Steve Sumner left his homeland in a three-piece suit for a mysterious land to the young English footballer, a rugby stronghold of loose attire where he became sporting royalty.

The passing of Sumner has brought back a flood of memories from the campaign which took the All Whites he captained so magnificently to the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain.

Nothing can match the unscripted, drawn out joy that band of men gave us, a 15-game qualification programme, spread over nine countries, which grew to captivate the nation and turn the coaches and squad into household names.

You can't script stuff like that. It happens, of its own accord. Out of a surprise and comprehensive "friendly" victory over Mexico in Auckland emerged a team that was to make history dreams are made of.


For mine, there were six key figures, all of them Brits: captain/midfielder Sumner, central defender Bobby Almond, striker Steve Wooddin, coaches John Adshead and Kevin Fallon, and the somewhat Machiavellian figure of the country's soccer boss Charlie Dempsey.

Sumner may well have been the most important of them all, in retrospect. He was a hard man on the field, and to be blunt about it I have met those who played against him who used the word dirty.

But it took that kind of ruthless attitude to drive a team formed out of the excellent national soccer league of the 1970s into one which went on to compete valiantly against the might of a famous Brazilian lineup, a fine Soviet Union team and probably the best side - Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, John Robertson et al - which Scotland has assembled.

It was, however, the qualification campaign which remains strongest in the memory, from the dramas at Mt Smart Stadium - notably the Kuwait game - to magnificent goals from Wynton Rufer and Grant Turner abroad.

This was a ride which the teenaged Sumner could never have envisaged when he donned the suit and long black coat, newspaper under arm, and 40 pounds of his crane driver father's hard earned money in a pocket, to leave England for Christchurch United. New Zealand football is forever indebted to the Preston North End assistant coach who was the conduit for the club's offer, which included a one way ticket, $15 a win, and a mighty $3 a draw.

Sumner himself said he only decided New Zealand would become his home when he met Judith Brown, his future wife.

These are the sort of stories which were at the heart of New Zealand football, or soccer as it was mainly called then, back in the day. Nowadays, the best prospects for the national side go the other way, young Kiwis like Chris Wood who take on the world.

Twenty eight years after the Spanish conquest, another Christchurch footballer with an iron will to match Sumner's, Ryan Nelsen, drove the All Whites into their second World Cup finals.

For Nelsen's team, the destination, South Africa, was really the story, the stirring win over Bahrain before a roaring crowd in Wellington a reminder of what the 1982 campaign was all about. For Sumner's team, the long qualification journey was the story.

What times they were. It was magic, pure magic, with not a spruiker in sight, or needed.
This is not a lament for the past as a better place. But with Sumner's sad passing, at the age of just 61, it seems like a fair time to once again thank those men for what they gave us, the stories and unexpected dramas of a genuine nature only possible in a different age.

Were the Wallabies really bugged by the bug?

If so, the All Blacks have found a new way to beat Australia. Another one.

The principal method, of course, is to simply turn up. This has been a tried and true formula for some years now.

But in the wake of the latest spygate revelations, Australian Rugby Union chief executive Bill Pulver has confirmed that the Wallabies can be beaten by media stories on game day.

"The aspect that still leaves a bitter taste out of this whole affair is that the discovery of the (bugging) device was reported publicly on game day...a distraction that neither team needed on the morning of a very important test match," said Pulver.

Putting aside that one team - the one which won 42-8 - didn't appear overly-distracted, Wallaby supporters must be further distressed to find out that their beloved heroes are so mentally frail. Or are they? And did they even know or care about the story on match day?