Hundreds honour football hero Steve Sumner - the All Whites' 'Captain Inspiration' video

STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ.

All Whites football legend Steve Sumner was farewelled for the final time in a moving ceremony in Christchurch today.

Coach John Adshead and the 1982 All Whites farewelled "Captain Inspiration" - Steve Sumner - with their team song at his packed funeral service in Christchurch.

Adshead led the singing and his players chimed in with the chorus to Stand up and Fight, a mantra which summed up Sumner's brave battle with prostate cancer.

Around 700 people gathered at the St Andrew's College chapel on Wednesday to pay tribute to the 61-year-old All Whites great, who died on February 8.

Coach John Adshead and 12 of the 1982 All Whites farewell their captain Steve Sumner with a team song at his ...
STACY SQUIRES

Coach John Adshead and 12 of the 1982 All Whites farewell their captain Steve Sumner with a team song at his Christchurch memorial service.

Sumner's casket, bearing his playing number - 10 - was draped with the English and New Zealand flags.  His wife Jude said that reflected the fact "he had his heart in both places". In a moving tribute, she hailed her husband as "a very determined and passionate man", who never gave up and always put her and their family first to the end despite his "terrible journey" with cancer.

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The '82 All Whites - who shared that 18-game odyssey to the World Cup finals 35 years ago -  formed a guard of honour as their captain was carried from the chapel to a stirring waiata and haka followed by a piper.

Football stories abounded in the 2hr 20 minute celebration of Sumner's rich life.

Bobby Almond, his close pal and room-mate with the All Whites, quipped he had "slept with Steve more often than anyone other than Jude" and "fluffed his pillow at night". He said he would "always be Steve's team-mate". "Save me a place on your team up there, God bless."

Oceania footballer of the century Wynton Rufer recalled how he told a German TV interviewer, after playing the game of his life in a European Cup semifinal, that his "inspiration was the captain of my New Zealand international team in 1982, Steve Sumner".

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Midfield mate Keith (Buzzer) Mackay said if Sumner had been a super hero, he would have been called "Captain Inspiration" and marvelled at how he had controlled a crucial World Cup game before a hostile home crowd in Kuwait, a sparkling performance capped by a brilliant long range freekick goal.

Adshead, a spry 74-year-old still capable of captivating a crowd, shared some anecdotes about his early encounters with the "cocky bugger" who became "a true leader", recalling how Sumner set out to "win everyone's respect in his first game as captain, and by the end of the second game, he had earned it".

The coach's voice quavered as he spoke of how Sumner never gave up his fight against cancer, "until the final bell".

Many of the chapel goers, including ex-Christchurch United team-mates, were familiar with Sumner's football story - his record 105 All Whites appearances, five national league championships, six Chatham Cup winners, his major awards from world football governing body Fifa and other details expounded in a wide-ranging eulogy read by football commentator Andrew Dewhurst.

But the audience was treated to other special insights into the football hero's compassion and character.

Sons Paul and Carlos, supported by brother Deano, told stories of happy times fishing at Wanaka and Rakaia, how their father had helped them grow into the men they are today and of his delight at becoming a grandfather.

Paul recalled fishing in their boat at Wanaka with Sumner, who spotted a father and son casting, without much success, from the shore.

Sumner suggested they invite the pair on board the boat. "He was chuffed we managed to drop them back on the shore with a fish each," Paul said.

Tori Sumner recalled how her "daddy" had risked his own life to make sure she and Deano were safe after they were marooned in the Christchurch CBD after the February 2011 earthquake.

When Sumner reached the emergency cordon and was told he could not enter, he said: "Try and stop me. My daughter and son are in there somewhere." 

He gave his inquisitor the slip as deftly as he evaded a midfield marker and was eventually reunited with Tori by the Worcester St bridge.

Tori said that was typical of her father's commitment to his wife and children. "Family was undoubtedly number one in your life," she said before adding "football was not far behind."

A family friend read a moving poem and another recounted a story of how Sumner had spotted a mother and several children looking downcast on the street and had given them a ride to their destination. On discovering they were lacking some basic necessities, he arranged with his friend to get some bedding and kitchen implements and dropped them around to the family himself.

Former football referee Ian Walker, now in a wheelchair after a back injury, revealed how Sumner had visited him in hospital and how his positive attitude had helped with his acceptance of his disability.

Prostate Cancer Society representative Graeme Woodside said Sumner had been "a great ambassador" by encouraging other men to get tested for the disease and how he had received the "first standing ovation" ever at the society's national conference after sharing his inspirational story last July.

Sumner's English niece Talitha, who was five years old when she travelled to Spain to watch her uncle play in the 1982 World Cup finals, remembered the "beat of the drums" in the game against Brazil and said she always enjoyed "watching my mother and grandparents' faces light with" whenever the World Cup was mentioned. "I don't think any greater pride could be felt."

Chapel goers were told how Sumner's proudest football moment was scoring New Zealand's first World Cup finals goal against Scotland and seeing his father, Harold, standing with his arms aloft.

Mourners were treated to a slideshow of highlights from Sumner's family life and career, including a tribute from Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

Ex-international Noah Hickey revealed how Sumner had always sent messages of support to subsequent generations of All Whites. "It felt like he was the captain in the stand."

 - Stuff

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