Alright, at this point we were planning to bring you a fume-breathing piece from the terraces of the NZ-SA U23 match at North Harbour. But the eccentric WOMBAT has somehow found 23 days not enough time to polish his magnum opus. Wrote the mad marsupial in an email titled “Italian hairy armpits”: “Let me know soon whether I did miss the cut-off and if you will bother printing it in the future. I did work hard on it and would be disappointed if not published at all. Probably not as upset as you are for not getting it from me on time, I know. Sorry for slackness. I have been ill, but also forgot to complete it.” Yes Wombat, you have missed the cut and outraged 40,000 readers, who instead must suffer RALPH SHEPPARD’S slightly silly space-filler...

Mouse -- a short tale

Living in Palmerston North, I had every intention of going to the Manawatu v Christchurch game on Sunday.
The previous day, I had done my turn in the garden, digging up weeds and generally earning brownie points. Sunday came around, the weather was grotty, but the signs were promising. The children had been invited to a friend’s birthday party, so they weren’t expected back until late afternoon, and at 1.30pm, I was ready to leave, when (wife) Sue yelled, “I’ve just seen a mouse”.
Now Sue’s not really frightened of mice. I think the mice are frightened of her. After all, who was hiding from whom? But I had to catch it, the mouse, that is.
First of all, identify your prey and its hiding place: under the couch. Next block off its escape routes, this means putting books against the internal doors so the wee mouse can’t make a dash for freedom into the other rooms.
All the strategic planning has been done, now is the time to execute the cunning plan, and capture the wee rodent. Sue and I lift up the couch, and off the mouse goes, scampering around the room. We set off in hot pursuit, armed with brushes and cardboard boxes (the latter to drop on top of the mouse), and then he makes it back to the base (under the couch) and I’m sure I hear the cry of “Home Run” in mouse language.
Same again, the couch is lifted up, the mouse runs, brushes are brushed and boxes are boxed, but the mouse still has its freedom. This continues for another two goes. The final time, I’m sure the mouse casts a look of contempt over his shoulder as he runs around the room, pausing only to read the paper and finish the sandwich he had made earlier.
A change of plan is called for. It is desperately close to 2pm and kick off, and if I’m going to make it to the game, the mouse will have to be an ex-mouse, PDQ.
This time, the couch was lifted just enough for the mouse to embark on the fifth leg of the 100 metres qualifying heat for the Mouse Olympics, once released from it lair, the couch is dropped and I chase the wee chap, through the chairs, and I have him, trapped. But no, he jumps over the barriers of Rothmans Football Annuals and training shoes I have strategically placed to block off the kitchen, which in the end proved as effective as the Maginot Line (ask your grand-dad) and he bolts for the fridge, sliding the last few inches.
The crowd erupts, the radio springs to life: “home run”. The wife says, “You’re not very good with mice are you, dear?”
Manhood called into question, and the gloves, if I had them on, would have come off. Fridge is pulled out, and mouse runs for it, stopping only to say hello, and ask how the family are, cardboard box is dropped, perfect, mouse is trapped.
Now what do we do with it?
I slide a piece of carpet under the box, and lift the ensemble out onto the back porch, and muse over the next step. We agree to give the mouse its freedom, so the box is lifted, and the mouse makes a run for it.
A voice behind chips in, “I’ve had an idea”.
Now, all married men know this means trouble.
“I think we’ll have to kill him, otherwise, he will just return to the house.” I trudge to the garage and return with a spade, and proceed to chase him around the fence line at the back of the garden. Surprisingly he manages to elude me, the noise of metal crashing on concrete raises a few glances from the next door neighbours. Sue shouts words of encouragement, and I decide upon another plan. Ah, let him run ahead, and then guess where he will be in a second’s time and bring the spade down there. Got him. He staggers, his body contorted, and then before he falls over, looks up and asks for an aspirin. Success. Man triumphs over nature. Now the guilt starts. But it’s only a mouse, a tiny mammal, bugger that for a game of soldiers.
Now to get rid of the evidence, I use the spade to take him to a hole I have dug, and then I realise: what happens if he’s not dead? Only resting, so to speak.
I’ll have to give him another clout. Do I just slap him across the chops? No, I try to decapitate him, which I fail to do, but there’s no way back from the neck wound he has. Mouse buried, spade washed, and there’s no sign of the Teutonic struggle which has just finished. It’s 3.20pm, the football’s started, and my plans are in ruins. Now the inquest begins.  Sue asks if we should tell the children what happened. I say yes, but perhaps it would be best to tell them we let the mouse go, and he scampered merrily off into the sunset.
She disagrees, saying that the children are mature enough to be able to handle these particular facts of life, and a dead mouse wouldn’t create any problems.  “Ahhh”, I reply, “perhaps, but what film are they seeing at the pictures?”
“Stuart Little”, comes the reply. “Perhaps we should tell the girls it got away after all.”
# Injection of obligatory soccer content: Manawatu beat Christchurch City 3-0. — Ed.

