New Zealanders head to the two World Cups you might not have heard of …

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By Rachel Lilburn

New Zealand are playing in two football World Cups this year — but there’s a fair chance you haven’t heard about either of them.

They are designed for players over 40 and over 50, and they attract teams from all over the world, including New Zealand.

The Seniors World Cup is an annual invitational tournament, organised by the Seniors Football Association of Thailand and supported by the Thai FA.

Main photo: Members of the New Zealand Over 40s squad at the 2019 tournament in Thailand.

The inaugural tournament in 2006 was part of a government strategy to re-establish tourism after the devastating tsunami that hit the country on Boxing Day, 2004.

Each year, the seven-day tournament is held in a different province in Thailand, with eight teams participating.

This year’s tournament is in Pathum Thani, just north of Bangkok, and the other countries participating are Iran, USA, Canada, Australia, England and Nigeria, alongside the hosts Thailand.

A second tournament, where all players must be older than 50, will be held in October.

The New Zealand team will spend 10 days together, playing six games in seven days.

While most of the games are in the evening, playing conditions are still 28-30 degree heat, plus humidity. With many countries featuring ex-professionals and former internationals in their squads, the competition has historically been at a high level.

While not an officially-recognised national football team, the organisers do have a letter of endorsement from NZ Football.

Players pay their own way, and also organise sponsorship to cover a strip.

Members of the New Zealand team with local children.

Kerry Bartlett, from Hawkes Bay, has been organising and managing the New Zealand team since 2008.

Each year he works through a list of more than 50 players in the right age group who are still playing football at a reasonably high level. He needs to find players who can afford to go; can get the time off work/other commitments as well looking at the positions they play.

To ensure fairness in the competition, the 11 players on the pitch must meet strict age requirements, with the goalkeeper at least 40 years of age and other players as follows:

  • 3 players 40-44.
  • 4 players 45-50.
  • 3 players over 50 – the over 50s are allowed rolling subs.

Bartlett describes it as a bit like chess on a football pitch.

In addition to the football, all teams spend a day with a group of local children, running coaching drills and games.

All teams are asked to bring some gifts to hand out to local children, such as football gear, balls and souvenirs from their home country. Bartlett describes this experience as “the most incredible day”.

New Zealand teams bring gifts for local children.

New Zealand is one of the only teams who have players take whanau and supporters, so their group is often around 40-50 people.

Bartlett has been to every one of the 12 tournaments in which New Zealand has participated.

He describes the appeal as a chance to attend a professional, high-skill tournament with a group of skilled, fit and talented players, as well as to experience the culture of such a beautiful country, which he describes as his second home.

New Zealand started attending the tournament in 2008, and have missed only two events, due to COVID-19.

Bartlett says 343 players have taken part over the 12 years of involvement, and collectively, 645 people have travelled to Thailand for this tournament.

New Zealand have made the semi-finals once, and have been awarded the Friendly Team every year.

Tournament dates

Over 40s: June 5-10, 2023
Over 50s: Oct 21-26, 2023

How to get in touch

Players interested in this year’s tournaments, or future tournaments, should contact:

Seniors World Cup 40-plus: David Batty —

Seniors World Cup 50-plus: Kerry Bartlett —

Rachel Lilburn

Taupo-based Rachel Lilburn is a volunteer writer for Friends of Football.

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