For 20-year-old Graham Dacombe, it was the greatest game of football he ever played — four goals in a Chatham Cup final, a match the newspaper headlines later billed as ‘Dacombe’s epic cup final’.
It was the classic 1972 Chatham Cup final, drawn 4-4 by Dacombe’s Christchurch United and Auckland’s Mt Wellington, played at Wellington’s Basin Reserve.
Unable to be separated after extra time, the teams met again a week later in Christchurch for a replay.
“There were no penalty shoot-outs in those days,” recalls Dacombe. “We were expected to keep playing until there was a winner.”
In Christchurch, watched by 8,000 spectators at English Park, the teams drew 1-1 after extra time.
A second replay was booked for a fortnight later when an estimated 12,000 turned up at Auckland’s Newmarket Park.
United won the match 2-1 with much controversy when Ron Harries — the referee for all three games — turned down Mount claims for a goal in the 87th minute, a decision that negated the risk of extra time again.
Main photo: Dacombe (left) takes on Mt Wellington defenders Brian Armstrong and Ian Hastie in the second replay at Newmarket Park. Photo: Dave Barker.
With all three matches broadcast live on New Zealand’s only television channel, the herculean contest between these teams captured the public’s imagination.
People with only a passing interest in football became engrossed in a final that took three weeks and five and a half hours of play to find a winner.
Dacombe, now retired on Australia’s Sunshine Coast, will always be remembered as the young forward who became a household name after his four goals in Wellington.
Was it the best day in his football career?
“Certainly,” he says, without hesitation. “It was just one of those days where it all went well.”
The goals that will forever link Dacombe to the Chatham Cup
Fifty years later, he can visualise the four goals, remembering them in detail “and my mates never let me forget, anyway.”
Goal 1: “A cross came into the six-yard box from the right and in the melee, I got a foot on it and in it went.”
Goal 2: “I got the ball from broken play, just outside the penalty area, and hit it … it took a slight deflection and went in. Some reckoned it was an own goal. I’d say it was going in and just took a deflection.”
Goal 3: “It was a corner. It came at just the right height and I got a clean header on it, unchallenged.”
Goal 4: “I was played through and on the 18-yard line I was able to line up a shot, and it went into the right corner.”
Despite his role in one of New Zealand football’s greatest chapters, Dacombe is quick to push back on any suggestion he had played his perfect game of football.
“I didn’t even get the Man of the Match,” he says. That went to dual cricket-football international Vic Pollard, influential in the United midfield that day.
“And I’ve got mates who reckon I should have finished the day with six. Late in extra time, I had two chances — one I put just wide left of the goal, the other I hit past the right post.”
How the cup saga changed media attitudes to football
Football writer Josh Easby was 18 and as a journalism student, he covered the Basin Reserve final for the national weekly paper NZ Truth.
The game, in blustery Wellington conditions, was full of incident from the start.
Dacombe put Christchurch 1-0 up after three minutes. A minute later, Mount were level when Ron Armstrong scored from the penalty spot. A second Armstrong penalty put Mount 2-1 up midway through the half.
Dacombe levelled; it was 2-2 at half-time.
Brian Turner gave Mount the lead. Dacombe’s header from a corner made it 3-3 and forced extra time.
In the 106th minute, Dacombe’s fourth goal appeared to win the game for United. But Mount’s Earle Thomas tied it up 4-4 with a goal in the final minute of extra time.
8,000 fans turn up for Christchurch replay
“Our newspaper was usually full of rugby, rugby and more rugby, but when the cup final was drawn 4-4, it created so much interest, my boss insisted the paper would fly me to Christchurch for the replay,” Easby says.
“English Park was packed — 8,000, as well as live television coverage. The only game in Christchurch that had ever drawn a bigger crowd was the Manchester United v New Zealand game in 1967.”
Christchurch United went into the replay without midfielder Pollard, as months before, he had booked his wedding for that day, anticipating the season would be over.
Dennis Tindall, a New Zealand athletics rep, scored for Mount in the 35th minute.
Ian Park, a former Preston North End player known for introducing white boots to New Zealand, got the equaliser in the 81st minute.
Extra time, and after two hours in the Christchurch sun, still no winner.
On his flight back to Wellington, Easby found himself seated next to the newly-married Mr and Mrs Pollard.
“Vic wanted to know what he’d missed. I wanted to know whether he’d be available for the second replay (he was).”
12,000 fill Newmarket Park for the second replay
By game three, Mount and United were being regarded as arch-rivals, and even neutral fans were taking sides.
“The bank at Newmarket Park was absolutely filled. There was no official attendance kept but if the bank was full, you could be sure at least 12,000 were in the ground,” Easby says.
Again, the television cameras took the game to a Saturday afternoon audience with only one channel to watch.
Football, struggling for media attention in those days, had a captive audience.
Ian Park put Christchurch ahead midway through the first half. Winger Alan Marley, a former Arsenal apprentice, made it 2-0 to Christchurch in the 62nd minute.
