Think of New Zealand and you think of Rugby.
The rugged, antipodean, Anglophone country has become synonymous with egg-ball in a way that no other nation has with its national sport. To many people, New Zealand simply means Rugby. It isn’t difficult to understand why. 15 tattooed giants screaming from their very core while eyes pop and tongues shake. The vivid and frightening All Blacks, their Haka and their success have influenced the way we think of and define Kiwi culture. That iconic uniform and the conspicuous colour reference in the team’s nickname leads us to see black as the national colour, which it is. However, the New Zealand Men’s national Football Team are the Black Sheep, if you will.
They are known as the All Whites.
I swear it’s true. New Zealand’s starting XI have traditionally run out onto the field wearing a full white uniform. Even the country’s cricketers stick to black and not white. Why are the Footballers exceptional? The official reason for the use of white in the New Zealand national Football strip is sadly rather banal. Quite simply, FIFA do not permit competing teams to dress in a full black kit, as this attire is reserved for match officials during play. Thus, if the New Zealand Football (NZF) wishes its team to compete in international competition, their country’s traditional black dress must not be used. As the story goes, white was chosen as the seemingly obvious alternative.
Yet looking at the country’s history, far from being a convenient alternative, the case could be argued for white as an obvious choice for Kiwi sports teams in international competition, Football or otherwise.
The name “New Zealand” is an English corruption of the name Dutch explorers gave the land. The Dutch were the first to circumnavigate the country but were discouraged from actually dropping anchor by a small fleet of aggressive Maori natives who paddled out to greet them. The name “Nova Zeelandia” sprung up across Dutch documents in the 1640s, which evolved into “New Zealand” as the British first began to settle. But the Maori name for the country is the far more charming “Aotearoa”. The renaissance of Maori culture throughout New Zealand from probably the late ’60s has resulted in the number of Maori-language speakers to increase in both absolute and relative terms, and as a consequence a lot of native names of places, flora and fauna are becoming more commonly used in every day language. For this reason, it is not uncommon to see the country referred to as Aotearoa.
To understand the meaning of the word Aotearoa is to understand the myth of the original settlement of the country by the Maoris. Unlike all other major habitable landmasses of the world, New Zealand had no native human population until probably the 1200s, according to experts. None at all. So while the Mongol Hordes were conquering Asia and the Catholics were reconquering Iberia, a small group of Polynesians were sailing southward from probably the Cook Islands (nobody’s quite sure) in search of new land. After months of living with their families bobbing up and down in a double-hulled canoe in the middle of the Pacific, the tell-tale sign of large cloud formations would have finally indicated the close proximity of land. The vast size of the cloud formations would have been a good indication to the savvy navigators of a landmass far greater than any other Polynesian island they had previously encountered. These pioneers chose to name their new home accordingly.
Aotearoa; “The Land of the Long White Cloud”.
A lot of dispute exists around the actual origins of the name Aotearoa, whose translation into English can vary. Many etymologists and historians believe this story to be one of fantasy rather than fact, but it is well known across the young country. In the context of Football, we could ask ourselves why more New Zealand national sports teams do not represent Aoteatora dressed in All White costume, considering the popularity of this historical tale of the land’s initial discovery. Is the NZF aware that the use of white nicely captures this piece of national folklore? Probably not, given the lack of literature on the subject of the All White use of white.
Nothing more than a happy coincidence it may well be.