Good defence, bad lights salvage capital pride
As English Premier League clubs West Ham United and Newcastle United arrive in town to play the Wellington Phoenix, Tom Hunt and Dave Burgess look back to one of the last visits by a top-flight English team - when Queens Park Rangers played a Wellington Invitation XI at the Basin Reserve. Burgess was a fresh-faced 19-year-old in that team, given the task of marking a player once considered the fastest man in English football.
There wasn't a fully professional player in sight in the Wellington team. My day started by going to work at the Post Office, where I dealt with staff ACC claims.
But work and I were not even casual acquaintances that day as my mind incessantly wandered to the big match. With kitbag in hand, I walked to the Basin Reserve to meet the rest of the Barrie Truman-coached team, selected from clubs throughout the Wellington region.
We had two training sessions in the week before the game. I met at least one of my team-mates for the first time, and have never set eyes on him since.
Nearly 10,000 football fans came to the match. which was played under floodlights. The Basin once had four floodlight towers to illuminate the pitch. They were pretty ineffective.
Organisers promised extra floodlighting on match night. What transpired was a row of temporary lights near the top of the RA Vance Stand. Whenever the ball came in the air from the stand side of the ground, you were temporarily blinded.
But Wellington took the lead early, before QPR hit back with a couple of goals to win.
Their star man was striker Clive Allen, who earlier in his career had been involved in a £1 million transfer, which at the time was a heap of money to pay for a player. He was a dirty bugger too, going in with a filthy tackle that left central defender Mike Simeonoff with a shin wound that required stitches.
I played on the right as a wing back, looking after a young tearaway called Wayne Fereday. At one point he was considered the fastest player in top-flight English football. He was capped by England at under-21 level. I did all right.
Also in town that week were the British and Irish Lions rugby team, who were due to face Wellington at Athletic Park. After the QPR game I went with my flatmate for a couple of beers, eventually arriving at the Hotel St George, where the Lions were staying. My over-riding memory was of a seriously large bloke in a Lions blazer wedged into a sofa seat with three or four young ladies draped over him as he smoked a fat cigar.
Next stop was Kilbirnie's Shaw Savill Lodge, now the Brentwood Hotel, where QPR were camped. I tracked down Fereday and ended up drinking whisky straight from the bottle with a few of his team-mates.
Next day the game was but a sweet memory as I sat in a post-match fug at my Post Office desk.
It's fair to say that things will be considerably different for the Wellington Phoenix players when they take on the Hammers and the Magpies next week.
A FRIENDLY GAME
It was meant to be a friendly game between Wellington's part-timers and the glamour boys from west London.
But Queens Park Rangers weren't in the mood for taking prisoners - at the end of a brutal match at the Basin Reserve, in front of about 10,000 spectators, three Wellingtonians were left limping heavily, and one of them needed five stitches in his shin.
It was a gloomy Tuesday night on May 24, 1983, and QPR were riding high after winning Division 2 of the English league and getting promoted to the top flight. Their star man was £1 million striker Clive Allen, and they were coached by Terry Venables, who would later coach Barcelona and England.
QPR were playing six games on a tour of Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.
Wellington coach Barrie Truman deliberately chose a local team for the Invitation XI, ignoring imported stars.
"We don't believe people identify with imports," Truman said at the time.
"There is no slur to them intended, but we want to give opportunities to lads who have given a lot to Wellington football."
Billy Harris, who had come through Rongotai College's team to join Wellington Diamond United, was an All Whites midfielder.
He worked at LV Martin, in Lambton Quay.
"I didn't tell them I played football," he said this week. "They liked all their staff to be 100 per cent committed [to the job]."
QPR had at least four current or soon-to-be England representatives. "We were just worried about getting taken to the cleaners," Harris said.
They didn't, emerging with a 2-1 defeat - possibly helped by the poor quality of the floodlighting at the Basin. The locals trained in semi-darkness regularly, while the Londoners found it hard to adjust.
Reporter Carol Salmon summed the game up the next day: "Wellington ran, tackled and fought like men possessed for 90 minutes and were very far from disgraced in the 2-1 defeat. Defensively it was a superb effort and Wellington broke quickly and decisively to cause QPR no little trouble."
But it was a rough game.
Wellington defender Mike Simeonoff had five stitches in his shin after a vicious tackle, and Malcolm Dunford suffered stud marks to his body.
"Wellington were a sorry lot after the match, with Dunford, Simeonoff and [Brent] O'Neill limping heavily," Salmon would write.
"Striker Andy Browne lasted barely 20 minutes before his groin injury gave out and Mark Cummings came off at half-time with his thigh problem."
At the end of the game there was no disappointment.
Allan Harris, who was coaching QPR on the tour, had praise for the Wellington team. "We have no real complaints and the lads enjoyed themselves.
"Wellington were definitely a lot better than Canterbury, much more organised."
The next day, Billy Harris went back to his job at LV Martin. A co-worker asked if he had watched the game. "I said, ‘Well, I played in it.' From that point on I got frozen out."
He quit the next week.
The Dominion Post