All Whites legend Steve Sumner was never one to shirk a challenge on the pitch and he is taking the same approach to his battle with prostate cancer, which will be in the spotlight this weekend as New Zealand Football urges teams all over the country to ‘Play It For Steve’.
The campaign serves to pay tribute to the remarkable career of the 1982 World Cup squad captain and his contribution to football in this country, as well as to raise awareness of prostate cancer and encourage men to get regular check-ups.
It has the support of Steve and his family, independent supporters group Friends of Football and the Prostate Cancer Foundation, whose own Blue September awareness campaign kicks off just after the ‘Play It For Steve’ weekend. The Centre Circle, a former players’ organisation which raises money for football development, has also come to the party by generously donating equipment worth nearly $20,000 to 23 junior clubs throughout the Canterbury region.
The main event of ‘Play It for Steve’ will be the renaming of a stand in his honour at English Park in Christchurch – the scene of many triumphs during his time as a player – by the Mainland Football Federation on Saturday.
New Zealand Football has also encouraged all clubs to dedicate their matches this weekend to Steve and the wider fight against prostate cancer via their after-match speeches and PA announcements.
The man himself, who played 105 times for the All Whites and scored 27 goals, feels humbled and privileged to be at the centre of such a campaign and is pleased to be able to use his standing in the game to spread awareness of prostate cancer.
“It’s an honour for my family and I to be the focus of this weekend,” he says.
“Being able to tie it in with Blue September is an added bonus, especially on semi-finals weekend of the Chatham Cup and Women’s Knockout Cup. For me now, I feel I’m not losing any dignity bringing awareness about prostate cancer – in fact, I gain strength from making men aware.”
New Zealand Football CEO Andy Martin is delighted to support such a worthy cause while also paying tribute to the exploits of one of this country’s favourite footballing sons.
“Steve Sumner is a legend of our game and will be forever associated with one of our most successful periods after leading the 1982 team to the World Cup – our first-ever appearance on the biggest stage,” Martin says.
“He has made a massive contribution to football in New Zealand and served as an inspiration to many involved in the game. His battle against prostate cancer is proving just as inspirational and we are pleased to get behind his bid to use his situation to encourage other men to look after their health.”
Prostate Cancer Foundation CEO Graeme Woodside is equally in awe at the strength of Steve’s character and says the organisation is honoured to be involved in the ‘Play It For Steve’ weekend.
“Steve is an absolute fighter,” he says.
“From the time he was diagnosed, he has faced this disease as he would have faced the most intimidating opposition on the football pitch. I admire his courage and tenacity in dealing with his prostate cancer, which is incredibly inspiring to many men facing the same challenge,” he adds.
“The foundation congratulates Steve on the recognition being given to him by the naming of the grandstand at English Park in his honour. We are delighted for him that he is able to share this with his family, friends, former team mates and the wider football community.”
This weekend is an opportune time to celebrate Steve’s career as members of his family have travelled from overseas to be in Christchurch for the occasion while the semi-finals of the Chatham Cup – a competition he won six times and is very close to his heart – and the Women’s Knockout Cup are also taking place.
“The Chatham Cup was the most enjoyable domestic trophy to play in,” he says.
“It’s the knockout aspect of cup matches – that do-or-die scenario, win or lose on the day – that makes every game special. The added bonus is that you get to travel and play teams you sometimes wouldn’t.”
Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in New Zealand men with one in 10 Kiwi males developing the disease in their lifetime. Around 3000 men are diagnosed every year and about 600 die from it – the same number as women who die from breast cancer.
Early detection saves lives and a PSA blood test is all it takes to start the checking process. Men between 50 and 70 should consider an annual prostate check that includes both a PSA blood test and a digital rectal examination. Men over the age of 40 are strongly recommended to have regular prostate checks if there is a family history of prostate cancer.
Blue September is the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s annual awareness and fundraising month. The message is for men to get checked and this year people are encouraged to ‘Face Your Fear for Blue September’.
You can show your support by making a donation and wearing a blue ribbon, to donate please visit prostate.org.nz
Photo: Shane Wenzlick | phototek.co.nz