I was at the World Hockey Cup 1986 in London – I was reporting for 'The Australian' newspaper – Australia defeated England 2-0 in the final. Wait for it, India and Pakistan finished 11th and 12th.
The giants of hockey, India and Pakistan, the nations that bought hockey into the galaxies of media phenomena without enough superlatives in anyone's vocabulary to even begin to describe the brilliance of their stick work and passing skills.
Some then thought India was back into its heyday in the last World Cup held in India when they were well and truly beaten 5-1 by Australia in the semi-finals.
So all eyes were on India nine years later at the 2015 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, alas India failed once again to reach former golden glories of yesteryear. But guess who popped up. The New Zealand Black Sticks.
There is some history here. It was the Kiwis who beat Australia in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Final 1-0 with both Australasia teams putting to bed the great European and sub-continent hockey superpowers – the Dutch, the Germans along with India and Pakistan.
Moreover the game plan that saw the Kiwis take the Gold so handsomely came from a tactic devised by a Douglas White of Otaga University in Dunedin. I have written 5 books on hockey and first wrote this story in 2009. White was a college master with credentials as a rugby and hockey coach and pondered the European power play of tight ball control, and constantly returning he ball to the rear, as in soccer.
He devised a tactical plan to counter this power play, essentially being super fit and forcing the ball and play to the right side of the field. It worked perfectly confusing the Europeans at first who could not quite fathom how to counter this strange but awfully effective tactic.
And so it was ‘two weeks’ in Malaysia where the Black Sticks having been beaten in the Pools round by the Kookaburras 3-1, powered their way into the final against Australia and this time reversed the outcome. It was a tight thing. The Kiwis were 2-1 up with 29 seconds to play with the Kookaburras equalising. Then it finally went to penalties and the Black Sticks displayed their magic by winning hands down with goalkeeper Devon Manchester saving three and being named Goalkeeper of the series. The Blacksticks were back!
The philosophy part
I want to take you back to the 1976 Montreal Olympics when New Zealand won their hockey gold medal over Australia 1-0. The philosophical nature of that 1976 victory is the centre piece. The real victory of the New Zealand team's was an unsung hero, the late Douglas White, which came to light when I met his son Dr Geoffrey White who had come across for his father's funeral from Dunedin in 2009.
Douglas White and I had become friends after we moved to Tweed Heads in 2006. He understood the nature of the pressures that young men felt at university having been a college master in Dunedin (Otago University). He was 87 when he died in 2009 and in the four years prior to his death I had Morling College students sit under his feet (as it were) who were in Tweed Heads for a week of ministry.
I was invited to conduct his funeral and spoke of his part with these seminarians, which drew good humour as the congregation knew instinctively of what I was speaking. These young people saw Douglas White either as Methuselah (because he was so old), Zechariah (because he looked and spoke like a prophet) and Catweasel (because he spoke in 12th century imagery). Catweasal was a 1960's children's television program.
Mr White’s son, Dr Geoffrey White, spoke of his father's astonishing ability to bring the best out of people, and this was most obvious when he coached sporting teams. Geoffrey White revealed - the hockey technique his father employed - was intellectualising the problem area of the athlete. At that point he developed an idea for the athlete to employ with a simple redirection of play. In relation to wider strategy, the same applied. It was revolutionary. He commanded extremely high personal respect for his understanding of ‘the inner athlete’.
The philosophical hockey story
The Europeans, rather than competing with the stick skills of the sub-continent teams, they developed soccer tactics, by pushing the ball back to retain control. Goals came from penalty corner set plays with specialists corner strikers. West Germany won the 1972 Olympic Gold Medal, Holland the 1974 World Cup Gold Medal.
New Zealand for the 1976 Montreal Olympics came up with a strategy to counter this new European 'power hockey'. As a result, New Zealand drew with West Germany 1-1, beat Belgium 2-1, then Spain 1-0 and in the semi-final, defeated Holland 2-1, before putting paid to Australia 1-0 for the Gold Medal. Until this international tournament New Zealand had never looked like making a semi-final. All those years later in 2009 Geoffrey White gave the secret away.
Six from Otago University
Six of the players, that is more than half the team, were from the Otago University hockey team that was coached by his father Douglas White. When they returned to Dunedin after the Olympics, it was revealed that the techniques Douglas White had suggested they employ to beat the European style of play, had been adopted in Montreal by Kiwi coach Ross Gillespie.
In discussing this with Geoffrey White, the 'secret' Douglas White employed required the athlete to be super fit as it hinged on consistently pushing the play to the right side of the field, in effect boxing in their opponents, where conventional positions became superfluous. It was a philosophical plan to upset the European's set play and gave just enough scope for the New Zealanders to snatch an occasional opportunity to score for themselves. The Gold medal outcome was an undeniably a result of Douglas White's careful intellectual analysis on how the counter European set play patterns.
Now, the Black Sticks, after all these years were back on top of world hockey and I for one will have my eyes and ears opened. I'm keen to ascertain how their philosophical approach to their tactics again has 'art imitating life'.
Years ago I wrote that our youth is won or lost to us on the philosophical (Gospel 101). That quote has been republished over and over again. It is perhaps my one and only oft repeated signature phrase.
Jesus' ministry set out a fresh philosophical approach to Scripture, to living for God, to genuine care for those in need, for justice, to showing comfort, peace making, a new creation, a open and inviting Salvation …..
True, philosophy and sport go together as does everything else!
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at