Oly-Whites coach will have hometown support

TONY SMITH IN LONDON
Last updated 05:00 26/07/2012
Neil Emblen
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ
NEW HOPES: Coach Neil Emblen.

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They will soon be gathering in the George and Dragon pub in Kent to toast a Tonbridge exile who is about to represent New Zealand against Belarus in the Olympic Games.

Tonbridge is the home town of New Zealand Oly-Whites coach Neil Emblen. The George and Dragon is, according to those in the know, the best pub in the place.

Emblen says “the landlord and landlady" are good friends of mine" and he expects the pub to be packed on Thursday evening (UK time) to watch the telecast of the Oly-Whites-Belarus clash in Coventry.

Tonbridge is only "about 35 to 40 minutes out of London", Emblen says, so it's a little ironic that the former English premier league player has had to go halfway around the world to earn a place at an Olympic Games in his own backyard.

Emblen reckoned he never imagined coaching a New Zealand team when he moved to Auckland in 2005-06 to play for the now-defunct New Zealand Knights team in the A-League.

"I think London was awarded the Olympics around then but it wouldn't have been in my mind to think ‘wouldn't it be great to one day take a team back there?'."

But Emblen is now established as a Kiwi and admits to feeling deeply moved when the Oly-Whites were welcomed for their brief stay at the London Olympic athletes village with a haka.

He's also building his career as a young coach, having guided Waitakere United to three national league titles and qualification for the Oceania Champions League.

The former Millwall, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Norwich City and Crystal Palace player has also been a technical adviser to the All Whites in 10 of their past 11 senior internationals.

Emblen says six months ago he would have "loved to be involved [with the Oly-Whites] in any capacity, including assistant-coach or spongeman".

Now his All Whites' role has been reversed. He's calling the shots with national head coach Ricki Herbert on the sidelines offering an extra pair of eyes.

Emblen says he has been lucky to get the chance to "stamp my own mark" on the Oly-Whites.

But he says his dad, who is going to the Egypt game at Manchester United's Old Trafford ground and Brazil at Newcastle's St James' Park, is "almost more excited than I am".

"I' ve been talking to him on Skype about the Japan and South Korea [warmup] games . . . It's a big thing for him that his son is responsible for the team and is in charge of players like Shane Smeltz and Ryan Nelsen."

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If Emblen, who started his career at the Tonbridge Angels, guides the Kiwis to victory then expect an almighty roar from the George and Dragon.

Meanwhile, English football star David Beckham will have a role in the opening ceremony at the Olympics.

He had hoped to play for Britain's team at the Games, but coach Stuart Pearce did not include him in the squad. There will, however, be a spot for him on Saturday (NZ time) at Olympic Stadium.

There is talk Muhammad Ali could also play a role in the opening ceremony after he arrived in London this week.

- Fairfax Media

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