Christchurch ramblings : By Ron Griffiths

When part of the old southern league disintegrated a couple of years ago, I kept my fingers crossed and held my breath to see what would happen (like most soccer people in this city).
The Canterbury Premier League was then formed. A non-travelling league which, although Canterbury CEO Terry Blacktopp assures me it was what most of the clubs wanted at the time, from a fans’ point of view, the soccer was becoming predictable and — it grieves me to write — stupefyingly dull to watch.
The very best players left my club, Rangers, to either play for Tech or Woolston, who still played in a reduced southern league, or left the game entirely. It was the same at other clubs too, with the exception of Halswell, who, spearheaded by Keith Grosvenor, never lost a game last season.
I could have changed loyalties and followed Tech or Woolston to watch a better standard of football. But why should I? I like supporting Rangers (I am also a committee member) so it isn’t easy to turn your back on a club.
This season has seen a turnaround in the local game, happily. The inclusion of Marlborough Reserves, Nelson Reserves and the Christchurch City reserves to form Federation 6, has seen local soccer reborn.
New players, new teams, new skills, lots of goals, more competitiveness, more interest. I must give credit where it is due and say, well done New Zealand Soccer. (Why are there a couple of men in white coats knocking on my door?)
So if you are reading this after watching a Canterbury league game and you vowed never to return, PLEASE COME BACK! I need some company on the terraces whatching through the wind and rain.

Talking bollocks

The nonsense that gets written about soccer

“The score was actually 3-0...”
This month’s Bollocks of Bollocks award to Sitter editor Bruce Holloway for criticising Xtra website for posting an incorrect final scoreline (3-1) from the Kingz-Northern Spirit match — then getting the score wrong himself in his sanctimonious correction of Xtra’s effort. The score was actually 3-2. Nothing worse than having to correct a correction.

“Campbell was particularly astray with his clearance kicks, while skipper Andrew Rennie also struggled to get any distance in his kicks.” — Jim Kayes, Dominion, April 10, thinks he is reporting on a rugby match. Mercifully readers were spared an insight into Miramar’s 1-man lineouts on the occasions when Campbell and Rennie did succeed in finding touch, midway 22 and halfway.

“Shane Cunnliffe converted a penalty corner after about 30 minutes but both sides were guilty of missing chances.” — Peter Bartlett, Dominion, April 24, thinks he is reporting on a hockey match.  Unless readers can recount cases of other successful penalty corners, we think we have a national league first here. What on earth is going on at the Dom these days?

Sitter Interview: Ian Marshall

Southern scribes Peter Commandeur and Ron Griffiths tackle Ian Marshall and quiz the former All White coach who is now back in the limelight. Well, coaching Christchurch City, at least.

