Hockey team’s gold still sparkles


‘‘New Zealand scored their goals when it mat­tered.’’

The 1976 New Zealand men’s hockey team are back in the news, 40 years af­ter their fairy­tale Olympic tri­umph in Mon­treal. Auck­land jour­nal­ist Suzanne McFad­den has writ­ten Strik­ing Gold, about that un­likely gold medal jour­ney. It’s a su­perb book.

McFad­den has spo­ken to ev­ery player in that team (ex­cept Paul Ack­er­ley, who died in 2011) and has moulded their sto­ries around New Zealand’s march through the tour­na­ment.

July 30, 1976, when they beat Aus­tralia 1-0 in the fi­nal, was a land­mark day for New Zealand sport.

In the main sta­dium, crack New Zealand run­ners Dick Quax and Rod Dixon were gunned down in the home straight of the 5000 me­tres fi­nal by the Finn, Lasse Viren. Quax won sil­ver, Dixon was a heart­break­ing fourth.

At­ten­tion then swung to the hockey fi­nal.

These days top sport is well sig­nalled and there aren’t many ‘‘bolters’’ – shock gold medal­lists.

The hockey men fit­ted that cat­e­gory.

New Zealand had not made the Olympic semi-fi­nals pre­vi­ously and haven’t since. But 1976 was their year. The stars aligned for them.

They were ex­pe­ri­enced – only four of the squad had not been to an Olympics.

Coach Ross Gille­spie got two dis­tinct fac­tions – the Auck­lan­ders and Cantabri­ans – to gel seam­lessly.

New Zealand men’s hockey has al­ways had a fam­ily feel to it – the Mais­ters, Bor­rens, Inesons, Archibalds and so on.

There were even two Pa­tels in the 1976 team, though Ramesh and Mo­han were not re­lated.

Mon­treal was the first Olympic hockey tour­na­ment played on an ar­ti­fi­cial sur­face, which lev­elled the play­ing field, so to speak.

Things fell the New Zealan­ders’ way.

They earned 1-1 draws with de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons West Ger­many and Spain, beat lowly Bel­gium 2-1 and were wal­loped 5-2 by Pak­istan, which should have ended their medal chances.

But the Bel­gians up­set Spain, so New Zealand and Spain played off for a semi-fi­nal spot. New Zealand squeezed home in the third pe­riod of ex­tra time.

In the semi-fi­nal, New Zealand played well to edge out the Nether­lands, again in the third pe­riod of ex­tra time. And the Aus­tralians elim­i­nated the dan­ger­ous Pak­ista­nis in the other semi.

Aus­tralia be­gan the fi­nal heavy favourites – typ­i­cally, they even brought cham­pagne for the af­ter-match cel­e­bra­tion.

But the su­per­fit New Zealan­ders were too good. Tony Ine­son scored from a penalty cor­ner and goalie Trevor Man­ning made a heroic save 13 min­utes from full­time, hav­ing his kneecap smashed for his trou­bles.

New Zealand scored nine goals and con­ceded nine at the Olympics.

Their ra­tio was bet­tered by five of the next six teams, but New Zealand scored their goals when it mat­tered.

Later New Zealan­ders Neil McLeod and Les Wil­son were con­tro­ver­sially not awarded medals, hav­ing not taken the field dur­ing the tour­na­ment. That rule has been changed – they’d have golds now.

In 1996, when I was run­ning the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, we had a big in­duc­tion lun­cheon at Eden Park.

The hockey team de­cided it would dou­ble as their 20-year re­union.

They gath­ered around a big ta­ble to the side and had a great day.

When oth­ers drifted off in midafter­noon, they stayed on and on. They had plenty of beer avail­able, ob­vi­ously rev­elled in each other’s com­pany and had golden mem­o­ries to share.

Two decades af­ter the gold medal, their team spirit still shone through.

No won­der they were such a force in Mon­treal.

New Zealan­ders, from left, Paul Ack­er­ley, Tony Ine­son, Greg Day­man, ob­scured, Trevor Man­ning, in cap, Sel­wyn Mais­ter and Alan Ch­es­ney pre­pare to de­fend an Aus­tralian penalty cor­ner in the fi­nal. Not much pro­tec­tive gear in those days!

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