By Turei Mackey
Commercial lawyer Mark Aspden has been asked, figuratively speaking, to put on the captain’s armband in an important year for the sport of football.
The national men’s team, known commonly as the All Whites, will be playing for a spot in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in November 2013 against a yet to be confirmed opponent. (They will play the fourth-placed team in the North/Central America Federation, currently Honduras).
Meanwhile Mr Aspden has taken the role as interim chief executive of the sport’s governing body after Grant McKavanagh resigned from the chief executive position in July 2013.
The Harrison Stone partner has been serving on the New Zealand Football board since 2008 and before that was a board member and subsequently chairman of the Auckland Football Federation from 2003 to 2008.
“With having a commercial law background, something which often stands out as being a career path is sitting on various boards. So when the Auckland Football Federation board opportunity came up, which was in a sport I’m keen on and have played since I was a kid, I was interested as it was an area where I felt I could help more due to my legal skills,” Mr Aspden says.
“Being CEO wasn’t something that had been in my mind at all really, but when the New Zealand Football board sat down and thought about it we realised it was not easy to find someone who had a background in this area and was available to help out on a short term basis.
“I’ve been involved in the organisation and in football for over a decade so I know a lot of the staff, business and key stakeholders involved with New Zealand Football.”
It is a different direction for Mr Aspden from his usual work at Harrison Stone law firm. While New Zealand Football is the national organisation for the sport in this country, it is reliant on a strong volunteer and grass-roots base.
“I think it is always important to remember that while national teams get the media profile, for 98% of those in football their main interest is making sure they have got a field to play on Saturday and opposition to play against.
“People discuss whether sports are a business. Sports are simply sports although there are business and legal principles you need to apply a lot of the time, but you always have to keep in mind that most of the people involved are volunteers. So it is not a chain of command system. We have to work hard to keep everyone interested and wanting to be involved in the game.”
Mr Aspden grew up in North Otago near the town of Kurow, “probably known best for the fact that Richie McCaw grew up there”. He played for North Otago and for Otago University while studying there and these days enjoys the game as coach of his young son’s club football team.
“The three things I tell them are try to win because that’s what you do in sport, show sportsmanship and of course have fun. All three are as important as the other. I think team sports really give good lessons in life: relying on other people, them relying on you and the pleasure of shared success.”
This article was first published in LawTalk 826, 30 August 2013, page 8.