Charlie Dempsey’s passing last June marked the end of the most significant era in New Zealand and Oceania football.
Loved by some and yet loathed by others, Dempsey was always willing to stand up for what he believed in and wasn’t scared to make the hard decisions. He is of course, mostly remembered for the fiasco surrounding the awarding of the 2006 world cup to Germany. Though he was widely criticized in the media for his stance at the time, there is no doubt that his non-voting was beneficial to the region he represented, Oceania. The result of course that Oceania was given a direct place at the world cup, a place lost following Dempseys retirement.
Interesting too that in the years following that controversy, Dempsey was awarded the FIFA Order of Merit by Sepp Blatter. Hardly the actions of a President or council who disapproved of the actions of one of its members.
Oceania though wasn’t Dempseys brainchild. It eventuated from a meeting between the heads of the ASF (Jim Bayutti) & the NZFA (Syd Guppy) in 1964 – a result of Australia and New Zealand being told that they weren’t welcome in Asia. Dempsey was approached to work on behalf of the NZFA from the start, to ensure that Oceania was up and running in time for the 1966 FIFA congress. Whilst the Australians – as is their whim – have been in and out of Oceania & Asia in line with their “grass is greener over there” approach to the sport, New Zealand under Dempsey always remained firmly committed to the confederation. It is not widely recognized but New Zealand remain Oceanias one and only world cup finals representative. In 1974 & 2006 Australia were in fact members of Asia when they played in the finals, though they did qualify through Oceania in 2006.
Whilst gaining that direct spot was probably Dempseys greatest victory, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was also instrumental in the formation of the national league in 1970. A national league long before the hapless Australians were able to come up with the concept – and long before the NPC was ever considered. Truly then, Dempsey showed himself to be a leader ahead of the pack. Who can forget the halcyon days of Mount Wellington, Christchurch Utd & WDU of the early 70s? The formation of that national league was also a driver towards our ultimate qualification for the world cup in 1982.
New Zealand & Oceania football grew far, far more in Dempseys years in charge that at any other time. It is hard to imagine that another Kiwi administrator could ever graduate to the level that he reached or be as well respected in the game, worldwide, as he was.
Our game has much to thank him for.