The All Blacks set the gold standard among our sports teams for maintaining a tough attitude. They also play with a healthy fear of letting the All Black legacy down.
In the past year or so, this attitude has seen them come back from the brink of defeats to maintain their position on top of the rugby world. I'm in awe of what they do, and how they do it.
Unfortunately for our football, the All Whites, in particular, are falling short in displaying an attitude that should be an automatic characteristic of the national side.
During the past few weeks, I have heard All Whites coach Anthony Hudson, Phoenix boss Ernie Merrick, and key members of the Football Ferns talking about having to toughen up and find more belief in themselves.
At the risk of sounding like a rose-tinted football historian, I have to say that the fiery spirit of some All Whites teams past has been sadly lost. A legacy has not been treasured and maintained. The new generation is fitter and better looked after in areas such as physical preparation and nutrition. But they are severely lacking elsewhere.
The support they receive is not translating into results. Many of our players of today are soft, lacking the desperation and determination of old.
With players such as Steve Sumner and Grant Turner in the All Whites, and Kevin Fallon barking orders from the sideline, "toughen up" was never a catch cry in All Whites teams I played in because a hard attitude was a given.
I don't think there are enough players willing to put their bodies on the line and take the physical pain any more.
Yes, guys such as Michael McGlinchey, Marco Rojas, Kosta Barbarouses and Ryan Thomas are slight but former players such as Dave Taylor, Robert Ironside, Danny Halligan and the late Duncan Cole were not the biggest of men, yet were more than prepared to leave their calling card in a tackle. It's something I've yet to see in the current All Whites.
The honour of playing for your country, pride in the jersey, and being prepared to battle together for 90 minutes is at the heart of successful international teams, and it will always be crucial for a football minnow such as New Zealand.
Times have changed, of course. I grew up in a remote Scottish mining village playing football on the road, where asphalt and skin often met. Tears would only bring derision. It produced, in my case, someone who would run through brick walls, as they say, such was my desire to remain in the All Whites.
A highly respected former All White suggested to me last week that today's players are over-pampered with business class flights, five star hotels, the financial rewards and big medical teams in attendance.
And what do we get? In the case of Tommy Smith for instance, a player turning out for the All Whites on the basis that he needs it to help his career. In other words, personal gain appears to be more important than the result of the match.
Thankfully, captain Winston Reid has the do-or-die attitude, in the tradition of some recent players such as Ryan Nelsen and Ben Sigmund who didn't need to be told to toughen up.
But running around as Oceania champions is not good enough for the All Whites - we must be better than that. The results won't come unless we have a team genuinely and totally united in fighting for the cause.
4 thoughts on the game
Ernie Merrick's exciting Wellington Phoenix can turn the struggling Central Coast Mariners into cannon fodder at Eden Park on Saturday night. The Phoenix are hunting near the top of the A-League and after eight goals in two games, they have given Aucklanders plenty of reasons to turn out in force to watch Nathan Burns, Roy Krishna and company who are in scintillating form.
New Zealand Football, led by chief executive Andy Martin, is winning positive feedback for getting about and listening to what the football fraternity believes is needed in the game. The launch of the Beyond Football campaign is timely and vital to the future, but it needs to be implemented. The new administration must prove it will take action, and is not full of hot air.
Return to tribalism
Encouraging to see moves afoot to fire up rivalries within the ASB Premiership to produce a product fit for television. Hallelujah. As Martin said, tribalism must return. We used to have it, when Mt Wellington played Christchurch United, or Eastern Suburbs met Blockhouse Bay. Now we need it when Auckland and North Shore teams clash, for instance. To dream a little, it could also thrive when the Wellington Phoenix play the Auckland Stars in the A-League.
Home action needed
NZF needs to get the All Whites and Football Ferns in front of the public on home soil against meaningful opposition. As difficult as this might be to arrange, it must be a prime goal. Annual fixtures against Australia are the real attraction, and should be on the top of the list.