Football: All Whites legend, World Cup hero Grant Turner dies of cancer, aged 64

All Whites legend and World Cup hero Grant Turner has died of cancer, aged 64.

Known for his physicality, the midfielder debuted for New Zealand against Mexico in 1980 and played 71 times for his country, including 42 tests.

Turner was best known for his part in the famous 1982 World Cup qualifying campaign, which saw the national team play 15 games across Oceania, Asia and the Middle East to nail down their first spot at the prestigious football showpiece in Spain.

He scored in their 2-0 victory over Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground, another goal against Indonesia in front of 95,000 home fans at Jakarta and again in a draw with Australia at Mt Smart Stadium.

Turner's robust style proved a perfect foil to that of strikers Brian Turner and Steve Woodin in front of goal, but he never got to play in Spain, after suffering an ankle injury before the World Cup began.

"I was given the role as an enforcer, as well as getting forward," Turner told NZME. "I was able to play a bit as well, but I didn't pull out of any tackles either.

"People see me as that hard man, which is frustrating. I was given a job, I was damn good at it." 

He played for the All Whites until 1988, when he suffered a heavy concussion against Israel. His physicality took a heavy toll on his body, which required two knee replacements and a painful shoulder reconstruction, after several dislocations.

Grant Turner and assistant coach Kevin Fallon at a 1982 All Whites reunion
Grant Turner and assistant coach Kevin Fallon at a 1982 All Whites reunion. Photo credit: Photosport

Then in remission, Turner revealed his cancer battle to NZME two years, after a small lump emerged from his shoulder surgery.

"I didn't think anything of it, neither did the medical people," he said. "There is a chance it can come back.

"I have an uncomfortable arm, but I am healthy and hopefully it stays away. It certainly brings a whole lot of things into perspective."