (running legend) Jack Lovelock written to New Zealand hockey.

Trevor Manning was the hero of the final, playing on with a smashed kneecap...
One of the really lovely parts was getting to know these guys. Trevor kept the most immaculate scrap books - I would have been lost without them.

The country stopped for that final.
TV had booked three live things - the opening ceremony, the 1500m final with John Walker and the 5000m final with Dick Quax and Rod Dixon. Fortunately the hockey was on the same morning as the 5000m so they piggy-backed off that. There was overlap so New Zealand viewers missed the first six minutes. Ramesh Patel missed a penalty stroke during that time but no one here has ever seen it - Ramesh is quite grateful for that.

A common view is New Zealand hockey stuffed up when it came to building on the '76 triumph.
New Zealand had mastered artificial turf faster (in Montreal) than any other country but it was 10 years before we got one in Wellington. And they didn't go to the 1978 World Cup in Argentina over money. We've been behind the 8-ball ever since. It all came so suddenly and hockey was run by well meaning amateurs who didn't know how to capitalise.

Such different times...
Havilah Down, grandfather of players Selwyn and Barry Maister, ran New Zealand hockey for 30 years, and at the end they gave him a clock. I look at this book as a great untold story of a bunch of Kiwi blokes..it's not a hockey book, it's a social history book. I know hockey is a minority sport but is is also far reaching in our history. It was huge at times during the last century - they got 30,000 to watch the Indians play at Eden Park. They were treated like royalty around the country, with civic receptions. The great (sports journalist) TP McLean wrote to me once and said 'the human story is the best story'. I wanted anyone to be able to pick up this book and read it.

Your favourite sports book is...
(Kiwi runner) Lorraine Moller's autobiography On the Wings of Mercury because it's not really a sports book. You discover everything about her life...including when and where she lost her virginity. It's beautifully written, both funny and a tear-jerker.

Damn the writer's block...is there a second book in the wind?
Writing a book is like having a baby - I won't remember the labour.

Striking Gold (Mary Egan Publishing) is available in bookstores from today

- NZ Herald

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