In an attempt to bring good luck to our rugby team, Calum Henderson spent an entire day in full brand immersion: surviving on and consuming only officially licensed All Blacks’ products.
This post was first published in October 2015
There once was a time when I cared deeply about the All Blacks. I was 10, and every time my parents filled the car up with petrol they would bring back a sturdy plastic figurine of Olo Brown or Frank Bunce or – this was possibly the happiest moment of my childhood – Jeff Wilson. I fell asleep during extra time of the 1995 World Cup final. When I awoke to news that we had lost, something in me died forever.
Over time, a cold indifference towards our national team took hold and embedded itself deep in my psyche. During subsequent World Cups I have even allowed myself to entertain the perverse idea that it would be good or funny if the All Blacks lost.
It never was.
I wanted to regain that pure and essential passion for the fern. The fast track solution seemed obvious – I had to fully immerse myself in the brand. There seemed to be All Blacks everything these days. If you were to believe the naysayers, they had sold out from their rock’n’roll roots; commercialism had gone mad.
I pictured myself living lavishly, diving like Scrooge McDuck into a bottomless pile of food and beverages all proudly emblazoned with the trademarked silver fern logo. I went to the supermarket on my way home from work on Friday and bought every All Blacks branded product I could find. The following day I set out on a courageous journey, to find out what it was like to live as an All Black, and consume only Officially Licensed All Blacks™ products.
Saturday dawned as grey as the All Blacks’ cursed jersey from 2007. It was raining outside, and cold inside. No birds were singing on the trees and power lines of Mt Eden. The first thing I thought when I opened my eyes was: what if we lose the rugby? Restless, I got up and brewed a plunger of ASB Bank’s free ‘ABS Blend’ coffee.
I hadn’t told my girlfriend about my plan. Mostly, I was embarrassed, but part of me also wondered if she would even notice. For all she knew this was just an ordinary Saturday, and I was bringing her coffee in bed out of the kindness of my own heart.
A few minutes later I returned and leaned casually against the door frame. I asked, “what do you think of the coffee?” Good normal conversation starter. A totally innocuous question I probably ask all the time. She thought for a second.
“It smells quite bad but it tastes quite nice. What kind is it?”
“All Blacks,” I beamed.
“Are you serious.”
“It was free, the bank just gave it to me.”
I thought I‘d gotten away with it, but it didn’t last long. A few minutes later I received a breakfast enquiry:
“Do we have any toast?”
“No…” (how is there no All Blacks bread?!)
“What do we have then?”
“Why do we have Weetbix?”
“It’s what the All Blacks eat.”
“Did you actually buy Weetbix.”
“…Did you only buy All Blacks things?”
“Did you buy the milk?”
A long, disapproving silence followed.
“Are you writing a story about this?”
“How much did all this shit cost?”
I hadn’t kept the receipt, but the sum of my All Blacks supermarket shopping spree was around $50. Less than I expected. This is every single All Blacks branded product available at Eden Quarter Countdown on the eve of our national rugby team’s most important game in four years:
– Whittaker’s Peanut Slab (3-pack)
– Anchor Blue Milk (1.5L)
– Weetbix (750g box)
– New Zealand Kettle Korn (1 bag)
– All Blacks Micro-Figures (3)
– Powerade Black Storm (750ml)
– Steinlager All Blacks 2015 Edition Beer (12-pack, cans)
– Treasures All Blacks Rugby Nappy Prints
I didn’t buy the nappies, and I drunk the Powerade in an uncontrollable thirst as soon as I got home from the supermarket. But I had everything else.
I felt deeply and rightfully ashamed of my bad shopping. I decided to cheer myself up by opening my All Blacks micro-figures, “recommended for children 4 years and older.” Secretly, this was a huge thrill. Who would I get? I prayed for Wyatt Crockett.
My first one was Ben Smith. I could tell this only from the ‘B. SMITH’ on the back of his unnumbered All Blacks shirt. The micro-figure’s squashed, cartoonish face and plastic hair could never hope to capture the gentle features of the willowy Otago fullback. It looked more like Beauden Barrett.
My other two were ‘MEALAMU’ and ‘COLES’. Their likenesses were much more accurate, let down only by the white boots they had been given by the manufacturer. Still, it felt good knowing I had so much hooking power to complement my dynamic fullback. It felt I could be holding the keys to the game.
Opening my box of Weetbix, I was heartened to find Sanitarium are still challenging its consumers with the slogan ‘How many can you do?’ As a youngster I always found it massively empowering to know that I could ‘do’ at least as many Weetbix as an All Black, if not more.
I ate as many Weetbix as the bowl could hold. 5 whole biscuits. In sporting terms this would be considered ‘playing within myself’ – I could have eaten many more.
I doused the Weetbix in a thick, paint-like coat of fresh Anchor blue milk. I had chosen a bottle with the number 9 on it in honour of Aaron Smith. I love the way he celebrates a turnover as passionately as a try, that he squats like a weightlifter and screams in a teammate’s face to express his sheer joy at either one of these outcomes. The bottle’s muscular black design seemed, in some abstract way, to embody Aaron Smith’s unique spirit.
Eating my Weetbix – trying to maximise that sweet spot once the milk has absorbed into the biscuits but before they turn to slop – I began to feel dangerously excited for The Big Game.
By lunchtime I had eaten everything except for one Peanut Slab and the bag of New Zealand Kettle Korn. What I thought would prove a feast was fast beginning to feel like the 40 Hour Famine. I grabbed the Kettle Korn and made it my lunch.