Two minutes later, Ron Armstrong scored from the penalty spot to set up a frantic end to the game.
Mount thought they had scored a late equaliser through Dave Taylor but referee Harries disallowed the effort and minutes later, blew for full-time.
At the final whistle, spectators took to the pitch, as former MP and New Lynn Mayor Reg Keeling, who was the president of the Auckland Football Association, oversaw the presentation of the trophy to United’s captain Ken France, a policeman.
Half a century on, Easby continues to write about football, editing the Friends of Football website.
He’s convinced the 1972 games were instrumental in changing media attitudes towards football.
“I know our paper doubled its coverage of football (after the final), and other papers were signing up coaches to write columns. With the start of the national league (1970), the time was right for football to start getting more attention.”
For Easby, the Chatham Cup remains his favourite competition.
“In a couple of weeks, Auckland City and Eastern Suburbs will play in this year’s final.
“It’s not just any game — it’s special because of all the finals that have gone before.
“They’ve been playing for this trophy since 1923. Imagine how many players have held it and taken a drink from it in the changing rooms afterwards — hundreds have done it, including some of our country’s greatest players.
“And who knows, we might be one game away from having another Graham Dacombe, a player who gets the whole country talking about football.”
As he recalls the 1972 matches, Graham Dacombe relishes the memories they created for him, his family and his teammates.
The United side of that era have stayed in touch and held a reunion a couple of years ago (which Dacombe missed because of travel restrictions forced by the COVID pandemic).
His collection of press clippings ensures his memories of an ‘epic cup final’ remain clear.
And none of it was down to luck.
“No way. I wore number 13 for the Wellington match,” Dacombe says.
1972 Chatham Cup final
Game played on Saturday September 2, 1972
Basin Reserve, Wellington
Attendance: 4,000 (est.)
Christchurch United 4 (Graham Dacombe (4))
Mt Wellington 4 (Ron Armstrong (2, pens), Brian Turner, Earle Thomas)
* 3-3 after 90 minutes; 4-4 after extra time
Christchurch United: Tony Fleming, Lawrie Blyth, Grahame Davis, Ken France (captain), Graham Griffiths, Brian Hardman, Vic Pollard, Tom Randles, Graham Dacombe, Alan Marley, Ian Park (Stuart Cameron). Coach: Terry Conley.
Mount Wellington: Kevin Curtin, Tony Sibley, Ron Armstrong, Brian Armstrong, Iain Hastie, Nigel Ashurst (John Houghton), Dennis Tindall, Brian Turner, Earle Thomas, Dave Taylor, George Lamont (captain) (Vivian Hope-Ede). Coach: Ken Armstrong.
Referee: Ron Harries (Wellington); linesmen: Gerry Godfrey, Ralph de Raat.
Pre-match band: The Pipes & Drums of Wellington City.
1972 Chatham Cup final (first replay)
Game played on Saturday September 9, 1972
English Park, Christchurch
Attendance: 8,000 (est.)
Christchurch United 1 (Ian Park 81′)
Mt Wellington 1 (Dennis Tindall 35′)
*After extra time.
Christchurch United: Tony Fleming, Lawrie Blyth, Grahame Davis, Ken France (captain), Graham Griffiths, Brian Hardman, John Oliver (Trevor Blake), Tom Randles, Graham Dacombe, Alan Marley, Ian Park. Coach: Terry Conley.
Mount Wellington: Kevin Curtin, Tony Sibley, Ron Armstrong, Ian Hastie, Brian Armstrong, Dennis Tindall, Max Davis, Brian Turner, John Houghton (Earle Thomas), George Lamont (captain) (Viv Hope-Ede), Dave Taylor. Coach: Ken Armstrong.
Referee: Ron Harries (Wellington); linesmen: Gerry Godfrey, Ralph de Raat.
Pre-match band: Skellerup Woolston.
1972 Chatham Cup final (second replay)
Game played on Saturday September 23, 1972
Newmarket Park, Auckland
Attendance: 12,000 (est.)
Christchurch United 2 (Ian Park 25′, Alan Marley 62′)
Mt Wellington 1 (Ron Armstrong 64′, pen)
Christchurch United: Tony Fleming, Lawrie Blyth, Grahame Davis, Ken France (captain), Graham Griffiths, Brian Hardman, Vic Pollard, Tom Randles, Graham Dacombe, Alan Marley, Ian Park. Coach: Terry Conley.
Mount Wellington: Kevin Curtin, Tony Sibley, Ron Armstrong, Ian Hastie, Brian Armstrong, Nigel Ashurst, Dennis Tindall, Brian Turner (Max Davis), Earle Thomas (Dave Taylor), John Houghton, George Lamont (captain). Coach: Ken Armstrong.
Referee: Ron Harries (Wellington)
Souvenir match programmes were produced for all three games.
Click on the covers to open and read the digitally-converted publications.
2022 Chatham Cup final
Auckland City v Eastern Suburbs
Game to be played Sunday September 11, 2022, 4pm
North Harbour Stadium, Albany