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!