I travelled 40 hours and 11,000 miles from Tranmere to New Zealand for a 90 minute game of football. I maxed credit cards and even borrowed money from a good friend to make it happen. It was beyond reckless for a game between the 122nd team in the world New Zealand and the 10th, Peru. But I like to believe in miracles.
I’ve made some highly questionable life choices recently, so I’m not quite sure why you’re reading this …but here is how I blitzed the national and international media on my return, simply as a football fan. More than a PR how to guide, this is a lesson in how cool New Zealand is, and in looking after people.
You see, football is about the people. I love the connection when I hit a ball pure and it flies into the top corner. But it’s the connection between people, team-mates, fans, kids, parents and the community that makes me tick. And why I love my experience at Tranmere Rovers.
On arriving back in New Zealand with just over 7 days to organise everything for 220 Flying Kiwis, fan friendlies, pre-match function, gear to wear, shirt orders, ticketing and all the admin and comms associated, I didn’t have time for anything else. I was stretched to the limit, and feeling the stress.
But as I raced out to pick up some New Zealand flags from the airport, I drove past the hospital and an old mate tugged on my heartstrings. As much as I wanted to race home and get into my work, I knew I should go and visit a legend of the Wellington Football scene, Russel Cotton.
But I had so much to do. Important stuff. Busy stuff. Stuff.
A former professional for his hometown Colchester, Russ came out to New Zealand to play for Christchurch in the old National League. He since settled in Wellington and has played and coached and just about every club. Well known for his creativity and genius on the field as a deep lying central midfielder or sweeper, he was equally known as a character off the field, with the drink causing him the odd problem at times too.
I spent one summer with him painting my Dad’s house, they knew each other from playing masters footie and Dad would help him with work whenever he could. Russ would do anything just to be involved in football. I got to know him well in this time and heard many a story from his pro days.
Daily he would jog, even with a dodgy hip, through the streets of Newtown with full track sweatsuit on to “sweat it out son”. For the few years after I would often drive past or bump into him and have a chat. Russ was always happy to see you. And I’d always softly check in to see how going sober was and if we were both still on the straight and narrow.
Recently though, he fell really ill. Through a Wellington Soccer 1960’s to early 2000’s facebook group by Jeff Adams, I learned he was in hospital in a bad way. So as I drove past Newtown hospital racing home to sort out gear packs for 220 Flying Kiwis, I knew there as an English Kiwi I needed to pop in to see. But I didn’t have the time. I was busy with stuff.
And he was… dying. So I parked up to visit for a few minutes, and came out close to two hours later.
I arrived as another friend was already there. I gave Russ an inflatable kiwi friend that I organised for my Flying Kiwis and reminded him that he is a kiwi too with many friends here. Nearer the end of or chat another mate of Russ’s popped in for a visit and we all chatted. I then drove home and had a late, late night sorting through the gear.
The next day his friend called through to say he liked my story about the Flying Kiwis and what I was doing for football support. His mate was the producer of Martin’s Devlin’s show on the Radio. Martin called for a chat like an old mate, it was surreal having grown up watching the first ever football show in New Zealand the ‘House of Football’ religiously. Martin then put me in touch with his old mate Andrew Saville, news presenter for TV1 National News. By now, he was a friend of a friend of a friend of Russ. And they were so familiar and friendly there were no nerves.
So there I was, on top of a big week logistically to pull this thing together, having national media ringing me for a catch-up and genuinely interested to hear my story. I was one of the most wanted men in New Zealand. It was really humbling 3.5 years after I left New Zealand to chase futsal dreams overseas.
The Flying Kiwis featured across national media outlets the world over. TV One News, TV 3 NewsHub, Stuff.co.nz, NZ Herald, Radio Sport, Diario Correo, Diario El Comercio, Peru.com, La República, Russia Today, Sputnik News and probably alot more I’m not aware of.
I’m such a proud New Zealander so it was an honour for me to spread my message of positive and passionate support for football, and the inspiration for kids that they can fly, whatever their field.
But it all came from a difficult decision to pop in and see an old mate from hospital, when many times I would have supressed the urge to in my own self-importance and busy-ness.
In New Zealand, everyone knows someone that knows anyone else. Two degrees of separation. So if you look after your people, they’ll look after you.
Thanks for the assist Russ, you’ve still got it mate.
If there’s someone you should check in with for any reason, do it now