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Swamp Soccer World Championships

The Bog of Eternal Stench |

I do not take the honour of representing my country lightly. I almost fell off my seat when Michelle emailed me and told me I was selected to represent New Zealand at the Swamp Soccer World Championships in Scotland. The exuberation was somewhat tempered when I heard that Mark and Hamish were also selected, but that wasn't going to take the gloss off all the hard work I had done to get to this point.

I think we were all a bit nervous pre-tournament, being only the third time a New Zealand team had made an international tournament since the All Whites in '82. We wanted to at least leave with our heads held high. Oh how low we aimed.

Not the best start to the tournament - held up at City Airport for 3 hours as flights were delayed due to bad weather up north. Complimentary drinks may have steadied our nerves, but were perhaps not the preparation we needed for the forthcoming tough day of international soccer.

Arrived in Glasgow with few problems, except having to wait at the airport as Mike Dashwood had decided to check in luggage. The man has more ensembles than Tom Kimber. Michelle was rattled - would we miss the ferry to Dunoon?

The answer was as simple as Macca - 'No'.

Accommodation was basic, but adequate. About what you'd expect when you have away games in third world countries. We were happy with the running water and electricity.

First game up against Scotland. They say conditions are a real leveller and it showed out there. We perhaps had technical ability far superior to the more haggis-proportioned Scot's, however lacked a bit of the muscle in the ruck and maul situation we found developing. Like so many Uni7ahh games we defended solidly, had a handful of great chances to win the game, but lost our composure (read: got stuck in the mud). 0-0. Mike Dashwood was happy with the result. Loser talk if you ask me. I was disappointed.

Second game up and everyone was pumping on all cylinders after a typically inspired Reddish team talk. Opportunity was knocking if we could get a result. 0-0 at half time, and little to separate the sides. Heads started to go down. And that's when it happened. A ruck formed mid pitch, I ran forward from my usual sweeping position and the ball popped free. One touch. Second touch out to the left. I see the keeper off his line (read: stuck in the mud). I let fly from distance.

"GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!!!!!" yells the Argentinian commentator, unable to contain his shear adulation at a piece of footballing billiance. The top corner of the net bulges such that it almost torn asunder from the goal frame. "Peter Schmeichel himself would not have stopped that one" commented one spectator, possibly watching this game. Mark's response was more unexpected - "Oh bloody hell." at the realisation he had to play again.

The opposition pressed for an equaliser, but we caught them on the break for a second - 'Dickson from Distance', ball stuck in the mud out of the keepers reach, only for Hamish 'light as a pixie' Dorward to skip over the mud and tap the ball in.

The usual post match Gatorade tub over the coach's head, interviews and photographs with magazines. All the stuff we had become accustomed to playing at this level.

We weren't sure what to expect from the opponents in our third game. We had a mixed track record against 'Default', however our commitment had put us on the right side of the result more often than not. 'Default' fielded a strong lineup, but we dispatched them for a 3-0 victory with minimal effort. We were the first NZ football team to make it past the group stages at a major tournament.

The draw on Saturday night for the semi finals was tense. Would we have a grudge match against the Aussie's or face the World Champion Belgians? Unfortunately it was the latter.

A capacity crowd at the Dunoon International Arena. The Belgians had a massive squad, but as far as we could tell only two girls. I would like to see the testosterone tests for those two as well. Swamp Football is a numbers game and we simply did not have enough. "They're coming in in droves!"

Unlike during World Wars, the Belgians did not capitulate under the first sign of foreign pressure and we had to man the trenches. Tactics were revised. I pushed up in the hope of getting a shot at goal. Great defending, few half chances, but just could not create a clear oppotunity. Down 1-0. I was inconsolable. To rub salt into a now possibly infected wound, the Aussies made it to the final. Watching the other semi final we would have beaten either team. Hindsight. I wish I had it earlier.

Aussie's went down 2-0 in the final to the Belgians, who we found out were actually a professional outfit. The say international soccer is a big learning curve, and no doubt we would come back with a stronger challenge at future tournaments. I think that's retirement for me though. Go out on a relative high. May look at a NZ Swamp Soccer ambassadorial role, or perhaps a technical advisor for future teams. Much to ponder.

Locations Visited: Dunoon

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