All Whites great Steve Sumner says it’s “a privilege” to receive a Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit award from the Governor General – but getting the health message out remains his big goal.
The Christchurch football stalwart, who is battling prostate cancer, was presented with his ONZM award for services to football by Dame Patsy Reddy in Wellington last Tuesday.
Sumner, 61, said it was “very special” to share the occasion at Government House with wife Jude and their family.
“I am honoured,” said Sumner. “It is a privilege to have anything awarded to you from New Zealand, such a wonderful country.
“The support that I have had in my football career has been marvellous. I feel that I share everything that I earned over that time with a lot good footballing people in New Zealand.”
He said he owed a lot to his Christchurch United team-mates of the 1970s and 80s, including fellow All Whites such as Bobby Almond, and the Centre Circle football fundraising organisation he helped found.
Sumner has been told his condition was “regressing slightly”, but he is refusing to give up the fight.
He said while a personal award was “very nice”, “getting the message out for men to get prostate checks is more important now”.
“I don’t want anyone else to leave their checks too late.”
Sumner, who played a record 105 times for New Zealand between 1976 and 1988, singled out his 1982 All Whites team which made football history for the country.
“That was a great campaign for us and sort of kicked things off for football in New Zealand in many ways. That period raised the profile of the game when it needed a lift again and I feel privileged to share this with a lot of people. Football has given me so much and I give back to the game because it is my turn.”
One of only four footballers to receive two FIFA Order of Merit awards, the world football governing body’s highest honour, Sumner was recognised by Mainland Football with the grandstand at English Park named in his honour last August.
New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin said Sumner was one of New Zealand Football’s favourite sons and would leave a lasting legacy both on and off the pitch.
“Steve Sumner is a legend of our game and will be forever associated with one of our most successful periods after leading the 1982 team to the World Cup – our first-ever appearance on the biggest stage,” said Martin.
“He has made a massive contribution to football in New Zealand and served as an inspiration to many involved in the game. We congratulate him on his award and look forward to celebrating with him at the upcoming 125th anniversary of New Zealand Football.”
Sumner said he never looked for reward or award. He has many wonderful memories from his time in the game that are more than enough. The major one of course was the 1982 FIFA World Cup campaign where the All Whites faced the world’s number one sporting team, Brazil.
“That was the highlight of my career. I felt like I had my best game ever at that time. I had a wonderful time.”
He said “football stands still for no-one” and he took great delight in the heroics of the All Whites campaign at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and is pleased with the improvement of Anthony Hudson’s current side.
Sumner is looking forward to seeing the All Whites compete against New Caledonia on Saturday November 12 in Albany.
“We had a nice taste of these blokes in the States, can they step it up again? I think they will.
“This is a game with real meaning for us. Having just seen what they achieved in the USA I think our sporting public will support our boys and support them well.”
Story by Stuff