PC: What’s it like being back after such a long time away?
IM: Hard work! There’s been lots of changes, some for the better, some not so good. Lots of the kids are technically better than they used to be; there’s some good kids coming through. But the attitudes generally are not as good. For example I’ve never heard so many excuses for not turning up at training, players not taking pride in playing for Canterbury and instead going to other smaller places like Nelson and Dunedin. We have to try and get a decent professional environment. We’ll never be the number one sport in New Zealand but we could be number one in the way we run the code. One thing that disappoints me is that we are a very divided code in Christchurch. If we are going to succeed we need everyone to pull together with one aim, administrators, coaches and players.
Also, we don’t need this arguing over Team Canterbury versus a club entry. It doesn’t matter what the name of the national league (er, Ansett National Club Championship, Ian, but we know what you mean — Assist Ed) team is.
People should just get behind it. We’re representing Canterbury. All the wrangling over the Federation League has to be sorted out as well.
Also in Canterbury, we’ve got into the habit of accepting second best on the playing field. That’s not the way it was before, we used to be much more professional in the old Christchurch United days. If you develop the winning habit, you can get a good result, even on a bad day.
But on the plus side, we do have some technically good youngsters such as Brent Fisher, Ben Sigmund and Nathan Knox. Better than the kids I was coaching in the 70’s and 80’s. What we lack are more players with genuine experience at a good level who can pass it on. I’ve only got a handful of experienced players: Mike Boomer, Andy Daffin, Paul Stanley and Kelly McLoughlin.
PC: How do you see your job?
IM: I see my role as trying to unify the game. I don’t have any hidden agendas. I am only here to see Canterbury soccer do well. But long-term I am not the answer. Long term we have to get younger coaches in. But I see the short-term as important too. If we can do well this year in the national league (Ansett thingy - Assist Ed) we’ll redevelop public interest in the sport here, whilst developing good young players and good coaches.
Whilst I can have some influence on the playing side, hopefully we’ll also get the administrative side right. New chairman David Cox is a real asset in that respect having been a successful chairman of Christchurch United, deputy chairman of the NZFA and a city councillor for many years.
David has such a wealth of experience and contacts built up over the years, which is important if you want to raise your sponsorship above the level of the corner dairy to something worthwhile. He’s got a good team working with him from the combined resources of Woolston and Technical, such as secretary Peter Phelan.
PC: What do you think of winter v summer soccer?
IM: I’m definitely a fan of winter soccer, having been brought up in Scotland.
PC: Would you coach the All Whites again if asked?
IM: No (laughs). I think I’ve had my turn. I think you need new people with new ideas because these things have to continually roll over. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in charge but you know when the time’s right to move on. At least I was given the opportunity to move on without being pushed on, so that was nice while I was in charge. I was offered the job again and decided no, my time was right to move on. I think that’s something a lot of players and coaches don’t do, we sometimes stay on too long. I hope that this come-back is not one of those occasions! (laughs).
PC: Who do you rate as the best players you have ever coached in club soccer and with the All Whites?
IM: I think I was very fortunate in my time with the All Whites I had people like Wynton Rufer playing for me, Michael McGarry one of our best home-based players. There was also Malcolm Dunford in particular. Mal could have a very average club season but the minute he pulled on an All White shirt he was a different man. I think I was blessed with some very good players: Fred de Jong, Ceri Evans, Gary Lund. We had a very good crop when I was there. If we didn’t get good results then you better blame me. In club soccer with Christchurch United in the 80’s, All Whites such as Alan Stroud, Gary Lund, Ceri Evans, Keith Braithwaite, Alan Carville, John Hanson, Danny Halligan, Johan Verweij.
RG: What was it like coaching New Zealand in the two-match NZFA Centenary series in 1991 against the full England team?
IM: That was a real thrill. I couldn’t believe that we were playing against so many good players (And Geoff Thomas, Brian Deane and Mark Walters as well — Ed.) At that stage David Platt had just transferred to Italy for NZ$15 million - that would have solved all the financial problems of New Zealand soccer for the next ten years! And the biggest disappointment was that we didn’t actually get a result against them in the first game. I thought we were worth a draw or if anybody was going to win it 1-0,  it should have been us. Lineker scoring four minutes into injury time was not nice — that was hard to handle. But I thought in the second game at Athletic Park, England were well worth the 2-0 win. The good thing was that we represented our country pretty well. Most people expected us to lose heavily. I’d heard one or two people talking in terms of double figures, but that’s just not going to happen to New Zealand teams any more; we’re too well organised for that.
