Observer Sport Monthly has the top 50 Tragic Moments in Sport. Being British, penalty shootouts feature heavily. Here’s my top ten tragic moments in New Zealand Sport.
10. Some Marketing guy hears Dave Dobbyn’s ‘Loyal’ and thinks “Wow, that’ll be a great theme tune for the America’s Cup, no-one will ever tire of hearing that 23 times a day”.
If you were in NZ in 2003, you know what I’m talking about. Closely followed by…
9. Sailing Away by All Of Us.
Satellite Spies? Eh? What is it with The America’s Cup and music? If I was in Team New Zealand, this song would ‘inspire’ me to jump off the boat when far out to sea.
8. Wayne Shelford dumped as All Black captain.
Not just ‘cos he restored the All Black Haka to what it is today. Not just ‘cos he was an all time great captain and #8. Not just ‘cos he played against France with his sack ripped open, but because it gave birth to Bring Back Buck, probably New Zealand’s most overused and underfunny three words ever.
7. New Zealand 31 France 43 -1999 Rugby World Cup Semi Final.
John Hart kept job after losing all those matches in ’98 as the Boer Busters all retired at once. Our forward pack was “mobile and skilled” (read: inexperienced and lightweight), while our backline was “dynamic” and had “special moves we were saving” (read: bung all the flair players in, including Cullen at centre, and see what happens). There was so much SHIT that came on the back of the new Adidas sponsorship – ie those shiny jerseys, the massive billboards all over the world, the over-produced ads on the telly, and the bloody jet with the front row painted on the side. I was living in London then, and it was bad – god knows what it was like at home, with almost 4 million rabid Kiwis getting carried away together. We cruised through the pool matches, upon which the players buggered off to the south of France to have their photos taken on the beach. They came back for a half asleep performance against Scotland, and then THAT loss to France. With no real on field leadership, the All Blacks fell to bits. All the hype, overconfidence, and overexposure had been for nothing. I arrived at work to find a croissant on my desk. So this is professional rugby.
You can read the team talk here.
6. Dave Latta’s brain explosion.
Poor old Otago. Just ahead of Canterbury in the dying seconds of a Ranfurly Shield match, Latta dived out of a ruck and conceded a penalty in front of the posts. The LOOK on his face said it all – Otago had one of the best sides around for many years, but had never taken home any silverware, and Latta had just helped keep that run going. Cruelly, Canterbury supporters still call the block at Jade Stadium built at the time the “Dave Latta’ stand. Ouch.
5. The Underarm.
Yes, we should probably get over it, and Brian McKechnie was unlikely to hit that last ball for six at the huge MCG, but still… There’s been too much written about this murky little incident, so I’ll move on.
4. Phar Lap poisoned.
The Red Terror, Timaru’s Phar Lap was a folk hero who won 37 of the 51 races he ran, including a Melbourne Cup, winning the hearts of Australasia. He was given arsenic and hemorrhaged to death in California with rumors of Mafia involvement, a hugely unjust end to his glorious life.
3. New Zealand 262-7 Pakistan 264-6 – Cricket World Cup Semi Final 1992.
It was a golden summer when anything was possible – beating Australia, Dipak opening the bowling, Greatbach and Latham spanking the world’s best bowlers into the stands. It was magic, we hadn’t had a good build up and people were worried we’d embarrass ourselves – no longer, the whole country loved the, erm, Grey Shirts (Black Caps hadn’t been coined then). I went to see us just destroy South Africa at Eden Park – I’ve never seen a crowd more charged up in any sport, Greatbach hit some HUGE sixes, and wasn’t afraid to charge down the pitch to Allan Donald, a very fast bowler known as White Lightning. We dealt to everyone (except, ominously, Pakistan) and topped the table at the end of the Round Robin. We were at home and in blinding form – surely we were a great chance to win the bloddy thing. We batted first, posting 262, which was good. Martin Crowe was hobbling on his dodgy knee, which was bad, his captaincy and runs had got us this far, and he stayed in the shed for Pakistan’s run chase. We were doing OK, until a young Inzamam-ul-Haq came out and scored a very rapid 60, and got Pakistan over the line, and it was all over. The players did a lap of honour to thank the crowd and the nation for their support. Some of the players, the guys that had done so brilliantly and entertained us all, making cricket perhaps as popular as it had ever been in New Zealand, were crying. It was very, very sad.
2. Team New Zealand 0 Alinghi 5 – America’s Cup 2003.
When Sir Peter Blake was shot on the Amazon, it arguably began a sequence of events that ended with Team New Zealand sailors frantically bailing the boat out in race one of the 2003 finals. The America’s Cup was a very Auckland event – this city’s obsession with water, money, yachts, real estate, expensive sunglasses, technology and drinking shitloads of piss all converged nicely with the arrival of the Auld Mug. Remember, Aucklanders wouldn’t have the Viaduct Basin to play in now if we hadn’t won in San Diego. After some frantic scrabbling to get ready we laid out the welcome mat in 1999 for all these sophisticated vistors to little old us, especially if they said nice things about us, remembered their chequebook, and didn’t win any races. We loved Prada and their cool grey and red uniforms, especially when they got Zip to our Five in the final.
Then it all turned to custard. Coutts and Butterworth dropped their toys and were off to Switzerland, prompting a gang of loudmouth shitbags working in Advertising to form the Blackhearts, a group existing solely to sling mud at some true champions. Anyway. Team New Zealand was under new management, and the boffins that served us so well in the past had the reigns. We unveiled the magical Hula keel, as Alinghi won the Lois Vuitton series ominously comfortably. In race one, leg one of the finals the two boats were neck and neck. “We’re faster!” cried my Dad, but then the sailors were bailing water out of the boat as Alinghi sailed to an easy victory. Really easy. Embarrassingly easy. Same thing happened in the next five races, apart from the one where our mast broke, but by then we’d lost interest. Aucklanders move on pretty quickly.
1. South Africa 15 New Zealand 12 – 1995 Rugby World Cup Final.
We won at home in 1987 of course, and let the Aussies have it in ’91, but in ’95 we needed it back, thanks. Laurie Mains had a pack chockablock with all time greats like Fitzpatrick and the Brookes, who along with a young Josh Kronfield brutalised teams to supply Bachop, Merthens, Wilson, Little, Bunce, Lomu and Osbourne all the ball they needed to re-invent rugby. On the wing, Lomu was busy making the the world wake up fearing corned beef and taro, and in the England semi made Keith Quinn scream “LOMU! OUUUUUGGGGGHHHHHHH!” at the nation at 2.30 in the morning. Then Zinzan, a NUMBER EIGHT, drop kicked one from half way. The world had gone mad – there was no WAY we’d lose. The Herald’s typically understated headline was, from memory, ‘Why We’ll Win’.
New Zealand got up (or played sleep roulette after 13 pints) to see the All Blacks lose the final to the hosts in agonising fashion. There’s two images that stick – Jeff Wilson being sick on the bench, and Merthen’s dropkick drifting wide in the depths of normal time (OK, THREE images – Nelson Mandela giving Francois Pienaar the trophy counts, I guess). Laurie got a detective to investigate Susie the waitress, but really, it was over, and it’s now 20 years since we won the big one. This was the one that got away.