New Zealand has lost one of its greatest sporting administrators.

Former New Zealand Football CEO Bill MacGowan, who also held the top role at New Zealand Golf and the Warriors, has passed away.

His last position was as head of Auckland Football, until he stepped down last July due to illness.

His impact on sport in this country, particularly football, was profound.

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MacGowan was one of the first of a new generation of sports leaders, coming on to the scene at a time when chairman and committee members still ran their sport.

He helped to modernise the approach, and has laid down a template that has been followed since.

MacGowan arrived in New Zealand from Scotland at the age of seven in the 1950s. He played football to National League level with Blockhouse Bay, before turning to coaching with some success, at Takapuna, East Coast Bays and Waitakere City, among other clubs, and twice was named Auckland coach of the year.

But MacGowan will be best remembered for his tireless and passionate work in administration. He served NZF in two stints as CEO, the first in the early 1990s, and again from 1999-2004.

"He was committed to doing all he could to growing the game," remembered former Herald football writer Terry Maddaford. "He was one of the first CEOs that came into sport for the right reasons and he knew the importance of the media. He wanted to make sure you were informed, and never said no comment to a question."

MacGowan also ran the country's first Fifa event, the 1999 Under-17 World Cup. It proved a resounding success, not least due to MacGowan's fastidious preparation. MacGowan was also an agent of change.

"Bill took over New Zealand Football when the game was at rock bottom," said former Waitakere United chairman Rex Dawkins. "He took over a game in crisis and put it back together again."

"He modernised the game," added former All Whites skipper Rodger Gray. "He was hugely passionate about football and also had the players and the game at heart in everything that he did. Given his service, he touched the lives of a couple of decades of New Zealand players."

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Former colleagues spoke of his ability to engage with people "at any level", and his ability to get things done. Another added that football "owes him a hell of a debt of gratitude" and that his passion and integrity could never be faulted.

MacGowan was also at the helm of the Auckland Warriors between 1997 and 1998, guiding them through the turbulent era of the Super League war.

"Bill was an outstanding CEO," remembered former Warriors chairman Peter Macky. "With his wide knowledge of sports clubs, as well as his objectivity, wit and intellect, he quickly understood the club's culture. He also implemented a new financial regime with an understated but determined manner. [Before] Bill's tenure, the company's financial systems and controls had been loose. But with his new systems, the company's financial performance was vastly improved."

A keen golfer, he also held the top job at New Zealand Golf between 2007 and 2010.