Growing up in Ashburton, Paul Ackerley, a right half, learned his hockey in Christchurch where, playing for the University club, he came under the expert eye of coach Cyril Walter.
Ackerley was a late bloomer and an inspiration to the many players in all sports who are unable to make major junior representative teams. Even when he got to Christchurch, he started out in the University club second grade side.
He played for New Zealand over a long period - he was chosen for two Olympic teams, but New Zealand did not compete at Moscow in 1980 because of the American-led boycott. Eventually he earned 25 test caps.
However, there is no doubt what his career highlight was. He was a member of the New Zealand team that shocked the hockey world by winning the Olympic gold medal at Montreal in 1976.
By 1976, there was a vast reservoir of experience in the New Zealand side. Of the team that went to Montreal, Ackerley, Thur Borren, John Christensen and Tony Ineson, besides the Maister brothers, played for the University club.
Besides the core of Christchurch players, others in the team with previous Olympic experience were Alan McIntyre, Trevor Manning, Greg Dayman, Ramesh Patel, Jeff Archibald and Arthur Parkin.
The New Zealanders, coached by Ross Gillespie, caused a shock at Montreal by beating Australia 1-0 to win the gold medal. It was not a triumph easily achieved - they won a thrilling play-off match against Spain 1-0 just to squeeze into the semi-finals.
There they caused an upset by beating the impressive Netherlands side 2-1 in the third period of extra time. The final, a torrid affair, tipped New Zealand’s way when their captain, Ineson, smashed home a penalty corner shortly after halftime.
Initially Ackerley was a teacher. He worked for many years for the Ministry of Education and was then employed by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. He was closely involved with the new college qualifications, the NCEA, before changing employment in 2004 and working for Sparc, part of the organisation’s coach development group.
Ackerley maintained a strong interest in hockey, coaching the New Zealand women’s team for six years, culminating in a sixth placing in the 1998 World Cup and to a Commonwealth Games bronze medal at Kuala Lumpur the same year. He later coached the Wellington women’s team.
He died in Wellington on May 3, 2011, at the age of 61.
The 1976 hockey team was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
Paul's Games History
Olympic Summer Games Montreal 1976