This week marks 10 years since the 2010 FIFA World Cup kicked off in South Africa.
The tournament was significant to Oceania as New Zealand’s All Whites qualified for the global event for the first time since 1982.
On top of that, they went through pool play with three drawn fixtures and were the only unbeaten team at the tournament.
Buried among the myriad stories of their unlikely journey was that of reserve goalkeeper James Bannatyne, who 18 months prior to the tournament was all but retired from representative football.
Having enjoyed a 13-year career with a handful of clubs in New Zealand punctuated by a brief stint in England with Yeading FC, Bannatyne was busy juggling work and family commitments as 2009 began.
A goalkeeping crisis with Team Wellington in New Zealand’s national league presented him with a chance to get back on the pitch and he celebrated his return with a goal from inside his own half in a game against Canterbury United.
“My dad said I should retire and hang up the boots after that game and I remember sitting around at dinner saying, ‘I think there’s something else out there’, so I carried on,” Bannatyne said.
And there was something else, the suspension of Glen Moss meant that New Zealand needed a reliable backup behind Mark Paston for their home-and-away playoff against Bahrain with a spot at the 2010 FIFA World Cup on the line.
Bannatyne’s form in the national league earned him a spot in the All Whites squad for the 2009 Confederations Cup and coach Ricki Herbert continued to show faith in the Wellington gloveman.
Having made his international debut in 2001, Bannatyne was selected as the reserve goalkeeper behind Paston as the All Whites vied for their spot at the World Cup.
Herbert’s side drew 0-0 in Bahrain in October 2009 and hosted Bahrain in windy Wellington a month later for the return leg.
“There was a real focus amongst that team and that squad,” Bannatyne said.
“We had set out to have something to play for when we got home, that was the goal, and we were all ultra-focused on the fact that we had an unreal opportunity there.”
Paston famously saved a penalty as the All Whites won the match and tie 1-0 – courtesy of a Rory Fallon header – to book their ticket to South Africa.
Bannatyne, who now works as OFC’s Goalkeeping Development Consultant, still uses footage of Paston’s penalty save during coaching courses in the Pacific.
When the All Whites went to South Africa, Bannatyne found himself in a unique position.
He was the backup goalkeeper to Paston for the first two matches as Moss served the final games of his suspension and then went back to his role as third choice for the final outing against Paraguay.
Of course, as the history books read, Paston had a blinder of a tournament, including a stunning individual display in New Zealand’s second match when they drew 1-1 with Italy.
That result, which followed a 1-1 draw with Slovakia in their opening outing, meant their final pool game against Paraguay presented them with a chance to advance to the knockout stages.
“Our expectations were always that we would be a hard team to beat and would cause teams problems; if we stuck to what we were good at then it wouldn’t be easy for anyone against us,” Bannatyne said.
Those words rang true against Paraguay as the All Whites held them to a 0-0 stalemate.
Three draws weren’t enough for the All Whites to move on to the Round of 16 but they left the tournament with a strong sense of achievement.
Bannatyne was one of three amateurs in New Zealand’s squad alongside midfielders Andy Barron and Aaron Clapham; Barron made headlines around the globe when he was substituted on late in their clash with Italy becoming the only non-professional to take the field in the tournament.
Looking back 10 years on, Bannatyne said the New Zealanders had the right mix of players at the right time that contributed to their strong showing at the World Cup.
Central defender Ryan Nelsen produced a herculean effort while they unearthed Winston Reid who went on to continue his professional career at West Ham United in England.
Long-time All Whites Ivan Vicelich, Shane Smeltz and Simon Elliott all played their parts too in a side that proved many doubters wrong.
“There were players in the right stage of their career with good professional careers under their belts at a good level that meant we were a side that wasn’t a pushover and we certainly proved that,” Bannatyne said.
“And, to be honest, we were disappointed not to go any further in the tournament.”
Bannatyne retired from international football after the 2010 World Cup, completing a career that saw him collect three caps across a decade of national team duty.