It took more than 55 years but the part-time footballers who took on the might of Manchester United in 1967 were finally together again …
Surviving members of the Auckland and New Zealand squads gathered at Auckland United’s clubrooms at a specially-arranged function organised by Friends of Football.
They grinned as they shook hands, fell easily into the dressing room banter of years ago and enjoyed being in each other’s company again.
And they, in the company of Friends of Football’s members and guests, revisited the memories of May 1967 when Manchester United arrived for two games in New Zealand, only days after being confirmed as the English Football League champions.
United were in New Zealand as part of a world tour to launch the club as a global brand.
Locally, the Auckland and New Zealand players took time off work, had a few training sessions and hoped for the best.
A star-studded Manchester United squad
United beat Auckland 8-1 at Carlaw Park, with 21-year-old George Best jigging and dribbling his way across Carlaw Park, watched by a crowd of 26,000.
The star-studded touring squad, led by manager Matt Busby, also included Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Nobby Stiles, Pat Crerard, Brian Kidd, Noel Cantwell, John Aston, Alex Stepney, Bill Foulkes, Tony Dunne and David Sadler.
In Christchurch, United crushed New Zealand 11-0.
However, the games were a turning point for football in rugby-dominated New Zealand.
Getting 26,000 to Carlaw Park proved the locals would go to football matches, and so began an era of touring teams and the chance for local players to test themselves against some of the world’s leading professionals.
A long-awaited (and twice postponed) reunion
On Wednesday July 27, 2022, the reunion of players, officials and others with an interest in the 1967 tour, finally got together for the Friends of Football event.
After two COVID-forced postponements, the gathering could finally go ahead.
Not everyone could make it — former international John Legg sent a video message from his home in Australia; goalkeeper Owen Nuttridge, an unused sub in Christchurch, also passed on his apologies, also from Australia.
Tony Gowans and George York, who had both played in the Christchurch game, were unable to get there.
Those who did make it had a great time, as television news cameras recorded the event, and MC/broadcaster Andrew Dewhurst called them forward for interviews.
It was a rare opportunity to bring together two players with the distinction of representing New Zealand at both football and cricket. Mark Burgess, who played in both games against United, later captained New Zealand 50 times at cricket.
Grahame Bilby, who captained New Zealand against United, toured Australia the following year as an opening batsman for his country.
The night was chance also for the unused subs (only one player was allowed to be changed in those days) to join in — Neville Siebert was the reserve Auckland ‘keeper; Tom McKinlay and John Staines trained for a game they didn’t get to play in.
Main photo: United again … Back row (from left): George Lamont, Neville Siebert, Grahame Bilby (with trophy donated by Manchester United), Mark Burgess, Bill Hunter, Les Coffman (referee), Tom McKinlay. Front row (from left): Gary Lake, Paul Rennell, John Staines.
A night of highlights
Among the many highlights of the night were:
Video highlights: To the surprise of the players, Friends of Football were able to play previously unseen highlights of the games, thanks to family members of the late Arthur Stroud, who played in goal in both games, and who had acquired black and white film recordings.
READ MORE: Watch the highlights of the games here >>>>
A famous goal: In the Auckland game, the loudest cheer of the day was when 23-year-old George Lamont scored for the home side. In the 55 years since, Lamont has relied solely on his memory to recall how the goal was scored. At the reunion, he was able to watch his goal for the first time … from two angles and again in slow motion. Friends of Football president Earle Thomas also presented Lamont with a framed photograph of the goal.
A referee’s report: The referee at Carlaw Park was Les Coffman. As was the requirement, his post-match process required him to file a handwritten referee’s report of the match — a document that would become the official record of the match. Now 93, Coffman was re-united with his handwritten report as he was presented with it, framed and with a citation recognising his contribution to football.
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Our thanks to Kohler for supporting our event.