Bruce Holloway: A potted history of the All Whites playing amateur teams

By Bruce Holloway

Marco Rojas. Photo / Getty Images.
Marco Rojas. Photo / Getty Images.

If history is any guide, All Whites coach Anthony Hudson should be on red alert as his team prepares to play three friendly matches against seemingly unfancied lower tier club opposition in Australia in the coming days.

On Wednesday night the All Whites play Western Pride, based in Ipswich on the western outskirts of Brisbane and competing in the Queensland division of the National Premier League, a feeder competition to the A-League.

There are also matches against Redlands United and Brisbane City ahead of the Nations Cup opener against Fiji in Papua New Guinea on May 28.

But the last time an All Whites team toyed with such club-level opposition - back in 1997 - results were disastrous, the credibility of the national team took a real hammering, and the coach even lost his job soon after.

The gesture of staging three matches within New Zealand against "Lotto All Stars" domestic selections was widely appreciated by supporters starved of international football in early 1997.

But they quickly became dress rehearsals from hell, with the All Whites losing two and drawing one - while they were no more successful in then battling to a scoreless draw against an unremarkable Gold Coast team in Queensland.



The All Whites were clumsy, the lack of organisation and purpose was appalling, and they found themselves on a hiding to nothing against opponents who garnered far more public support than they did.

On January 2 1997 a Lotto All Stars XI drawn at short notice from national league clubs and featuring experienced and talented players in Ian Porteous, Batram Suri, Paul Nixon, and Justin Fashanu - as well as the likes of Tim Stevens, a young Ivan Vicelich and Mark Atkinson, who were all stating their case for All Whites honours - went out at Mt Maunganui and rolled our national team 3-1.

It was a moment of truth for All Whites coach Keith Pritchett. He had a fine CV as a former pro who had taken Waitakere City to national league and Chatham Cup honours, but in circumstances eerily similar to Anthony Hudson, in eight matches in charge of the All Whites had only ever beaten Oman.

And when a team which met for the first time in a Mt Maunganui pub over lunch could then beat the All Whites (in their first home appearance in over a year) hours later, the writing was on the wall. Especially given that the Lotto All Stars coach and Soccer New Zealand's technical director, Joe McGrath, was already plotting and furtively grooming himself as the new All Whites coach.

By the end of the month, following three further losses at the Four Nations Tournament in Australia (Norway and South Korea were the other teams) Pritchett had resigned and McGrath was installed as coach.

Nobody is suggesting Western Pride coach Graham Harvey is motivated by a similar sub-plot to unseat Hudson - but then who saw Hudson coming back in July 2014?

The really astonishing thing was that in May 1997, the newly installed McGrath also then twice turned to the Lotto All Stars as warm-up sparring partners.

And under his reign the All Whites were just as inept in conquering this artificially constructed bogey team.

In two further matches in Palmerston North and Auckland the All Whites failed to beat another cobbled-together rabble of fringe players, has-beens and misfits in preparing for a doomed World Cup qualifying campaign.

Worst of all, not dissimilar to Hudson's squad today, this was meant to be a "post-revolution" new-look All Whites, with a squad that boasted Danny Hay, Ivan Vicelich, Rodger Gray, Mike McGarry, Chris Jackson, Simon Elliott, Noah Hickey and Vaughn Coveny.

However there was little excuse for the dire outcomes that followed against a temporary All Stars team coached by one Ricki Herbert.

Whereas the domestic opposition at Mt Maunganui at least had a touch of class, in the May All Stars matches there were far fewer actual stars.

Lads like Jeff Kescic, Brian Hawke, Kara Waetford, Nigel Kelly, Nathan Masters and Ross Goodacre were okay, but hardly household names. Indeed, some of them were struggling to get a run in the summer national league of the era. However they held the All Whites 2-2 in Palmerston North then rolled them 2-1 in Auckland.

And on reflection it can't have all been down to the coach.

It didn't help that poor Mark Paston let in howlers in both matches which would have embarrassed any Scottish goalkeeper, though McGrath was jauntily philosophical about his team's lack of success.

After the Auckland loss he said: "A lot of it was to do with what was on the players' minds. Not wanting to risk getting injured was a factor out there. They know they've got a big game against Papua New Guinea coming up."

Hudson may wish to rehearse that 19-year-old line of patter ahead of the Papua New Guinea trip should it all turn to mud in Wednesday night's game at the Briggs Road Sporting Complex.

Not that such soothing words worked that well for McGrath.

Eight days later Papua New Guinea "did an All Stars" and sensationally upset the All Whites 1-0 in their World Cup qualifier.

McGrath lasted less than a year in the job before heading back to Northern Ireland and being succeeded by his assistant, Ken Dugdale.

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