What do Tom Finney, George Best, Alan Ball, Bobby Charlton, John Toshack, Gordon Banks, Willie Miller, Graeme Souness, John Greig, Glen Hoddle, Bryan Robson, John Barnes, Ally McCoist & Peter Beardsley all have in common?

They are some of the best foreign players to grace the football fields of New Zealand, they all did this while playing for clubs or representative teams that were touring New Zealand. NZ football has had plenty of imports, many have stayed and are now considered Kiwi's, half the 82 All White's team were born outwith the country. Generally the standard of import has been a step down from the very top level, having a semi-professional or amateur league will do that. There have been exceptions, English International, Trevor Brooking played for Auckland University in 1984, John Fashanu spent a season on loan to Miramar Rangers when he was an up and coming player, but these are the exceptions. But it hasn't been for want of trying. Here are a couple of stories about some truly high quality players that could have played in NZ.

Johan Cruyff

Yes that's right, the Dutch master, the proponent of total football, a style of football that has had a major influence on the way the game is played today almost signed for a New Zealand club! 

Cruyff who had won three European Cups and scored 238 goals in 283 appearances for Ajax and Barcelona was in his 2nd spell as a player at Ajax in 1984, when he was approached by a NZ club with strong Dutch connections - Wellington Diamond United, now many would have thought this laughable, but WDU at the time were a wealthy progressive club who couldn't see why Cruyff would turn down the chance to play for them and when they approached his management they were told to submit a proposal for Cruyff to consider.

This they did and talks were going well, WDU's plan was that besides increased gates, they could organise a few speaking engagements and possibly training sessions that would help cover the cost. 
But that's where it fell down, Cruyff's demands included 
  • $5000 per game 
  • First class travel for him, his wife, three children, his manager, manager's wife and his best pal.
  • The accommodation had to be a 5 star hotels
  •  A holiday around NZ all first class travel and accommodation
In all once WDU sat down and worked out the total cost it came to well in excess of $100 000 and the dream of seeing one of the worlds best ever players gracing the patchy piece of grass that WDU used for training in Houghton Bay was extinguished. 

Paul Gascoigne

Gazza playing against NZ

"Gazza" one of the most maverick and talented footballers to come out of England almost ended up playing in New Zealand's National League. He did actually play in NZ as he toured here with Newcastle United in 1985 when they played four games against the All White's. He was only 17 at the time, but he was already being picked out as a great player.

In 1975 Middlesbrough had toured New Zealand and Neil McKenzie of Dunedin City had met their manager Jack Charlton. He discussed the possibility of Middlesbrough sending out some young players to Dunedin City and Charlton was keen, while nothing eventuated then, they kept in touch and 10 years later Charlton was manager of Newcastle United when they organised the tour of New Zealand. Charlton never made it to NZ this time as he was discussing terms with the FA of Ireland about taking on their head coaching role. However his successor, Willie McFaul, agreed to meet McKenzie and had a couple of players in mind.

They signed the contract on one and then McFaul mentioned another he had in mind, Paul Gascoigne, McKenzie hadn't heard of him but was keen, but just as he was about to sign the contract, Gazza walked into the lobby of the hotel, he had just been to the hairdressers and had got a mohican cut and had had it coloured as well! McFaul apparently grabbed the contract out of McKenzie's hands and tore it up saying "forget it, you'll never be able to control him"

Toni Schumacher

Schumacher to Miramar! screamed the Soccer Express headline. 
Yes the butcher of Battistion, the German goalkeeper most famous for his challenge on Patrick Battistion in the semi final of the 1982 world cup was going to play for Miramar. A headline that struck fear into the country's strikers. The story went into an elaborate detail of how someone at Miramar had a connection to some one at Schumacher's club FC Koln and they were owed a favour and this was the result. It seemed legit and an amazing coup for Miramar, I believe the Evening Post and Dominion thought so to, although it did seem just too good to be true and it was, no one had noticed that the date Soccer Express had come out was April Fools Day!