1981 is remembered in New Zealand mainly for the divisive rugby tour by the Springboks, which saw widespread protests against the racist apartheid regime of South Africa. Meanwhile the New Zealand football national team, adopted the name the All White's (as a to counter rugby's All Blacks) and embarked on an epic journey which would see them qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

With 821 men's teams, 245 women's teams and 41 000 juniors registered (up from 24 000 in 1970), football was on an all time high.  They were even announcing the All White's scores at half time in the rugby!

Here is a look back at that brilliant year in NZ Football


Wellington Diamond United National League Champions 1981
For the first time since the league started in 1970, no Auckland team finished in the top two. Wellington Diamond United (WDU) won their second title. Jeff Strom became only the second kiwi to captain a team to the title, (the first to do so was his teammate Mike Simeonoff , who was captain when WDU first won the league in 1976). Coach Barrie Truman showed his skill in developing youth with several promising youngsters in the team, including Billy Harris, Ceri Evans and a certain Wynton Rufer, who scored seven goals in his 19 appearances.

Dunedin City, who had avoided relegation the season before by only three points , bought in coach Derek Daniels and surprised everyone in finishing second on goal average and winning the Chatham Cup.

Defending champions Mt Wellington, had lost a couple of players, but remained a formidable team, including All White's Ricki Herbert, Billy McClure & Glen Adam and despite a seven game unbeaten run which saw then score 24 and concede only 1 they were unable to make it three in a row.

Gisborne City were coached by All White's assistant, Kevin Fallon (who also played) and were stacked with All White's including Grant Turner, John Hill, Keith “Buzzer” Mackay, Kenny Cresswell and Peter Simonsen. So many they asked for, and were granted a seven match dispensation while the All White's games were played. This was a double edged sword for them, they were unbeaten at the top of the table when they got the dispensation, when they returned they had the situation where they had to play eight games in 22 days (including a ridiculous 5 games in 9 days!) and a run of five losses in a row put paid to their title aspirations

North Shore United and Christchurch United had unspectacular seasons and finished mid-table. Manurewa started the season with John Adshead as coach before he realised that he needed to concentrate full time on the All Whites and Russ Toyne took over. They had an unpredictable season which included their biggest ever win (7-0 v Rangers) & their biggest ever defeat (0-5 v Gisborne City) at the time.

Of the three newcomers to the league, Miramar Rangers finished the highest, while 8th position doesn't really show it, it was a successful year for Miramar, they secured a huge sponsorship deal from Insurance company National Mutual, their crowds were the third highest after Gisborne City & Mt Wellington and on the field they had what the NZ Soccer Annual described as “one of the best deals involving an overseas professional”. Peter Mendham arrived from Norwich City, to a Miramar team that had just three wins from 12 games, he played six games for three wins and three draws, scored three goals and left with Miramar comfortably in the top half of the table.

Hamilton had their worst ever start to a season taking eight games before registering a win. They only managed 18 goals and five of these were from the penalty spot, however they still finished four points clear of relegation.

League newcomers, Takapuna City and Woolston Working Men's Club both struggled and couldn't fight off relegation. Takapuna City had the youngest team in the league with an average age of 22, while Woolston struggled without the defensive services of All White Allan Boath.

Christchurch club Rangers had survived in 1980 by virtue of a 0.176 goal average but they couldn't rely on maths to survive this time, achieving the ignominious record of not winning a game all season, in fact they set a record of 25 games in the National League without a win. The high point of their season was holding eventual champions WDU to a 0-0 draw!

