Finding the balance of passion

Last updated 13:00 03/12/2012
Jason Pine

WINDING UP: Newstalk ZB Wellington operations manager and football nut Jason Pine will soon write his last Pine Needles sports column for The Nelson Mail after 13 years.

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Jason Pine has been writing his regular Pine Needles sports column for The Nelson Mail for 13 years but has now decided to call it quits. The Newstalk ZB Wellington operations manager spoke to Wayne Martin about his life in sport and his passion for "the beautiful game".

Opinions.

Everybody has them. Many like to express them. They can be polarising, sometimes distasteful to others and, particularly in a sporting context, often obsessively analysed to the point of assuming disproportionate significance. And, sometimes, people just don't give a stuff.

Jason Pine's been expressing his sporting beliefs in various forms for around two decades and has just ended a 13-year stint as a weekly sports columnist for The Nelson Mail.

The 42-year-old Wellington-based radio announcer is a familiar voice on Newstalk ZB's airwaves, admits to an unashamed passion for "the beautiful game" and can talk sport, especially football, until your ears bleed.

And he's enjoyed nothing better than sharing his opinions, "for better or worse", with Nelson's sporting community since 1999, when he returned to Wellington after six years working for Radio Nelson.

"As much as I'm in radio, I love to write," says Pine.

"When you're on the radio, you're saying these words and they're drifting out into the ether and you don't really know if anyone's actually listening to them or not, you've got no way of actually knowing.

"But at least when you write something down, you've got it on a screen or you can print it out and have it, or you can see it in a newspaper and you can say I wrote that. I love the written world probably more than the spoken word, to be honest."

He's appreciated all the feedback, even the negative stuff, and was quick to acknowledge that, just because people might not agree with you, it doesn't necessarily mean you're bad at your craft.

"I did really enjoy writing [the columns] and it gives you a bit of an outlet to get some views on to a screen. I guess I was always conscious of trying not to make them too football focused. I'd say one in three was probably a football column, which I guess was natural given my background, but I tried to write on a variety of different things and I guess to write something that I hoped people would find interesting.

"I think if you read something in any form, if you can get past the first couple of paragraphs, you know that it's something that's reasonably well written. It's very much a secondary thing for me and I've loved doing it and loved the opportunity of doing it but I know it's something that I'm nowhere near fully developed at."

Tawa-born and raised, Pine recalls his initial sporting involvement as being an unsatisfying two-year dalliance with rugby, at his father's urgings, when he was aged seven and eight.

"I was absolutely hopeless at rugby," Pine recalls, although offered some incentive by his mother with the promise of 50 cents for each try he scored. Sadly, perhaps inevitably, approaching the end of year two, the nobbly young Pine still hadn't found his way on to the scoresheet.

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"On the last game she said, I'll give you 50 cents if you get your shorts dirty. Approaching the end of the game, I'd never got anywhere near the ball and my shorts were still pristine white - so I went over and sat in a puddle."

Mum duly coughed up the promised reward, thereby ending Pine's unremarkably brief rugby career. What followed was a life-altering association with football that has has seen him involved, as a radio commentator, in watershed campaigns with both the Wellington Phoenix and New Zealand All Whites.

As a player "never that blessed with skill", the enthusiastic and hard-working Pine nevertheless enjoyed stints with Nelson Suburbs and Wellington United and now still regularly turns out for the Tawa masters side. But, according to Pine, it was the advent of the Phoenix in 2007 that breathed fresh life into the New Zealand football scene.

"I often say [that] I don't know what I did with all my time before the Phoenix came along. I seem to have dedicated an inordinate amount of time to them, but even though I loved football, I never really had the chance to combine broadcasting and football.

"I commentated a couple of All Whites games in the early part of 2000s but really there was no team to commentate. So any football I did was kind of just interview based.

"Then the Phoenix came along and I've basically commentated every home game they've had. Plus, off the back of that, I've had the opportunity to follow the All Whites and go to [the World Cup in] South Africa.

"I've just been unbelievably fortunate, because you think of all the people who've done football commentary right back to Alan Richards' days in 1982 and no All Whites team had ever made the World Cup between 82 and 2010 and yet I got the chance to go to a World Cup and all these other guys didn't get the chance to."

