Globetrotting is the only career pathway for aspiring Kiwi footballers


Steven Old in Palmerston North for Christmas, from his base in England.

24122013 Sport PICTURES GRANT MATTHEW / FAIRFAX Steven Old in Palmerston North for Christmas, from his base in England.

OPINION: Once Steven Old became fixated with soccer in Holland, he had virtually clipped his ticket to ride around the world.

Probably the best footballer to emerge from Manawatū, his latest stop is the northwest of England where he plays in League Two with Morecambe FC.

That is the seaside town from which comedian Eric Morecambe took his stage name.

Even when Old was starring at Palmerston North Boys' High School, he was off around the globe, playing for and captaining New Zealand youth teams.

"I was in the All Whites at 18, went to Parma [Italy] on trial, got contract after contract," Old told me from England.

His CV is geographically similar to that of striker Chris Wood, who also plays in Lancashire, for Premier League side Burnley, only half an hour down the M65 from Old.

Wood has had 13 clubs, including seven as a loan player, and Old a dozen. He was whisked off for two years at St John's University in New York before returning to YoungHeart Manawatū.

However, he was beyond that league and went to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, to the Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix in the A League, then to Kilmarnock and Cowdenbeath in Scotland, to England with Basingstoke Town and Sutton United, before two years in China, then Sweden and now with The Shrimps at Morecambe FC.

As a 31-year-old defender, Old's career hasn't been defined by the goals he scores, so he gives himself another four to five years as a centre-back.

Although his life as a wandering professional sounds glamorous, there are sacrifices. His 3 1/2 years with two second-division clubs in Sweden meant lengthy commutes by air to see his wife in Newbury, Berkshire, an hour south of London.

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Signing for Morecambe has brought him closer to home where they have a 7-week-old son. His wife Kim and baby stay in Newbury close to her family, while his club manager allows him to drive home after home games, about three hours away, and to drive to away matches. That suits because most other League Two clubs are in the south. Only Carlisle United is north of Morecambe.

Old would get back from Sweden every five or six weeks. Now, he is sometimes home twice a week.

Morecambe is an hour's drive north of Liverpool and Manchester and two minutes away from the bustling university town of Lancaster, where he has his flat.

Preston (North End) is 20 minutes away and also in Lancashire is Blackburn Rovers, the club of another former All White, Ryan Nelsen. Old has had 17 New Zealand caps, but isn't bothered the phone doesn't ring now, saying selection is one man's opinion.

It allows him to focus on his day job, where he says the England lower leagues are full of tough pros and teams play about 60 matches a year – in the league, various cups and pre-season.

Every second week there's a midweeker and it's tough on the body, so players are rotated a lot.

Many would have felt it ordained for Steven to follow his father, Manawatū man and All Black No 8 Geoff, into rugby. As a youngster Steven did play rugby, as a centre and first five-eighth who could run and tackle. But his physique, tall and lanky, didn't mirror his father's.

The football bug hit in soccer-mad Holland where his father was coaching the national rugby team. Once back in Palmerston North, coach Ricki Herbert selected Steven and that marked out his life since.

"For New Zealand footballers, we have to play overseas and if you're not settled, you're going to be moving."

At Morecambe, he has the Australian under-23 goalkeeper to give him antipodean company.

He found in Sweden and Europe the players were more technical and liked to play with more space. In Britain, the ball is in the air a lot more and there's less time on the ball.

"People in Britain like aggressive football and more goals."

He says the style in League Two is similar to that played in the Championship. The Premier League is another matter.

With Morecambe, he will get to play big-name clubs in the league, such as former first-division outfits Coventry City and Luton Town.

In cup ties against League One teams he will encounter outfits who have graced the Premier League – Portsmouth, Wigan Athletic, Blackpool and Bradford City and Charlton Athletic. Sounds glamorous.

Take the points

After the Manawatū Turbos fell to Bay of Plenty last Friday, there was a clamour from everyone to take penalty shots at goal instead of the sometimes impotent mauling in the corner.

The Pumas sort of showed the worth of penalties in the first half against the All Blacks at New Plymouth. The hot Hastings Boys' High School 1st XV boasted they had taken about two penalty shots all season.

But for many of us older humans, we say, take the points, especially when Otere Black is on kicking song. It would probably have got the Turbos over the line on Friday.

 - Stuff


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