OPINION: "Gee we're tough in this country," said Murray Deaker at the start of his TV show.
"We're tough on our teams."
Correction. We're tough on our rugby teams.
The treatment dished out, by both the media and the public, to the coach of our national team if he's unsuccessful, is tough, though still tame compared to the medicine meted out to coaches in other codes overseas.
When the English tabloids decide they've had enough of the England football coach, for instance, the mauling they give him is vicious, personal and sustained. It continues until either the FA sack the coach, or he resigns of his own accord and heads to a monastery in Tibet where he'll never see another newspaper in his life. The fans are as bad, as Blackburn Rovers coach Steve Kean experienced when the Rovers fans went after him like village folk in the Middle Ages after the town witch.
No, New Zealand is nowhere in that league. And in minor codes, like football, we're about as tough on our teams as a kitten lapping a plate of warm milk. No front-page headlines such as "Herbert Must Go!", or "Simply the Worst!" after the All Whites' shambolic performance in the Oceania Nations Cup. No non-sporting editorials demanding answers from football bosses.
You can imagine how The Sun newspaper might have treated our embarrassing loss to New Caledonia.
"Sunk Without Trace", might have been the headline, with the text reading something like: "It's the idyllic islands of the Pacific who live in fear of rising sea levels, but it was the confederation's biggest nation, New Zealand, who found themselves out of their depth this week, before finally going under against New Caledonia yesterday."
Then they'd have ordered the coach to go down with his ship, and numerous players to walk the plank. And it would have carried on for days, if not weeks.
But thankfully we don't go quite that far in New Zealand.
What would have been the response if Brazil had been ousted from a tournament by Venezuela or Bolivia? Or Italy by Luxembourg?
In some countries the coach and players would have had been sent an animal head in the post, been pelted by tomatoes, been shot in a night club, or had "for sale" signs planted in their front yard.
Here, Ricki Herbert took a moment's flak for his team's failure, and the storm – "breeze" might be a better word – passed. He "put his hand up", i.e. he accepted responsibility, before saying that he wouldn't have done anything differently, and that was that.
In reality, Herbert had enough brownie points in the bank from the World Cup to survive this setback, but his tenure with the Wellington Phoenix is a good example of the highly tolerant nature of our footballing public.
After five seasons in existence, the Phoenix still haven't finished above mid-table, yet there's been hardly a a murmur of discontent.
Not even from the coach himself, who tells the players they're doing just fine by re-signing them year after year, whereas a club desperate to win the A-League would be turning over the coaches and the players in an effort to find a winning formula.
Look at Tottenham. Harry Redknapp turns them from a side looking at relegation into a genuine challenger for the Premier League title, and gets the boot. Kenny Dalglish gets one season to fix Liverpool before getting axed. Those coaches must be hoping their next employer has the same Japanese "jobs for life" philosophy as football bosses in New Zealand.
Billy Harris is a former All White.
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