Pine also says football owes a huge debt to Terry Serepisos, the now bankrupt Wellington-based property developer and former Wellington Phoenix owner.

"The Phoenix were a landmark. While we had the Kingz and the Knightz ... no-one really remembers them apart from in bad terms. The Kingz weren't bad, [but] the Knightz were terrible, they were a terrible side for two seasons.

"If it wasn't for Terry, the Phoenix wouldn't have existed and we wouldn't have got that [A-League playing] licence. Five years of players just owe their whole careers to him picking it up.

"Without the Phoenix, football wouldn't have got the exposure it has through the media and through just gaining in popularity. I honestly believe the All Whites wouldn't have made it to South Africa without the Phoenix."

Pine's professional allegiances might have been grounded in New Zealand football, but it was to the legendary champion Liverpool sides of the 1980s and to their spiritual home at Anfield that he paid homage.

"My first awareness of football was when I was nine or 10 and all we used to get was Big League Soccer midday on a Sunday - one hour of [television] highlights and I kind of picked up on Liverpool because they were good then and good through the 80s.

"Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish, Terry McDermott, Ray Clemence, Alan Hansen, Phil Neal - I can reel off the team. They did well through the 80s and won their last premiership in the early 90s. So it's been 20-odd years waiting for another league title, but once you jump on a team, you can't jump off them."

Pine's been to the World Cup and toured with the All Whites. Yet, the one match that he insists holds prominence above all others was the All Whites' 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Bahrain in Wellington in 2009.

"If there's one highlight, then that game is the single most incredible sporting event that I've been involved in.

"I kind of think of it as a bit of a perfect storm, everything came together in the right way. They got the nil-all draw away, it was sold out and just all the moments in the game. I actually think the loudest moment was when [goalkeeper] Mark Paston saved that penalty. I think that was the loudest noise I've ever heard at a sporting event. It was just astonishing, even more so than the [Rory Fallon] goal probably. And then just the final whistle and everything that went with it."

As a sports broadcaster, Pine has learned to appreciate a wide range of sports and after six years in Nelson has also become a committed Giants basketball fan.

"I love my rugby. I watch every All Blacks test. I've got a huge interest in a lot of sports. Football's obviously at the centre of my consciousness and I follow that very closely. But I love my rugby and I love my cricket.

"I could quite happily sit on the bank at the Basin Reserve and watch a test for five days, and I have done. I watched a lot of cricket at the Basin during the 80s and, once again, it was a team that was easy to like, you know, [Martin] Crowe, [Richard] Hadlee, [Bruce] Edgar and [John] Wright and all those guys."

He watched Hadlee trap Australian batsman Alan Border lbw to claim his 300th test wicket and witnessed Crowe scoring his epic 299 against Sri Lanka.

However, he admits that being a Hurricanes or Wellington rugby supporter has its own inherent pitfalls.

"It's always interesting living in Hurricanes country. You chart the progress of the Hurricanes over the years and more often than not they've failed to deliver on this immense promise that they've had.

"But watching the Hurricanes go through everything they've gone through from close up here has been a very interesting exercise in the way they've evolved and how they were full of stars but could never win anything and still haven't won anything."

Sport has provided a diverting and absorbing lifestyle for Pine, but everything was put shockingly into perspective in August this year when his good friend and fellow broadcaster, Graeme Moody, died in a surfing accident in Australia.

"It was just an absolutely dreadful day," says Pine.

"It was just a hammer blow to us. He was a great mentor of mine and a great mate and I remember his brother ringing me on the night that it had happened and ... just unforgettable.

"It's a huge hole that he's left, he was such an icon as far as rugby commentary, in particular, was concerned, but he did other sport as well. But it was as much [about] Moods the man as Moods the broadcaster, yeah it was a pretty tough time for everybody."

Ironically, Moody's death created the opportunity for Pine to extend his airtime.

"Now I'm doing more on air stuff and I must say I absolutely love it, apart from the dreadful circumstances in which it happened. I absolutely love the chance to read sports news and to cover the Phoenix and I've cut back some of my management, just necessarily because you can't do everything.

"I've always been quite big on trying to find balance and feel that I've kind of found it a little bit now."

- The Nelson Mail

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