Takapuna City, Woolston Workingmen's Club & Rangers were replaced by the regional league winners, East Coast Bays from the Northern region, Napier City Rovers from Central and Invercargill Thistle from Southern


Wellington Diamond United – merged with Wellington City, now Wellington United
Dunedin City -                         defunct
Mt Wellington –                       merged with University, now University Mt Wellington
Gisborne City -                        defunct
North Shore United –              Northern League Division 1
Christchurch United –             Canterbury Premier League
Manurewa –                            Northern Premier League
Miramar Rangers –                 Central Premier League
Hamilton –                               Merged with Waikato United, who then merged with Melville, 
                                                now Melville United
Takapuna City –                      Northern League Diision 2
Woolston WMC –                    merged with Christchurch Technical, who then merged with 
                                                Cashmere Wanderers, now Cashmere Technical
Rangers –                               merged with New Brighton now Coastal Spirit



Mt Wellington's Sandy Davie can't stop a shot from Dunedin City's Mike Glubb as Dunedin City win Chatham Cup 3-1 Photo Steve Stefanos

Cup competitions seem to always throw up giant killers, and in the 1981 Chatham Cup it was Central League Stop Out who took on this role. A talented team with the likes of Keith Barton, Steve Boyland, Bruce Polyanszky & Malcolm Dunford, Fred Goodwin's men saw off National League opposition in Nelson United (2-0), Miramar Rangers (2-1) & Wellington Diamond United (4-2 on pens after a 2-2 draw) before going down 3-1 to Dunedin City in Dunedin.

That result meant that for only the second time in history of the Chatham Cup the finalists were the teams who had competed in the final the season before. In 1980 Mt Wellington beat Dunedin City 2-0. In 1981 Mt Wellington opened the scoring through Billy McClure, before two goals from Mike Glubb and one from Terry Wilson, gave Dunedin City their revenge with a 3-1 win.


Auckland finally broke the stranglehold Wellington (who had won the first five) had on the National Tournament with a 5-4 win on pens after a 1-1 draw in a very wet Napier.

The Women's National Team lost 2-1 in a friendly against Australia, before heading off to Taiwan for the Women's World Invitational Tournament where after nine games they finished second, with wins over Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands, Thailand as well as two Taiwanese club sides


As well as the All White's (see below) New Zealand participated in the 25th Merdeka Tournament in Malaysia. 11 teams were invited and NZ and Brazil were requested not to select any of their 18 man World Cup squad, so instead of John Adshead, Allan Jones took what was effectively a New Zealand B team and they ended with 2 wins 2 draws and a loss.

The NZ youth team, which included the likes of Wynton Rufer, Billy Harris, & Malcolm Dunford, traveled to Buenos Aires for a qualifying series with Argentina & Israel. They managed a win and a draw against Israel, but two losses to Argentina ended their qualifying hopes



The Biscuit tin for the World Cup All Whites
This really deserves a blog post of its own and I may do one in the future.

The All Whites journey to Espana 82 began in Auckland on ANZAC day with a 3-3 draw against Australia and finished with an epic 2-1 playoff win against China in Singapore.

Along the way they played the most games any team had ever had to in qualifying for a world cup (15), traveled over 90 000km, Handled the hostility of a 100 000 strong crowd in Indonesia to win 2-0. Set a new record for an international win, hammering a coachless and hapless Fiji 13-0. Were nearly were kicked out of the tournament thanks to a fan throwing a beer can at the Indonesian ref, Sudarso, who had awarded not one but two dubious penalties to Kuwait. Went 5-0 up in the first half in the heat of Riyadh against Saudi Arabia, but just couldn't get the sixth goal which would have seen them qualify automatically. Scored some stunning goals, in particular Grant Turner's header (see video below) against Australia and Brian Turner's against Saudi Arabia and unleashed up on world football the talented youngster, Wynton Rufer.

Goals from beating Australia 2-0 including Grant Turner's header

After all that it came down to 90 minutes in Singapore. It was a nerve racking night, Steve Woodin scored in the 20th minute and Wynton Rufer made it 2-0 just after half time, then it was 40 minutes of hanging on. It was too much for Brian Turner, who was suspended for the game and watching at home in Auckland and he went walkabout. Then with 15 minutes to go Huang Xiang dong hit a well struck free kick and it was 2-1, the All White's had to hang on and even though they looked and felt dead on their feet they did, this team made up of journeyman players from England, Scotland, Ireland and a dozen home grown Kiwi's had made it to the biggest stage in the footballing world.