For ninety minutes in October, New Zealand and Australia’s best footballers will compete to take home a box of century-old cigar ashes with an enthralling story behind it. Gallipoli, a soccer-civil war, and a vanishing act all play a part in the story of the Soccer Ashes Trophy.
Back in 1923, the Kiwis defeated the Aussies in a three-match series. Australia won game one, and New Zealand the next two. After game two, the captains Alex Gibb (Australia) and George Campbell (NZ) smoked cigars together.
Harry Mayer, New Zealand’s manager, had the idea to take the ashes made from the sucking of the cylinders of tobacco and award them to the winner of the current and any future series between the Trans-Tasman brother nations.
To store the ashes, Queensland Football Association secretary and former member of the Australian Imperial Forces William Fisher fished out his old razor box, one that he used when fighting at Gallipoli during World War I. Fisher was one of the first men to storm Anzac Cove.
Mayer took this razor box of ashes home once New Zealand won the series and encased it in wood from both countries - New Zealand honeysuckle and Australian Maple. Decorating the wooden exterior is a silver soccer ball, a silver kangaroo and a silver fern.
Thus, the football equivalent of the Bledisloe Cup was born: The Soccer Ashes.
In 1957, clubs in New South Wales disbanded from the Australian Soccer Football Association (ASFA), the reigning football body of the country. In 1960, FIFA suspended ASFA. Obviously, this hullabaloo meant international fixtures weren’t a priority, including games vs little old New Zealand. The Soccer Ashes were no longer up for grabs.
Australia created a new governing football body a year later, one that probably didn’t give two shits about trophies the old ruling entity held dear, as NZ Football historian Barry Smith told Stuff in 2015.
The Soccer Ashes is one of those trophies and they really did not give a shit about it. It was not seen for 69 years after Australia won that 1954 series, nearly forgotten to history if not for the efforts of a trying few.
Nearly seven decades after it was last seen, however, the Soccer Ashes trophy was found exactly 100 years after its creation.
In 2023, a granddaughter of an Australian footballer stumbled upon the box (still in pristine condition) that was carried on Anzac Cove, traded between duelling nations for decades, and vanished because of football politics. It would be awesome if it was found in a dusty corner of an ancient equipment shed in a tucked-away makeshift football field in the outback, but it was just stored with a bunch of other old shit.
On October 17th the All Whites will take on the Socceroos in London (missed opportunity for a local game but that's neither here nor there), with the winner taking home that once-lost and nearly forgotten trophy.
Within it, there are still the remnants of century-old cigars shared by two men, both long gone, that took to the football field and competed against each other in the name of their homeland.
Find me a cooler sports trophy than that. Fellas 100 years ago being fellas, smoking cigars whose ruins were stored in a box that was on the most relevant battlefield in New Zealand's history, and forgotten in the midst of Aussies piping up at each other.
If we really do give a shit about our sporting history, that's got to mean something more than a golden soccer ball or some cup we only hear about if we win it.