Key Points:

You could buy a packet of 10 Greys filter-tipped cigarettes for a shilling, so 1s 6d to see an England international soccer player in New Zealand 50 years ago stacks up well against $90 to see David Beckham and the LA Galaxy at the Cake Tin in Wellington next week.

What's more, at the Childers Rd Reserve in Gisborne you could also have seen a former Scottish international, an Australian international goalkeeper and four others who had worn NZ colours.

Gisborne's big game was the North Island final of the Chatham Cup and the former England player was Ken Armstrong, who had arrived in town a few months before to play for Eastern Union. Playing alongside him was John Aird, who had represented Scotland, and big Ken Hough, who had been in goal for Australia and later played cricket for New Zealand.

Their opponents, Seatoun, boasted several national representatives including goalkeeper Bert Hiddlestone, who was instrumental in Seatoun's 2-1 victory.

Gisborne was something of a catalyst for the rise of New Zealand soccer. Local businessman Ron Johnstone hit on the idea of advertising in Britain for players with the promise of jobs, football and plenty of sunshine.

Armstrong, who played 500 games for Chelsea and was a member of an England side who beat Scotland 7-2 in 1955, didn't stay long on the East Coast but had a profound influence at all levels after he moved to Auckland. As player, coach and writer he lifted the profile of soccer. Son Ron continued the family contribution as an All White.

Four years after his arrival in Gisborne, Armstrong played for New Zealand against an England Football Association team led by a legend of the game, Tom Finney. The side was made up of young professionals and amateurs with Finney as player-manager.

In an era when newspaper reports of overseas soccer were few and far between and television had yet to make a mark , Finney was still a star. He played all his career for Preston North End and scored 30 goals in 76 appearances for England, playing on the left wing for his country so that Stanley Matthews could play on the right.

The 1961 team contained an even bigger star of the future, West Ham midfielder Bobby Moore, who was to lead England to World Cup glory at Wembley a few years later.

Finney and co beat New Zealand 8-0 in Wellington and 6-1 at the Epsom Showgrounds in Auckland, where 16,500 spectators turned up, paying a minimum of 6s (Reserve Bank inflation calculations suggest around $13 in 2007 money). The takings of £4500 covered the organisers' costs.

My Fair Lady was playing with an Aussie cast at His Majesty's Theatre in Queen St.

Six years later local soccer fans were in ecstasy - Manchester United came to town complete with George Best, Bobby Charlton, Brian Kidd and Nobby Stiles. The visitors saw off New Zealand 11-0 amid snow flurries at English Park in Christchurch. George Lamont, who was in that NZ team, reckons it was the coldest night he can remember.

On May 31, Carlaw Park was packed for the game against an Auckland team (Still 6s to get in and 2s for kids).

Manchester United won 6-1.

The Herald correspondent, who broke with tradition by giving the visitors - but not the home players - christian names, raved about George Best: "Starting in the right wing position Best roamed the pitch as he liked and popped up in the most unpredictable places, usually at the right time.

"Best also had a hand in six of the goals - each of them started and finished in a strictly professional way.

"Of the other players in the side there were perhaps only Bobby Charlton, John Aston and Nobby Stiles who stood out from the others."

The biggest cheer came in the 23rd minute of the second half when Auckland scored. Lamont remembers every moment of the goal-scoring move: "Arthur Stroud, our goalkeeper, threw it out to me and I took it on for about 20 yards before I passed to the left to Ray Mears.

"He beat a defender all up and crossed to Mark Burgess. With his back to the goal, he passed to me and I put into the roof of the net."

The doyen of rugby writers, TP McLean, made a rare visit into league headquarters to report: "The exhibition of speed, sustained speed by the team was enthralling.

"The miraculous Best, the lanky Kidd, who covered an enormous amount of ground, the zippy Stiles and, best of all as master craftsman, the incomparable Charlton - what would Mr Freddie Allen give to have a man of such acceleration at first five-eighths in his All Black team! - were all only half a yard faster than their mates.

"I can't help thinking it would do every team of every sort in New Zealand, from rugby to hockey to soccer to basketball to lawn tennis, the profoundest of good to observe from Manchester United the value of the greatest of all virtues in ball games.

"This is speed."

Kiwis have had the chance to see a range of British internationals in guest stints with local clubs in recent years. Mick Channon (Southampton), now a successful horse trainer, was with Blockhouse Bay in the Northern League, Trevor Brooking (West Ham) turned out for University in the national league, Paul Mariner (Ipswich) played for North Shore and John McGinlay (Bolton and Scotland) was with the same club.

There have been World Cup games, visiting British clubs and tussles with Australia.

But nothing to match the impact made by Manchester's Red Devils.

Here's hoping Beckham can rekindle the memories of his Manchester United predecessors 40 years ago.