Bobby played more then 40 games for New Zealand from 1978 and was a member of Thistles 1982 national league team.
He was the All Whites vice-captain during the teams history-making campaign to reach the World Cup finals in Spain 1982 . He captained New Zealand in several matches including an international against the League of Ireland at Surrey Park, Invercargill in May 1982.
A shining example of a lad from the minor associations of
New Zealand sport making it to the big time is the legacy left by former Invercargill Thistle and New Zealand soccer player Charlie Steele who passed away on Jan 6th this year.
Born in 1930 Charlie spent his days as a youngster in Stockton on the West Coast of the South Island from where he learned to blend his natural sporting skills with his father’s fine tuned coaching to become a top athlete and footballer.
His father Charles a migrant from Ayrshire in Scotland had excelled at the round ball code representing New Zealand in two games against a Canadian touring team in 1927.
Charlie’s decision to concentrate his talents as a youth to the football field had spin offs for both rugby union and football (soccer) on the West Coast.
His Saturdays were spent playing club and provincial rugby on both sides of the great divide for his Stockton club and as a Buller representative while on Sundays it was soccer that drew his attention inevitably gaining selection in the Westland team involving more trips across the mountainous divide.
His rugby prowess was rewarded with selection at centre three quarter for Buller against the 1950 touring British Lions. He marked Dr J Matthews a star of the Lions tour that year in a 24-9 loss to the visitors that is rated one of Buller’s best performances against a touring team.
His sojourns to Christchurch were not without fulfilment though as he enjoyed the hospitality at the Excelsior Hotel and began courting the landlord’s daughter Beverley whom he eventually married.
The exchange of inter provincial sporting fixtures led to games against the Southland soccer team both in Westport and Invercargill where Southland’s “Mr Soccer” Larry O’Rorke spotted Charlie’s talent and offered him a chance to move away from the West Coast mines to a job with the carpentry division of the Invercargill City council. The offer was accepted and Charlie continued his life and sporting career in Invercargill where both sports were played on Saturdays and where he proudly wore the Stewart tartan strip of Thistle.
Chosen for South Island teams to play the North in 1953 and 54 Charlie’s performances gained him selection in the New Zealand team for a 12 game tour to Australia in 1954.
When Charlie made his New Zealand debut it was the first time a father and son had worn the National colours.
He played 10 of the 12 games and his crowning glory was described thus in a newspaper report on the1st test played before a packed house at the Melbourne showground.
“New Zealand made a sensational start scoring twice inside the first seven minutes. King rose high to head in a Steele corner kick. That goal coming after five minutes and two minutes later Steele himself netted. Australia’s only goal came 15 mins from full time.”
Charlie was accompanied on this tour by Invercargill Brigadiers mid-fielder Bob Morrison.
In subsequent years he toured to New Caledonia and Tahiti and played numerous home games for New Zealand.
His time in Invercargill was punctuated by a two year stint in Christchurch where he was lured north by the ambitious Western club that was setting the pace in local competition. A personal ambition to win a prestigious Chatham Cup final medal was never fulfilled by Charlie although he did play in South-Island finals with Western and later in two with Thistle.
Back in Invercargill he found time to coach Thistle junior teams, a Marist girl’s team and of course was a star player in a very good Thistle men’s team. Although it was matched most of the time by an equally good Brigadiers unit.
These were halcyon days for Southland soccer as games between the foes drew hundreds of people to the sidelines.
Charlie took on the role of player-coach at the Thistle club when incumbent Doug Ottley became coach of the newly formed Invercargill City composite team. His (Charlie’s) coaching career was short in time but strong on success as he led the Thistle team in 1969 to the treble of Senior and Second grade titles and the South Island Chatham cup final against New Brighton for which it earned the Churchill rose-bowl.
He continued to play an active role in soccer until the age of 43.
Not one to give up on activity easily, Charlie was enticed to take up lawn bowling by his uncle Brian Lavery and joined the Waverley club. Apart from a time when he was caring for his wife Beverley through her illness he was a thirty eight year club member.
As well as being a more than capable bowler he willingly offered assistance with jobs around the club from greenkeeper assistant to maintenance handy man to running a winter indoor tournament at the clubrooms.
During his time there he won the club novice singles title, champion pairs with Brian Lavery, champion triples with Doug Muirhead and Bob Swinney and champion fours with Norm O’Grady, Jack Plunket and Bob Swinney.
A close friend described Charlie’s interaction with people as having dazzled them with his skills, enlightened them with his wisdom and entertained them with his humour, and that about sums up the character that was Charlie Steele.
Charlie Steele played in 23 football games for New Zealand (15 while with Thistle and 8 with Western), scoring 12 goals, South Island 6 – 3 goals, South Island minor association selection 1, Buller 7 – 4 goals, Canterbury 21 – 17 goals and Southland 24 – 19 goals.
His wife Bev passed away in May 2003,
Debbie was the first women Southlander to play for the New Zealands womens team she played against Australia in Auckland and was a member of the team which finished runner up at the World Invitation Womens Tournment in Taiwan in 1981. Debbie is the daughter of two life members the late Doug and Esme Ottley She is married to Chris Mathieson a former Senior Mens Captain and to the best of our knowledge she is still the only Southland women to play for our country at soccer.