“We are incredibly honoured to begin our relationship with NZ Rugby!” gushed the copy on the back of the bag. “This limited edition bag is only the beginning,” it threatened, before wondering: “What does NZ Kettle Korn have in common with the All Blacks?” Very good question. “One word… passion. We are very passionate about all things popcorn.”
I shovelled the whole bag into my mouth while watching highlights of the previous weekend’s quarter final demolition of France, pausing only to rewind and rewatch the most beautiful moment of the All Blacks’ World Cup campaign so far – the moment where Ben Smith leaps to gather a midfield bomb, and causes Justin Marshall to blurt out in a state of pure childlike astonishment: “Wow he got it!”
Warming to – or at least taking pity on – my patriotic quest, my girlfriend suggested going to something called ‘Olaf’s,’ where they had apparently made “special black bread.” This sounded like unofficial, unlicensed, rogue piggybacking on the sacred All Blacks brand. I didn’t want to go to Olaf’s.
I wanted to keep watching All Blacks highlights, to fully immerse myself in New Zealand’s rich and proud rugby culture until I could burst with anticipation for the morning’s game. I also wanted to drink an ice cold Steinlager from a beautiful white can.
I took my box of beers around to my friend Joseph’s house and he plugged his laptop into the TV. We were overwhelmed by choice – hours of highlights and fan videos and rugby ephemera lay before us. Where to start?
A search for “john kirwan” instantly conjured a supercut of the flying winger’s greatest tries, set to Heroes by David Bowie. Incredibly powerful stuff. We watched highlights of the All Blacks’ undefeated 2013 season set to the soundtrack to The Matrix. A black and white Dan Carter video set to Coldplay’s The Scientist, which felt like it was made to be played at his funeral. Incredibly, there was even a video tribute to Richard Loe, set to Bad to the Bone by George Thorogood.
It went on like this for hours. We went provincial: Jeff Wilson’s 11 best tries for Otago, Andrew Mehrtens doing the fingers, Eric Rush flattening Zinzan Brooke off the ball straight from the kickoff. Time dissolved away in the sugary bubbles of Steinlager from a white can. It was a great afternoon.
At one point I requested we watch the video for Can You Hear Us, Neil Finn’s plaintive and ultimately doomed anthem for the All Blacks’ 1999 World Cup campaign. The video shows a family getting up in the middle of the night to cheer on the team, joined by friends – some of them quite famous (April Ieremia!) – who all gather around the CRT television. Right before kick-off, there’s a knock at the door, and the young boy goes to answer it. Standing there are Fitzy, Joe Stanley and John Kirwan. The boy is stunned. It’s some of the best acting you’ll ever see.
Something about this incredibly corny scene caught me off guard. There was a lump in my throat. I was feeling a reemergence of a passion for the All Blacks that had been lying dormant in me since around the 1995 World Cup final. For the first time in decades I desperately wanted us to win. It was becoming all I could think about.
I was getting too rarked up. I needed some fresh air, and after six beers, probably some food. My girlfriend, by this point possibly more enthusiastic about my dumb quest than I was, suggested we go to Wendy’s so I could intrepidly eat their black burger, the ‘Kiwi Classic’. I was reluctant, for the same reasons I had flatly refused to go to Olaf’s earlier in the day. But what other options did I have? A bowl of Weetbix, a litre of milk and a Peanut Slab. We went to Wendy’s.
To put it simply, the Kiwi Classic was a disgrace. It was obvious that it wasn’t an officially licensed product. The black brioche bun was more of a granite grey. The egg was revolting. The lettuce, a joke.
No All Black would ever eat this:
By consuming an unlicensed product I had failed in my attempt to live a day of All Blacks branded purity. Back at home, trying to suppress hideous Kiwi Classic burps, I began to worry – had I cursed Richie and the boys?
My alarm went off at 3:45am. By 3:50am I was boiling the jug and lumping two heaped tablespoons of ABS Blend coffee into the plunger. I had to make amends, to repent, to seek forgiveness from the official sponsors.
I chain-drank a full plunger of ABs Blend coffee during the first half. It was strong and bracing and as black as the abyss the nation would fall into if the All Blacks lost. I remembered 1995 and 1999 and 2003 and 2007. All over New Zealand people were doing the exact same thing. We belonged.
Men who are faced with little immediate inequality or oppression in their lives have been known to fill that void with referees. When Jérôme Garcès sent Jerome Kaino to the sin bin just before halftime for accidentally kicking the ball away or whatever bullshit reason, I hit the roof. We were going to lose.
As halftime was whistled I was still shaking with fury. It was starting to feel just like all those other times we had lost at the World Cup. I got up and brewed a fresh batch of coffee. The front of the milk bottle bore some timely, if not necessarily true advice: “Possession is Everything”. On the back, an ambitious 100-word essay entitled ‘Farming All Blacks’.
Nothing makes a sporting victory sweeter than overcoming the perceived treachery of a crooked ref. When Ma’a Nonu put Beauden Barrett over in the corner, giving the All Blacks a lead they would never surrender, I instinctively leapt from the couch and all my anger and nervous energy was released in the form of a violent, primal dance.
I clutched my Ben Smith micro-figure like a tiny plastic talisman as the All Blacks desperately defended their fragile lead. Was it mere coincidence that he would later be voted the MasterCard Man of the Match?
As the final whistle rang out around Twickenham, most of the All Blacks fell into each other’s arms in joy and relief. Aaron Smith stomped and roared like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I took one final sip of now-cold coffee, clenched my shaking fist and quietly whispered: “yes.”
One more week. One more game.