New Zealand and football are not names that you usually associate with success in the beautiful game.
For a long time, New Zealand football was often limited to playing touring club teams, Australia, other Pacific nations and the quadrennial World Cup qualifying rounds. However, in 1981, this all changed when the All-Whites captured the imagination of a nation hurting from a fractious Springbok rugby tour and made an incredible run to the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain.
Their kit supplier at the time was adidas and they started the campaign against Australia wearing a classic three-stripe, black-trimmed v-neck shirt with black shorts and white socks. This was the only time they wore this combination as from then on, it was literally, all-white.
They made it through the Oceania qualifiers, which included a resounding 2-0 win against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Kiwi supporters will never forget Grant Turner’s thumping
12-yard header that sealed the win.
Next, it was joining the winners of the Asia aualifiers (China, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) and this was a whole new level of football. The All-Whites were playing high-stakes football against quality opposition. Such was the public viewing interest, Barry Davies was hired by TVNZ to commentate on this stage of the campaign.
An away draw and home win against China got them off to a good start, but then a controversial 2-1 home loss to Kuwait and a demoralising 2-2 home draw against Saudi Arabia put them on the back foot. A 2-2 away draw to
Kuwait meant that All-Whites would have to head to the furnace of Saudi Arabia and somehow win by five clear goals to force a play-off or six clear goals to qualify outright.
In Riyadh, on Astro Turf, New Zealand wearing an unfamiliar sky-blue and black shirt with teal and black trimmed shorts and socks, remarkably beat Saudia Arabia 5-0 to
force a play-off with China in ‘neutral’ Singapore. On an emotional night, the All-Whites, back in familiar colours, defeated China 2-1 and qualified for Spain where they would face Scotland, the USSR and Brazil.
They wore the familiar plain adidas kit for the opening game against Scotland, a 5-2 defeat. Oddly, while shorts numbers had become common at World Cups during the 1970s, New Zealand didn’t have any. The second game was against the USSR and for this match New Zealand wore an adidas ‘La Paz’ pinstriped model, though the outcome was the same as they lost 3-0.
For the third and final match, a 4-0 defeat to Brazil, New Zealand were back in the plain shirts. Despite the results, this was an incredible achievement for a county so small on the footballing stage.
For those of us lucky enough to follow the journey, there is nothing but pride in our hearts when we see this simple but memorable kit.