PC: Do the crop of young Canterbury players impress you at the moment, and which ones in particular?
IM: Technically a lot of the players I have today are better than the players I had ten years ago. I’m impressed by many of the young players I have at the moment. I’ve a whole group of them, too many to name to be honest. But where I have a lack of players is that 24-30 age group and ones with experience at a reasonable level too.
Canterbury soccer’s lacking that at the moment so I think that short-term is going to be difficult for us but long-term Canterbury soccer will do well with the young players coming through and getting that essential national league (there he goes again — Asst Ed.) experience.
But who knows, we may surprise a few this year. Looking at particular players, I think that Brent Fisher who is still only 16 has a great future. Ben Sigmund has a toughness that you don’t actually see with New Zealand players — he’s got that hardness, a little streak of... I wouldn’t call it evil, just hardness about him, but technically a very good player. Jeff Fleming has come on in leaps and bounds since I saw him with the South Island U19’s. Nathan Knox is another talented midfielder, and Adam Highfield, the goalkeeper, is only 19. Looking at the reserve side, there’s Ben Hall, Michael Lilley, Ben Hughes, Luke James. If we can keep them all together and create a good coaching environment for them, Canterbury soccer will be in good hands for the next few years.
PC: You’ve had a lot of success in the past coaching Christchurch United to two national league titles and the Chatham Cup, 1986-89. How does the National League and the Christchurch entry compare now to the way things were in those days?
IM: When I took over Christchurch United first time round we had one All White. By the time I left we had eight All Whites. So, I keep trying to tell players that if you want to become an All White, successful teams make successful individuals, not the other way around. We have to get the team going first. I’d love to create that, where we had more All Whites in Canterbury again. The other thing is,  that I think the league’s going to be tougher because when I was coaching Christchurch United it was initially a 12 and then a 14 team league and I honestly believe that a 10-team league is the right number, otherwise we dilute the playing strength, the coaching strength and the administration. You’re trying to spread things too thin. Ten teams gives us a strong competition and geographically it gives us a nice spread.
On the playing side, in the old days when I took over United, I inherited a group of experienced players who weren’t playing well. This time I’m taking on a group of real talented youngsters who have to be moulded into a team.
Christchurch United already were a team, they just weren’t playing well. But this lot I have today, have to be moulded into a team.
PC: Which style of soccer do you admire the most Ian, and which style do you try to implement with teams that you coach?
IM: There’s only one style of soccer and that’s winning soccer. People don’t give a stuff how you play, as long as you win. And I think the problem with coaches is that sometimes we try to get players to do things they’re not capable of doing. I think you’ve got to look at the squad you’ve got and say “what’s the best for me”. I mean as far as I’m concerned the game’s never changed; it’s all about scoring goals and to do that you’ve got to get strikes on goal. And if that takes twenty passes or thirty passes, so be it.
But if it only takes one pass, that’s also fine by me. The thing is to allow your players the freedom to work within the system, not to make a system that’s absolutely hard and fast. Obviously you’ve got to value the ball and one of the biggest problems in New Zealand soccer — and this is over the last thirty years and still prevalent today — is the number of times we give the ball away when we’re not under pressure. And just getting players to live on the ball and give simple passes — I mean it’s a passing game.
PC: Could this be a lack of confidence?
IM: Well, I don’t know. I think it’s probably just not encouraged enough. We have to encourage it more. New Zealanders are very competitive and I don’t actually believe that kids up to the age of 12 should be playing for league points. They should be like young apprentices learning technique and that should actually be more important than winning leagues. I can’t believe that they actually have leagues for 8, 9, 10 and 11 year olds!
PC: How important do you see the Top of the South Federation League as being to develop players for the National League team?
