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25 Years of Fans: Kurt Thomas (Highlanders)

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Growing up in Wainuiomata, Kurt was die-hard Hurricanes fan who attended every game in the early years of Super Rugby and rated his favourite players as Christian Cullen, Jon Preston and Tana Umaga.

“The Hurricanes had a pretty star-studded backline in those days and it was always great watching them with a big crowd at Athletic Park,” Kurt said.

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While today’s fans can catch a train to Wellington Station and enjoy a short walk to Westpac Stadium, Kurt’s journey was only just beginning at the train station back then.

“We would get the train from the Hutt and walk all the way to Athletic Park in Newtown,” Kurt said. “It was a decent stroll so we would stop for cheeseburgers across from the Basin Reserve to fuel up for the rest of the walk”

Once inside Athletic Park, Kurt and his mates would make a beeline for one spot.

“We used to try and get the seats up the very top of the Millard stand. There were four seats right up the back that were covered under a little commentary box. We would get there first and sit under that so we wouldn’t get soaked when it was raining.”

Although protection from the elements was important, the view from up the top was even better says Kurt.

“It was an amazing view up there. Interestingly, it is like being at the North Stand at Forsyth Barr Stadium. It was so steep you could look right down on what was happening and see plays unfolding before you could at ground level.”

In 2000, Kurt went to study physiotherapy at Otago University and began attending games at Carisbrook.

“I would always go supporting the Highlanders unless they were playing the Hurricanes,” Kurt said.

“I had the Speights overalls, painted face and bright wig – I was the stereotypical scarfie fan. Except when we were playing the Hurricanes. Then I would have my Hurricanes jersey and create some good banter with the crowd.”

After many great years on the Terraces at Carisbrook supporting both the Highlanders and Hurricanes, something changed for Kurt in 2004.

“I came up to Wellington for my final year of Physio school. I went to watch the Hurricanes play the Highlanders at Westpac Stadium and found myself wanting the Highlanders to score. So that what is it. I was a fully-fledged part of the Landers Army.”

Now, after almost 20 years in Dunedin, Kurt has children of his own that he takes along to Forsyth Barr Stadium to support the Highlanders.

“The kids get really excited about heading along. They’ve got a very cool ‘take your kids’ section at Forsyth Barr Stadium with dancers, mascots, giveaways and face-painting. They throw things into the crowd at halftime and there is a chance for photos and autographs at the end with their favourite players.”

Kurt believes the change in kick off times for Super Rugby from 7.35pm to 7.05pm will make a big impact on bringing families along to the rugby.

“I took the two boys last year and they were getting a bit tired by the end of the game so I think 7pm kick offs will make a big difference.”

Looking back on his favourite memories of supporting the Highlanders, nothing tops the 2015 final against the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium for Kurt.

“We arrived in Wellington with two hours to spare to kick off and my Dad, who is a staunch Hurricances supporter, picked us up.

“We joined the Landers Army for the walk from Thorndon to the Stadium and then enjoyed plenty of banter from the crowd during the match as we were the only Highlanders fans in our section.

“What was really cool was the reaction of Hurricanes fans after the match. People were coming up to us throughout the night and congratulating us for the win like we were their team,” Kurt said.

Looking ahead to the 25th season of Super Rugby in 2020, Kurt is optimistic the Highlanders can fire despite losing a large block of experienced players.

“We have a great young pivot in Josh Ioane who has had a taste of the All Blacks. We look good in the outside space with plenty of young sevens stars, and the midfield is strong with Rob Thompson and Tei Walden.”

With the future looking bright for the Highlanders, Kurt says there is no other team he would rather support in Super Rugby.

“I’m always going to back the Highlanders. Win or lose I’m backing them to the final whistle, every time.”