The story begins in 1981, with New Zealanders increasingly unhappy for several famous reasons. New Zealand at that time is an idyllic and laid-back place, and rugby is the sport of real men.
Football is a second class citizen on the New Zealand sports scene, but football administrator Charlie Dempsey backs coach John Adshead and his assistant Kevin Fallon to realise the dream of reaching the World Cup, despite a less than stellar record in the past. A remarkable victory over Mexico shows the side’s potential, and a series of grueling training camps literally knocks the group of plucky amateurs into shape.
Now begins the football action. Players, coaches, opponents and broadcasters recall the key events from the 8 first phase matches, including the iconic victory over Australia in Sydney and the world record 13-0 victory over Fiji. They also discuss the way in which these moments captured the imagination of the public, especially in light of the torrid events of the Springbok Tour, and provided some welcome positive relief.
Public attention is ramped up even further with the first three matches in Phase 2, highlights of which are discussed by the key people involved. The third of these is the infamous Kuwait game at Mt Smart, with a dodgy ref and can-throwing pitch invader, bringing public attention to fever pitch. Both players and historians then explain how a bunch of guys playing a sport that was previously considered only for “Poms and poofters” had proven themselves to be real Kiwi battlers and won the respect of the whole country.
Focus now switches back to the football and a do-or-die trip to the white hot atmosphere of the Middle East – the introduction of precocious teenager Wynton Rufer, the heartbreak of a last-minute draw in Kuwait, and then the seemingly impossible task of needing a 5-0 win in Saudi Arabia.
All of this boiled down to the 15th and final match, a playoff in “neutral” Singapore against China. The story of this climactic event is brought to life by unique behind-the-scenes footage, illustrating how everything that could go wrong did go wrong! And as New Zealand watched, captivated and enraptured by the drama of this match, one of the smallest nations on earth beat one of the biggest.
The World Cup Footballers
No country had ever played more games, or travelled more miles, to qualify for a World Cup. The All Whites set records for the largest ever World Cup win, and the longest spell without conceding a goal. Theirs was the most incredible, and unlikely, qualifying story in World Cup history, and the country caught football fever.
Their reward was a place in Spain to play Scotland, the Soviet Union, and the ultimate glamour team – Brazil. Their preparation programme is tracked, and then their context in Spain and the experience of being a World Cup footballer. The film then examines each of the three matches with highlights, interviews, and memories from some of the All Whites’ opponents. Public reaction, to both the games and the New Zealand players and their efforts, is considered and discussed.
Finally, reflections on the whole campaign are presented, including explanations of the historical and social impacts of the All Whites achievements. The film concludes with a series of graphical postscripts, embellished with footage, that explain what followed for key characters after the tournament, and also nods towards the 2010 campaign as a final sign off.