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

Hockey: Gold-winning Kiwi hockey team brought nation to a standstill

Suzanne McFadden
Suzanne McFadden

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 New Zealand 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 all 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 world class writer's block. 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 ($1) 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. That box contained the only photo of the entire team. And Selwyn Maister found a 1930s letter from (running legend) Jack Lovelock written to New Zealand hockey.

Trevor Manning was the final hero, playing with a smashed kneecap.

One of the lovely parts was getting to know these guys. Trevor kept the most immaculate scrapbooks - 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 an 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 - he 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 eight-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 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.

Your favourite sports book is ...

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

Is there a second book in the wind?

Writing a book is like having a baby - I won't remember the labour.

- NZ Herald

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