Thursday 02 August 2018, 17:59

Junior Football Ferns refuse to bury heads in sand

  • New Zealand visit Ploemeur beach to pick up rubbish in sand

  • The Junior Football Ferns partnered with organisation called "Hands in the sand"

  • New Zealand's first match at France 2018: v Netherlands on 5 August in Vannes

When the New Zealand U-20 side appeared on Ploemeur beach this morning, heads turned in the direction of the 21 young women kitted out in orange-red and black. What could a team about to compete in the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018 be doing on a Breton beach?

Tourists as well as locals had that question quickly answered the moment they saw the OFC representatives equip themselves with gloves and bin bags, and set about collecting some of the rubbish lying on the sand.

Accompanied by their backroom staff and some young Ploemeur residents, and guided by the non-profit beach-cleaning organisation Les mains dans le sable (“Hands in the sand”), the players spent over an hour picking up bits of paper, fishing lines and other types of waste.

“We’ve got a lot of beaches in New Zealand, so it’s something we’re familiar with,” midfielder Hannah Blake told “We’re pretty excited to be taking part in this activity.”

As far as organisation co-founder Guillaume Durand was concerned, it was a real pleasure to share the experience with an international team. “We heard that the players themselves chose to take part,” he said. “It’s really heartening to see young people who have travelled from the other side of the world try to make themselves useful and do something to help the environment over here.”

Once the beach was returned to a reasonable state, the Junior Football Ferns got a ball out and started to play a little “keepie-uppie”. Encouraged by the cheers of the young locals in attendance, they began demonstrating their best skills and tricks, finishing with a collective head-juggling competition.

“It’s important that the girls get an opportunity to relax,” explained New Zealand coach Gareth Turnbull. “We’re in a bit of a bubble, training for the big challenges ahead, so we jumped at the chance to take a break from the world of football, to stop talking about tactics for a moment and to interact with the locals.”

And when, by the end of the morning, there were smiles on the faces of everyone involved, it became clear that the strategy had been highly successful.

“It’s obviously not going to help us beat the Netherlands in our opening match, but it’s important for our morale and mentality,” continued Turnbull. “We’re always trying to find the right balance, because when the girls train, they tend to be focused and serious. But when we escape from football for a bit, it’s good that they can enjoy themselves.”

While the New Zealand players may not defeat the Netherlands in their first game of France 2018 on Sunday, they will likely always remember the day they did their bit for the environment in Brittany, nearly 20,000 kilometres from home.