When Charlie Dempsey, a Scotland-born New Zealander met with Australia's Jim Bayutti at the FIFA Congress in 1964, it was clear the future of South Pacific football would only be secured with the creation of a confederation. FIFA's response was encouraging and the Oceania Football Confederation was formed in 1966 and Sir William Walkley of Australia was voted in as President.
Australia, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea were the first members with New Caledonia conferred as associate members due to their status as a French Territory.
The appointment of Dempsey in 1982 as Oceania Football Confederation President heralded a period of sustained growth for the region as American Samoa, Cook Islands, Chinese-Taipei (for six years), Israel (due to the political situation in the Middle East), Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga and Vanuatu joined Oceania's ranks at various stages.
A happy moment
New Zealand's qualification for the 1982 FIFA World Cup in Spain must rank amongst the highlights of the Oceania Football Confederation's history. A 15-match qualification programme that began in the South Pacific against arch-rivals Australia, and concluded on a sweltering hot night in Singapore when John Adshead and Kevin Fallon's All Whites team won a playoff against the might of China 2-1. New Zealand were handed a dream draw against Brazil, Scotland and USSR in the toughest group of the tournament.
Post-1982 domination of the Oceania Football Confederation belonged almost exclusively to Australia. Victories in all categories of football meant Australia enjoyed the lion share of berths at age group, women's and senior men's FIFA tournaments and play-offs. Despite Australia's hegemony of Oceania, overcoming the final hurdle of a play-off spot for the FIFA World Cup proved a source of constant heartbreak with losses to Scotland, Argentina, Iran, and Uruguay.
Placed in that context the euphoria that erupted across Australia when the Socceroos ensured qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup by defeating Uruguay on penalties was understandable. Oceania had waited 24 years for one of its teams to qualify for the gala event.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter launched the Goal programme in Oceania in 1999 and the effect on Member Associations has been profound. The creation of National Training Academies, National Association Headquarters, Regional Technical centres, education centres, grass and artificial playing pitches, stadium renovation and upgrades have taken place throughout American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga and Vanuatu and gives rise to the development of a new generation of talent.
The Goal programme coincided with the opening of the Oceania Football Confederation headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand and the hosting of the 1999 FIFA U-17 Men's World Championship by New Zealand. The game was developing at pace in Oceania and the popularity of football - so often second fiddle to Rugby Union - was on the rise.
Youth and vibrancy
The appointment of Reynald Temarii as President heralded a new era for Oceania. It was the first time a French-speaking president had been appointed and proved to be the sea-change the region needed. Not only was Temarii young and Polynesian, but he was an experienced politician and in tandem with General Secretary, Tai Nicholas, brought a feeling of youthful vibrancy to the role.
Relationships struck up with international groups such as UNESCO, the Secretariat of Pacific Community, the Secretariat of the Pacific Islands Forum, the European Union, the United Nations, FIFA, PNGFA, Federation Tahitienne de Football, French Government, French Polynesia Government and the English FA with a series of national and regional development policies put in place to help foster the development of South Pacific youth to become aware of key social issues and responsibilities using football as a key.
Playing numbers at junior level were on the increase across the South Pacific and New Zealand's position as the "second force" in Oceania was anything but guaranteed. In the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign when Vanuatu thrashed New Zealand 4-2 in the final group stage. The Solomon Islands then fought out a dramatic 2-2 with Australia and clinched the play-off spot from the Kiwis. At U-20 level the Solomon Islands and Fiji handed New Zealand another pair of defeats. Australia had yet to depart Oceania yet the effects of the Goal programme and political stability were being felt.
There were other shifts taking place; Australia's departure had sparked a host of opportunities for other Oceania nations to qualify for FIFA world events. New Zealand Football Championship winners, Auckland City, won the Oceania Football Confederation Club Championship and qualified for the 2006 FIFA Club World Championship in Japan; the Solomon Islands Bilikiki qualified for the 2006 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup and the New Zealand U-20 Women's team qualified for the 2006 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Russia.
The long term future for the Oceania Football Confederation is best summed up by Dempsey himself: "My dream to this day is to see one of the island countries qualify for the FIFA World Cup and become a force in football. I have no doubt this is possible because of the Goal programme and the natural skill of these players as they continue to improve. Football in the region has advanced tremendously over the last few years and I am confident will make further great progress and I feel enormous pride and satisfaction in the knowledge that Oceania Football Confederation will continue to grow and achieve its ambitions."