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Everything You Need To Know About Football/Soccer

June 22, 2010

I never thought I would ever do a sports-related post.  But here goes.

I called my parents in the US to wish my father a Happy Father’s Day.  In the course of the conversation the topic of the Football World Cup came up.  They had heard the news that 78th ranked New Zealand had managed a tie against the defending champion Italians after having tied against Slovakia earlier. 

I told them that, yes, the All Whites had managed two ties against impossible odds and that that everyone was going crazy down here.  But my father’s only question was something like, “Why do they call the team the All Whites?  Are they really all white?  Isn’t that a problem in South Africa of all places?”

You may have wondered the same thing.  I know I did when I first came down here.

Well, the answer is simple.  It all has to do with the way things get named in New Zealand.  Things are named very literally, which is not to say unimaginatively. 

In the US a lot of things are named after people.  Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio are named after people.  And there are lots of places named Washington and Lincoln.  Or things have historical or geographical names.  The river in Ohio is called the Ohio River and Niagara Falls is named after the Niagara River. 

It’s a lot more straightforward in New Zealand.   For example, the country basically consists of three islands.  The northernmost is called the North Island.  The one south of it is called the South Island.  The little one further south is called Stewart Island.  But in the old days, the three islands were called North Island, Middle Island and South Island.

There is a big mountain range in the South Island with some serious mountains.  Edmund Hillary trained there before he climbed Mt. Everest.  The mountain range is called the Southern Alps.

Like most big cities Auckland has a tower.  It’s the tallest tower in the Southern Hemisphere.  It’s called the Sky Tower.

A main road in Auckland is called Great North Road.  Yes there is a Great South Road.  When Great North Road got too busy they built a parallel road and called it New North Road.  There is also an Old North Road. 

You see the way it works?  They keep it simple down here.

Which brings us back to the All Whites.

The biggest, most popular and successful team down here is the rugby team.  They are named the All Blacks.  That’s because their uniforms are all black.  Really.  It’s sort of like a holistic version of the Boston Red Sox.

So most other teams, out of respect or lack of imagination, are a variation on that theme.

You’ve already heard of the All Whites. 

The cricket team is called the Black Caps.  Guess what color hat they wear?

The ice hockey team is called the Ice Blacks and the field hockey team is known as the Black Sticks.  Kids playing junior rugby are on the Small Blacks.  Anyone want to take a guess what the basketball team goes by?  Yes, the Tall Blacks!  And the softball team is the Black Sox (they don’t know what happened in Chicago in 1919).  The team that New Zealand sends to the World Cyber Games is called the e Blacks.  

And that’s the way it works.

There is a minor exception, but it sort of proves the rule.  A well known symbol of New Zealand is the Silver Fern (cyathea dealbata in case you are into botany).  Virtually all of the teams use the silver fern frond as a symbol on their uniforms and several of the women’s teams have incorporated the fern idea into their name.  For example, the women’s netball team is the Silver Ferns.  The women’s rugby team is known as the Black Ferns and the women of cricket go by the White Ferns.   

Consistent aren’t they?

One last thing.  There was a bit of controversy a few years ago over the NZ badminton team.  They actually called themselves the Black Cocks for a while.  I know you don’t believe me but it’s true.

I hope this information is helpful to you—at least when the All Whites become a household term in the next couple of weeks you will know how they got their name.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2010 11:10 am

    You left out an obvious one:

    “New Zealand.”

    Is there an Old Zealand? A land of Zea, where Zeans speak Zeaish?

    I’m guessing (as someone with a Germanic ear), that it could be some sort of Neo-Viking Seeland, sea-land….

    Black Cocks: Too bad. The world lacks something without them.

    The All Blacks: What’s that incredible war cry called? Primal. I watch Rugby just for that.

    • June 22, 2010 2:01 pm

      A kenning, for sure…

      Tom, I was rooting with all my spirit for New Zealand. I sure hope Man of Roma doesn’t read this…

  2. June 22, 2010 11:20 am

    Yes, there is an Old Zealand–actually Zeeland which is the southwesternmost part of Holland. NZ was ‘discovered’ by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman (the Tasman Sea and Tasmania are named after him). The Dutch called the country Nieuw Zeeland and Captain Cook Anglicized it.

    The All Black chant is called the haka. They even do it at funerals down here.

  3. June 22, 2010 1:15 pm

    Hm….I played rugby for four years in college and I never knew there was such a simple explanation for the All Blacks name.

    And the haka is one of the coolest things in the world to watch, but only if the All Blacks do it. Every now and then some guy tries to break out the haka here in the States, and it just makes everyone feel sad for him.

  4. June 23, 2010 12:49 am

    A post about the Haka would be awesome!

  5. June 23, 2010 1:26 am

    Someone from New Zealand must have lived in our small town(pop. 400) when they were naming things.

    Uptown is up on the hill, downtown is below the hill. The restaurant is The Cafe, the hardware store is The General Store and the bar and Liquor store is The Liquor Store. We have The Feed Store and used to have The Lumberyard. Some of these have changed to actual names in the past 30 years since I moved here.

    Fortunately no one in our town lives on the wrong side of the tracks because there are no tracks. It has been said at times that the people who live Uptown think themselves to be just a little bit better than those who live downtown.

    Could it be because the bar is downtown and all the churches are uptown?

  6. June 23, 2010 3:23 am

    I just had a great idea: Since I hear voices downstairs in the kitchen, I will go down and break into a haka.

    That will make be entertaining and will make me popular. On my way….

  7. June 23, 2010 6:09 am

    There is a relaxing simpliicity in those names that is very pleasing.

  8. June 23, 2010 8:32 am

    Since I’m from Minnesota I had no idea what the Haka was so I had to look it up. Very interesting….i agree with jenny, a post about the Haka would be informative to say the least.

  9. June 23, 2010 6:59 pm

    Oh my God I’m coming here for all of my history/cultural lessons from now on. The Black Cocks is the single best name for a sports franchise in the history of historical things.

    From now on anything that I am a part of, whether it’s a pool league, golfing tournament, or even a new political party I come up with on the spur of the moment….shall be known as the Black Cocks!

  10. Dan permalink
    June 28, 2010 10:27 pm

    I would like to see NZ develop a patriotic slogan based on their obvious naming tendencies, along the lines of ‘Missouri: The Show-Me State”. Perhaps it could be: “New Zealand: Where Things Are Called As They Should” or “New Zealand: The Call-Me-What-I-Am Island”.

    I’ve been to Stewart Island, by the way, and it should be called “Mud Island” or “New Mud Island” if there’s a need to discriminate. That’s very interesting that it just to share top billing with the other two larger islands…

  11. Dan permalink
    June 28, 2010 10:29 pm

    Oops– ‘used to share top billing’, I mean

  12. September 14, 2010 2:18 am

    I have to say . . . I like New Zealand’s style – keepin’ things simple. Are the men there fairly uncomplicated as well? If so, I might head there to check it out.

    • September 14, 2010 8:18 am

      Yes, it’s very refreshing. Don’t know about the men being uncomplicated but 99% of New Zealanders are friendly, laid back and nonjudgemental.

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