I first decided I wanted to tell this story back in 1999. I was still at university, and the All Whites were about to play at the Confederations Cup in Mexico. News reports were digging out old footage from 1982, and I felt there should be a more permanent reminder for the public of what the players achieved. But at that stage I was thinking of an edited highlights collection on VHS. The idea never got past the idea stage.
A few years later, I was teaching history at secondary school and got into an argument with a bunch of lads from the school's First XV rugby team. They were pontificating on the merits of their sport, and I countered with, “Your sport nearly destroyed our country, and mine basically fixed it”. To prove my point, I showed some footage of the 1981 Springbok Tour riots, and a couple of clips from the All Whites’ qualifying campaign. It was only then that I realised that, not only had these guys never heard of this before, and they really enjoyed what they saw, they also weren't born when it happened. And I was starting to feel old… From there, I began to get the itch again about telling this story. I felt it still hadn't been done justice, and there was so much about it that would appeal to regular Kiwis, not just football fans.
So I began researching, trawling through archives – it was a long slow process, taking several years. There were some real finds along the way – rare footage, never seen before footage, stuff that was thought lost – but also a lot of frustration as to how so much had never been preserved or archived.
The next step was to interview the key characters of this story – players, coaches, opponents. Many weren’t keen to get involved, feeling that they were yesterday’s men, no one cared about their story now, it’d already been told before… But over time, gradually, most of them were talked round, allowing me to gather the recollections, memories, stories and opinions that I needed to tell this tale. Without their insights, help and time, this film would not have been possible.
Finally, I undertook the laborious task of putting it all together – it had to the story justice, but I also believed it had to be upbeat and interesting. It had to showcase the sporting achievements of this football team – but also locate them in the social and political context of our country at that time. They never intended to change the way New Zealanders saw themselves, but in several ways that’s exactly what they did.
My underlying motivation was to tell this story in a way that was good enough that it need not be told again – I wanted this to be the piece that preserved this tale timelessly. Only others can judge whether I’ve been successful or not, but I’d like think I’ve done what I set out to do.