Greetings and hello-type salutations to you all.
There is a definite theme running through the nicknames of the various sporting teams that represent this great land on the international sporting stage. There is a desperate need in most sporting bodies to try and cash in on the All Blacks cow. The thinking is: if the team’s name sounds something like the All Blacks, people will watch.
It all began many years ago… New Zealand, through some kind of international sporting fluke, qualified to play in their one and only football world cup – Spain, 1982. New Zealand had played qualifying matches not in the usual national colours of black with white bits, but in an all white strip. Most of their matches were played in extreme heat against Pacific Island nations and Asian nations. I believe they may have also played a match against Israel, who were not as welcome in their neck of the woods as you might think. They ended up playing in the Asian league. A bizarre choice made by FIFA – there are plenty of Muslim nations in southern and eastern Asia…
Anyway, the white strip with black numbers, and the fact that a national side was winning quite a few matches, led to a bit of support being thrust their way and lo and behold, a nickname was born… The All Whites – a nice and simple play on the All Blacks. It was a wonderful world cup for the All Whites. 2 goals for, 12 against. The two we did score put Scotland out of the cup.
The national netball side, the Silver Ferns, need to be mentioned here. Not because they play a minority sport – far from it. More people play netball in New Zealand than rugby – mind you, it has a long way to catch up to gardening as the top leisure activity. They have been called the Silver Ferns for a long time, and their nickname has been cut up and thrust into the melting pot also.
At some point in the late 1980s or the early 1990s the serious money started to flow into New Zealand sports. Some of the country’s largest companies began throwing all sorts of riches around – figures in the hundreds of dollars were regularly mentioned. Of course, once the money starts flowing then the bean counters start counting. Returns on investments have to be made. Profiles have to be increased. The public have to be able to identify with the players and the team as blokes or blokesses who could be their neighbour or dairy owner or taxi driver. Someone to cherish and support. Once this thinking began, then what started out as a slow trickle of crappy nicknames turned into a nomenclature tsunami.
So now we have the Tall Blacks (men’s basketball), the Tall Ferns (women’s basketball), the Black Ferns (women’s rugby), the Black Caps (men’s cricket), the White Ferns (women’s cricket), the Football Ferns (women’s soccer), the All Whites (men’s soccer), the Wheel Blacks (wheelchair rugby), the Black Socks (men’s softball), the Ironblacks (men’s gridiron – American football), the Ice Blacks (men’s ice hockey) and the Ice Fernz (women’s ice hockey). I didn’t realise there were people in this country that played those last three sports. The rule seems to be: men’s teams have to contain black, womens need to have ferns in there somewhere.
The winner of the stupidest use of Black or Fern in their name has to go to the New Zealand men’s badminton team. Their national body decided on rebranding the team one year recently and started releasing press statements which talked about the strong performance of the Black Cocks. After the laughter had died down they decided against this most turgid of monikers. And quite rightly. I shudder to imagine what the women’s team would have been called… (comments readily accepted thank you).
I know I’ve been talking sport a lot recently… I promise to include other thinks in this column in the coming weeks…