Munro's lifetime devoted to Southland football

BRENDON EGAN
Last updated 05:00 23/05/2012
Stu Munro
DOUG FIELD/Fairfax NZ
LOVE OF THE GAME: Stu Munro has made an immeasurable contribution to Southland Football over the years.

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Stu Munro's lifelong fascination with football may have never started, had it not been for a cancelled rugby game 57 years ago.

Munro remembers how devastated he felt when he arrived at Appleby Park on a Saturday morning as a 10-year-old, to find out South School's rugby game had been postponed.

Eager to kick a ball about, the enthusiastic Munro and friend Jim Riley biked down to the Thistle clubrooms in Biggar St and sat there with their boots over the handlebars.

The boys were asked by Waihopai under-11s football coach Ted O'Brien if they wanted to help out the depleted team and they jumped at the opportunity. Munro proved to be something of a natural, scoring six goals in his first game of round-ball. He never looked back.

"When you do that and everyone's telling you how good you are. You tend to think, as a 10-year-old, this is for me," Munro laughed.

Few people have made more of a contribution to Southland Football over the past 50 years than Munro.

He's been a player, referee, coach, and administrator, but in recent years is best known for his Southland Football website, which is the envy of many other football associations.

Heck, he's done everything from marking out the fields, to working on the "nail punching gang" when the Thistle gymnasium was built, to riding around Invercargill on a three-seater bike picking up and delivering raffle books.

Southland Football chairman Jeff Walker said Munro had made a lasting impact on the game in Southland and was an inspiration.

"Stu has put more into football in Southland than anyone I know. His website is part of the glue that holds football together."

Munro played all of his adult-level football with Thistle – switching to the club after meeting a group of friends with similar interests, while he was a student at Southland Boys' High School.

He spent five years in and out of the Thistle senior side in the late 1960s and would have probably featured in more games had it not been for the competitive era of club football he played in.

Munro's crowning moment as a footballer came in 1967 when he played his only representative game for Southland, against Otago at Surrey Park. It was a special day for Southland, winning 3-2, which handed them the Keach Cup, after an earlier draw in Dunedin.

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Munro, who usually operated as a fullback, was switched to the wing to shut down Otago's overlapping fullback, who liked to roam forward.

The plan worked a treat with Munro limiting his opponent's involvement and the maroons becoming just one of 11 Southland sides to prise the Keach Cup away from Otago in 80 encounters.

In 1976, Munro's playing days started to come to an end, as he juggled shift work at the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter – where he is still employed today.

His passion for football did not diminish, however, turning his hand to coaching and refereeing, which he would do for the next 10 years.

Munro refereed right across the grades and showed promise, gaining his New Zealand Referees Association badge.

He acted as fourth official for the All Whites' game against the League of Ireland in Invercargill in 1982, before they departed for the World Cup in Spain.

Without the use of modern-day electronic substitute boards, Munro made himself a blackboard and wrote the player numbers up with chalk.

Munro was actively involved as a junior and senior delegate for the Thistle club from the early 1960s until the 1980s.

He served on Thistle's 50th jubilee committee, helping organise their anniversary celebrations in 1986. Munro joined Southland Football in 1993, helping implement changes from a delegate to committee structure.

One of Munro's proudest accomplishments came during his three year tenure as Southland Football president from 1997 to 1999 – a time when New Zealand Football (NZF) established its new federation set-up.

NZF decided to create seven federations across the country, rather than having to deal with 94 associations and sub-associations – a move that was met with plenty of hostility by many other regions.

Southland Football saw the long-term benefits of the move and Munro was delighted when it got the go-ahead.

Southland was able to get Jeff Walker and Andy Wheeler onto the board of Federation Seven (now Football South), which was a major break-through, he said.

"We finally had a voice and that's something Southland hadn't had to any great degree since the days of Larry O'Rorke and Bill McLean." O'Rorke was a delegate and committee member of New Zealand Football, while McLean was also a delegate to the national body.

Munro's services to Southland Football were recognised in 2003 when he was made a life member – which gave him automatic committee and board attendance and speaking rights.

No-one was more surprised than Munro when he found out. He said he was humbled to be bestowed with such a prestigious honour.

"That's something really special. That's not something I went looking for. It's something that was given to me. There's a lot of people, who have lined up and helped me along the way. I regard it as a supreme honour."

Munro said he owed a great deal of thanks to his supportive wife of the past 42 years, Ann, who had allowed him to play such an active role.

The 67-year-old Munro has always been keen promote Southland Football and has used his love of the game and vast knowledge to keep the province informed. From the early 1990s until this year, he was a correspondent for The Southland Times and had stints on various local radio stations, providing Saturday previews and updates.

He also teamed up with McLean and Graham Latta to produce the book: Southland Soccer: A century of Football, which was published in 2004.

Over the past decade, the Southland Football website has very much been Munro's "baby".

It originally started with a series of emails, containing scores, to Southland football folk on the other side of the world.

Munro then discovered he was allowed a 10 megabyte webpage as part of his internet service provider deal, which has steadily grown into the impressive piece of work it is today.

Southland Football regional development officer Kenny Cresswell said it was difficult to put Munro's achievements into words.

"If you look at today's game, people come and go pretty frequently, but he's one of those football people who have been around.

"He's worked in just about every area of the game and made a huge contribution to the game over the period he's been involved.

"We could probably do with another 40 or 50 of him."

Munro shows no sign of slowing down either. Venture along to Southland football grounds during the winter and chances are you will see him there, with his trusty camera around his neck, watching intently and snapping pictures for his beloved website.

Walker said Southland Football was extremely fortunate to have someone like Munro, who had given so much to the game locally for so long, and summed him up best.

"It's the example of people like Stu that have kept me involved long after my children have left Invercargill. He is indeed a legend."

- The Southland Times

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