New Zealand and Oceania soccer patriarch Charlie Dempsey died suddenly in Auckland on Tuesday night after devoting a lifetime to the game he loved. He passed away just four days after his last round of golf – his other sporting passion.
Scottish-born Dempsey, 87, took association football in his adopted country from its status as a poor cousin to rugby on to the world stage. Perhaps more importantly, he took football to the island nations of Oceania where it is now the most popular sport and played by one in 10 of the region’s population.
Dempsey wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, or bottle of Guinness – his favourite tipple – but no one would ever dare question his passion and determination to challenge, and beat, the odds.
Charlie Dempsey did it his way – treading on toes, and kissing backsides (more of that later), along the way – but only in the best interests of a game he felt deserved better.
Dempsey, wife Annie and daughters Alice and Josephine, arrived in New Zealand in September 1952 as assisted immigrants, after waiting a couple of years for the chance and taking 45 days to reach Wellington. Within hours and a train trip later, the Dempseys were in Auckland.
Soon he was splitting his time between his family, his work and his football – playing, then coaching, at Eastern Suburbs.
With Dave Morton, Dempsey formed the hugely successful building company Dempsey Morton Ltd, which was sold to the giant Fletchers organisation in the early 1980s after building around 4000 houses.
Dempsey juggled his business and sporting interests and shrugged off the rejection of his first bid to make it on to the Auckland Football Association’s control board to make it second time round and quickly become their delegate to the New Zealand Football Association. The rest, they say, is history. Dempsey went after the big one – the recognition of football in this part of the world as a Fifa confederation. It took around 30 years but in 1996 the Oceania Football Confederation was finally accepted as part of the Fifa family and Dempsey given a seat on the all-powerful Fifa executive.
In looking back on an unparalleled career in "his" sport, two highlights overshadow all else. His single-minded determination got the All Whites to the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain. In 2000, Dempsey’s "no vote" handed the 2006 World Cup to Germany – much to South Africa’s chagrin. This was his moment of infamy.
Dempsey made no apology for either.
Charlie Dempsey with the OFC O-League trophy at the end of this years final between Waitakere United and Kossa FC. Picture: Grant Stantiall
He set up a "joint tours agreement" between the Auckland and New Zealand Football Associations to get the All Whites ball rolling and went to bat for John Adshead as coach.
Dempsey was in Singapore for the famous 2-1 win over China which booked New Zealand’s place in Spain and led him to having to go to the dressing room "to kiss Bobby Almond’s bum" after agreeing to do that if the team won.
Overcome with emotion, Dempsey retreated to his hotel room in Singapore – but only after putting money on the bar "to shout my boys".
A hotel room also played a part in perhaps his most publicised stand – the no vote in the 2006 World Cup bid.
Holed up in a Singapore [co-incidental] hotel, Dempsey told the Herald "my life has become unbearable" after being offered bribes to vote "one way".
He maintained his decision to abstain was simply because he did not want to make enemies.
No one, surely, would ever accuse Charles John Dempsey of ever wanting to do that.
By Terry Maddaford – NZ Herald