All Whites great Sumner awarded top honour
BY TONY SMITH IN JOHANNESBURG
Fifa World Cup
All Whites great Steve Sumner shared centre stage with one of his all-time idols as he was awarded world football's highest honour at a glittering pre-World Cup gathering in South Africa.
Sumner - who captained New Zealand at the 1982 World Cup finals - received world governing body Fifa's Order of Merit award alongside Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff and former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
The presentations were made by Fifa president Sepp Blatter at this morning's opening ceremony of the FIFA Congress at the Gallagher Convention Centre, midway between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The audience included South African president Jacob Zuma, world football superstar Pele, many of the most influential and powerful administrators in world football and representatives of 208 Fifa member nations.
Sumner, a goal scoring midfielder who won a record 105 New Zealand caps, said it was "very humbling'' joining the Order of Merit list which includes many global football stars and statesmen like Nelson Mandela.
The Christchurch businessman received his medal from Blatter, embraced the Fifa president and regaled the crowd with his "passion'' for football and his delight that New Zealand football was "having a renaissance'' with the All Whites back in the World Cup finals "after 28 years''.
Sumner earned applause for his tribute to wife Jude, who was present for his ordination, and said he was "honoured'' to be admitted at the same time as Cruyff.
"As a young man, watching him play, he was in my best four players of all time. There were guys like Pele, Cruyff and [Franz] Beckenbauer and, latterly, there was [Diego] Maradona. To be in amongst guys like that tonight is amazing.''
Sumner, a 55-year-old Christchurch seafood export company owner, said it was particularly special to receive the award at a World Cup finals and especially with the All Whites there for the first time since 1982.
As a boy growing up in the north of England, he dreamt he would "play in the World Cup ... and I wanted to captain and I wanted to score''.
A decade after his "whole world caved in'' when the young apprentice professional was released by English club Blackpool, Sumner achieved his World Cup aims - in the white shirt of New Zealand.
He captained the All Whites in Spain in 1982 and scored a goal in a 2-5 defeat against Scotland with his proud parents, from Preston, in the stands. Sumner was the first Oceania player to score a World Cup finals goal.
Sumner was also recognised by Fifa for his contributions as an All Whites' assistant-coach, a former New Zealand football board member and for his work in setting up Centre Circle - a social and fundraising group comprised of former leading New Zealand players.
Sumner, who was nominated by New Zealand Football and the Oceania Football Confederation, said he felt "really privileged'' to be recognised by the world body.
"We had dinner [in Johannesburg] with the Oceania people and the Pacific Island delegates and that was special, too, to know you are representing more than just New Zealand and the support has come from throughout the region."
Sumner said his thoughts turned to "all the people I played with in the past, all those who helped me as coaches and administrators and the people I worked alongside in things like Centre Circle, who tried to raise the profile of football back in New Zealand and who raised a lot of money for the sport.''
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