IM: It’s very important. You can’t have your players dropping down to three or four divisions below. They have to be able to make that step up. It’s like when we cancelled the national league (we love that term here at Sitter! — Asst Ed.) The step up to All White level from regional level was huge. I mean the step up from regional level to international level is huge. We’ve got to try and  make those steps as small as possible. So I’m pleased that there’s going to be a Top of the South League after all the uncertainty and that there’s going to be promotion and relegation. There has to be a system so that any club that wants to play national league can see a path for themselves to go there. There is always going to be room anyway for all those boys that just want to play soccer and there are clubs that can give them that. All those clubs that just want to play social soccer - fine. But let’s have a very competitive national league, a very competitive next league down to get into the national league, and following on top of that I’d also like to see a very competitive U17 national league.
RG: You’ve been actively involved in New Zealand football for over 30 years both as a player and as a coach. What was your background in Scottish football before arriving here?
IM: Obvioully like every other kid growing up in Glasgow, I played at school, in the back streets, anytime we could get hold of a ball. In fact the only kid that had a ball was the most favourite person in the street. But I played for my school, then junior football for Merryhill, a good junior side in the district I lived in. Then a short spell at Berwick Rangers. But mostly I played junior football (In Scotland “junior football” is the top level of senior club soccer outside the professional leagues). I came to New Zealand when I got married aged 23, nothing to do with football. I came here to start a business but got involved because I love the game. I played for Christchurch Technical and we won the Southern League a couple of times in its early seasons. I played in a Chatham Cup final with Tech in 1968. I was a goalkeeper then. I went on to coach the Rangers club from 1973 through to the early eighties for about a decade, and then Christchurch United in the national league for four seasons from 1986 to 1989. Then the All Whites for a few years after that.
RG: Keith Grosvenor scored the most goals of any Canterbury player last year. Yet it seems he will still be turning out for Halswell rather than your City team this year. What’s the situation with him?
IM: Well as far as I know he’s very welcome to come over and trial, same as all the other boys. I’ve just not seen him here. He’s not put his hand up or contacted us, but everybody in Canterbury knows the door is open for anyone. I’m not going to let anyone slip through my fingers that actually wants to play national league. But one thing I will not be doing — and I’m not saying this is a problem with Keith, not at all — but there are certain players out there who are continually wanting their egos stroked, and I’m not prepared to do that. I’m only prepared to work with people who really want to be there.
RG: You’ve mentioned before the communication problems in New Zealand soccer which has lead to misunderstandings on league formats, missing out on sponsorships etc. Do you see bad communication as still being a problem on a national or local level?
IM: I don’t know what communication is like now, but I do know that communication is the breakfast of champions. And if you don’t communicate with people they they’re definitely going to think the worst. Sometimes it’s only a phone call, or just a word in the right ear, and I think that sometimes communication has not been the best. But I think that New Zealand Soccer are taking some major steps in the right direction. I think that appointing directors or board members on the executive with business acumen is good for the game. I think reducing the number of associations is good for the game and I feel that getting back to a 10-team national league is good for the game.
RG: Are you a big supporter of the Kingz, or like Charlie Dempsey, do you have your doubts?
IM: I absolutely think the Kingz are wonderful. I thoroughly enjoy watching their games and I think that they can only be good for the game. It means that we have another 20 or so players who are stepping up to another level. Because you’re not being honest with yourself if you don’t think that the Aussie National League is a few steps above our national league, although in the future our national league may be comparable.
RG: Ian, how do you relax away from soccer?
IM: I play golf with some old soccer buddies. I have a regular four at Russley on a Saturday, made up of Pat Berry who played for Dunedin City and won the Chatham Cup with them, George Morris who has done a lot of coaching around the traps and was a good player, and of course Steve Sumner is our other member. Yeah., so there we take all our frustrations out on a little white ball (laughs). I enjoy my golf and I look forward to it.