The opening of the Charles J. Dempsey Youth Academy, at Mt. Smart Stadium on Saturday, December 12, 1998, marked another step towards the true coming-of-age of the Oceania Football Confederation, almost thirty-five years after the idea of an organisation to oversee the growth of soccer in the South Pacific was first mooted.
The discussions which led to what was to become the OFC took place during the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and came about as a result of the Asian Football Confederation's refusal to accept either Australia or New Zealand for membership.
Sid Guppy, then chairman of the New Zealand Football Association, and the Australian Soccer Federation's Jim Bayutti, broached the subject with Sir Stanley Rous, at the time the President of FIFA, world soccer's governing body, who welcomed the idea of a Confederation in this part of the world, and encouraged the trans-Tasman neighbours to set to work on making it a reality.
Thus Bayutti and Charles Dempsey, the man the NZFA approached to work on the project on their behalf, went about the task of doing just that, and at the next FIFA Congress in 1966, their efforts met with the approval of FIFA - the Oceania Football Confederation was a reality at last.
The founding members of the OFC were Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, with provision membership afforded New Caledonia, who were not granted full membership due to not having sporting autonomy from France, a status which remains today.
While Oceania was recognised as a confederation, there was still much work to be done if full confederation status was to be afforded it. The rewards for this would be positions of influence on numerous of FIFA's many committees, including its most powerful arm, the Executive Committee.
That work continued through the late 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s, until in 1990, FIFA upgraded Oceania's status to that of a 'geographical entity', in preparation for a six-year trial period to determine whether the body merited confirmation as a full confederation.
So to 1996, unquestionably the most significant year in the history of the OFC to that point. Thirty years on from initially being accepted as a confederation, FIFA, confident in the viability of the Oceania Football Confederation, put forward a motion to that end at the FIFA Congress in Zurich.
170 countries voted in favour of the move, thus confirming the OFC as a full confederation, with a seat on FIFA's Executive Committee.
Throughout the three decades it took to earn this much-sought-after status, and in the years since gaining it, Charles Dempsey has worked tirelessly for the cause of Oceania.
Following his work with Jim Bayutti in establishing the merits of the Oceania Football Confederation, he was appointed acting secretary in 1970, following the resignation of Oceania's Australian-based President and Secretary, in preparation for Australia's resignation as an OFC member in 1972, in order to pursue membership of the Asian Football Confederation.
Dempsey was confirmed as Secretary in 1972, and held that role for ten years, during which time Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) resigned from the Asian Football Confederation and became members of Oceania for fourteen years (1975-89), Australia rejoined the OFC (1978), and the Solomon Islands gained full membership (1979).
In the years following his election as OFC President in 1982, Dempsey actively encouraged the growth of the game in the islands of the Pacific, and welcomed the affiliation of six more nations to Oceania as a result.
Samoa (1986), Vanuatu (1988), Tahiti (1990), Tonga and the Cook Islands (both 1994) and American Samoa (1998) brought to eleven the number of nations fully affiliated to the Oceania Football Confederation, with New Caledonia following soon afterwards, leaving the Northern Marianas as the last of the provisional members of the youngest of FIFA's football confederations around the globe.
Assisting Dempsey behind the scenes throughout his tenure in administering Oceania's development has been his daughter, Josephine King, who was elected OFC Secretary in 1988, a role she held for a number of years.
On the field, meanwhile, Dempsey's influence has been most evident through the appointment of Kevin Fallon as Oceania's Technical Director of Coaching. His efforts have seen the football standards of the island nations improve drastically over the last decade, a case in point being the improvements made by the Solomon Islands at age-grade levels.
Each country in the confederation now has its own National Technical Director of Football, while FIFA projects such as Goal have also brought about great improvements in the facilities available to the member nations of OFC.
End Of An Era
Dempsey retired from the Presidency in September 2001, following events in the hours leading up to the announcement of Germany as hosts of the 2006 World Cup Finals, and the subsequent media pressure, the intensity of which was such that the issue was one of the leading global news and sports stories of 2001.
After one of the most fiercely contested World Cup hosting campaigns in the game's history, which saw soccer legends such as Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst - on behalf of England - and German pair Franz Beckenbauer and Jurgen Klinsmann visiting New Zealand to press the claims of their respective nations, as well as an impressive delegation from South Africa, such was the intensity of the lobbying in the final hours of the election campaign that Dempsey found himself in a position which prompted him to abstain from the final vote, a straight head-to-head between Germany and South Africa, in the interests of integrity.
The final count was twelve votes to eleven in Germany's favour, out of a total of twenty-four possible votes. An additional vote for South Africa would have seen the votes tied, and the destiny of hosting the 2006 World Cup Finals at the mercy of FIFA President Sepp Blatter's casting vote. This would have seen the most prestigious sporting event in the world being hosted on the African continent for the first time ever, as Blatter had publicly declared his hand.
Dempsey became the most wanted man on earth, as media from all over the globe clamoured for an explanation as to why he chose to abstain. Public opinion had Dempsey painted very much as public enemy number one.
Public opinion is often reactionary and ill-informed, however, due primarily to a lack of knowledge of the full story, including all the behind-the-scenes machinations, because those in positions to present the full facts tend to select only those facts which fit the story they want to make known to the masses.
The opinion-makers got their way on this occasion, as Dempsey retired from the role he held for nineteen years, to be replaced by Australia's Basil Scarsella for the remainder of Dempsey's latest four-year tenure. Scarsella was himself replaced by the current Oceania President, Reynald Temarii, a Tahitian.
For his services to Oceania, the long-time driving force behind the confederation was accorded the title of Honorary President in December 2001, under which he operated in an advisory capacity until his death in June 2008, aged 86.
The Charles J. Dempsey Academy
The Academy was built at a cost of $NZ 1.2m to provide intensive coaching, refereeing and administrative facilities for all eleven countries which make up the Oceania Football Confederation, with a particular focus of building up the standards of youth soccer in the region.
As well as a two-storey building capable of hosting up to twenty-six players, the development will see the pitch formerly known as Mt Smart #4 upgraded to international standard, with floodlighting erected for use by the OFC.
In addition, under the deal brokered with the Auckland Regional Council, the OFC can use the gym facilities at the headquarters of the New Zealand Warriors Rugby League club, and in return other New Zealand sporting bodies, including league, rugby, athletics, netball and cycling, can access the academy four months every year.
The funding for the project came from a soft-loan given by FIFA to Oceania, against the $US 10m the OFC received up to 2002 under the terms of a new billion-dollar World Cup television deal. The interest-free loan was repaid in 2006.