Steve Sumner, the legendary All Whites captain who led them to the World Cup finals, has died, aged 61.

The Christchurch football icon had been suffering from prostate cancer, after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of the cancer in August 2015.

Sumner, along with coaches John Adshead and Kevin Fallon, was central to one of the great New Zealand sporting campaigns, when an under-rated New Zealand side went on a record 15-game qualifying run that took them to the 1982 finals in Spain.

It was the first time New Zealand had qualified for the finals, something they have repeated just once since - in 2010.


New Zealand performed creditably there, losing to USSR, Brazil and Scotland.

Queen's Birthday Honours: Sumner recalls football fairytale

Most pundits would agree that no one player has had a greater impact on New Zealand football than Sumner. Wynton Rufer was the best technical player this country has produced, and Ryan Nelson and Winston Reid have reached the rarefied heights of the English Premier League, but Sumner's influence was immense.

WATCH: Martin Devlin's tribute to the late Steve Sumner

Martin Devlin's tribute to the late Steve Sumner

Sumner played 105 times for the All Whites (including 58 'A' internationals) over a 12-year period, scoring 27 goals.

The attacking midfielder's international career spanned from 1976 to 1988 and he holds the record for the most goals scored in an international when he scored six goals during New Zealand's 13-0 defeat of Fiji during the 1982 World Cup qualifying campaign.

He was a Christchurch United stalwart, winning a record seven Chatham Cups and five league titles. He received Fifa's highest honour - the Order of Merit award - in 2010 for services to football.

'Great leader and a great man'

His 1982 World Cup team mate Sam Malcolmson said Sumner was a "great leader and a great man".

"He wasn't born a great player, but he wanted to be the best, he had the desire," said a tearful Malcolmson.

"He was single minded, self driven. He demanded from the players what he demanded from himself."

Malcolmson said Sumner's wife Jude and Adshead were the people who had the biggest influencing in turning a "brash" young player into a man who would become one of the finest sports captains New Zealand has produced.

Sumner would ask the hard questions of influential figures such as Adshead and New Zealand soccer boss Charlie Dempsey.

"He got in everyone's ear...he made us believe we could do it," Malcolmson said.

He recalled how Steve and Jude Sumner had offered him extraordinary support in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake - Malcolmson's company was based in Christchurch and he had more than 90 employees to assist.

"Their door was always open - he rang me every day," said Malcolmson.

"The last few weeks he has been in and out of consciousness, delusional. So this is a relief for his family and friends, everyone who knew him. He was a bloody good bloke."

'He helped put NZ football on the map'

New Zealand Football Chief Executive Andy Martin said Sumner's passing was a sad day for the football community in this country.

"First and foremost our thoughts go out to his family and friends in their time of grieving. Steve was not only a great footballer, he was also a great man and he will be sorely missed," said Martin.

The CEO said Sumner will be remembered as one of the most influential footballers this country has ever produced.

"What he and the All Whites team from 1982 achieved in that FIFA World Cup campaign put New Zealand on the world football map and his legacy will last forever," he said.

"We were fortunate to have a great time with Steve at the 125th anniversary of New Zealand Football last year and it was a special occasion for him in particular to reflect on all the amazing moments he was part of in the All Whites and in New Zealand Football."

'We got to treasure the fact that Steve Sumner was in our lives'

Defender Bobby Almond, another linchpin of the '82 side, told Radio Sport's Martin Devlin that Sumner "wouldn't want you or I to be morbid or sad".

"He'd say come on guys, keep it light hearted for me," said Almond, who like Sumner was an English footballer who emigrated to Christchurch in the early 1970s.

"It is sad...(but) we got to treasure the fact that Steve Sumner was in our lives.

"He wasn't my best mate but he was my best team mate, from the time we spent from 1977 onwards for club and country."

Almond said Sumner belonged in the pantheon of New Zealand greats, alongside Ryan Nelsen, Wynton Rufer, Brian Turner and Steve Wooddin.

"Best is a difficult word...but Steve was the most complete (New Zealand) player," said Almond.

"We've lost probably the most outstanding player who has ever played for New Zealand.
"The respect he got was truly immense - he didn't suffer fools gladly on or off the park but he had the respect of everybody.

"He gave a lot of pleasure to a whole lot of people the way he played and carried himself. Everyone loves to dream, loves the underdog...we took people on a journey they loved and Steve was integral to that."

The chief executive of the Prostate Cancer Foundation Graeme Woodside also paid tribute, saying Sumner "has been a great inspiration to me and our team to continue to promote awareness and provide support to the many men, and families, who are living with prostate cancer.

"Our deepest sympathy and condolences go to his wife Jude and all the Sumner family at this time."