Son of 1990 Scotland Grand Slam hero to represent New Zealand at Tokyo Olympics - at football!

Most British and Irish Lions supporters have had July 24 circled in their diaries for months now because that is the day that Warren Gatland’s men face South Africa in the first rugby union Test match of the summer.

George Stanger in action for New Zealand's U23 side against Australia. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

However, for one former Lions player the date highlighted in his diary is July 22 because that is when his son’s New Zealand football side play their first match at the Tokyo Olympics.

Tony Stanger is synonymous with rugby in Britain having won 52 caps for Scotland between 1989 and 1998, scored a famous try to help the Scots win the Grand Slam in 1990 and having been a late call-up to the Lions tour to South Africa back in 1997.

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However, the 53-year-old is now taking a back seat and it is his middle child George, 20, who is hoping to make headlines with the Kiwis in Japan over the next few weeks.

A moment in Scottish sporting history as Tony Stanger celebrates the 13-7 win over England which clinched the Grand Slam in 1990. Picture: Alan MacDonald

Central defender George – who played for Scotland schoolboys against England in 2017, right – qualifies to play for New Zealand because that is where his mother Bid hails from and the team will play in Group B at the Games alongside the Republic of Korea, Honduras and Romania.

Their campaign gets under way against the Republic of Korea on Thursday (5pm local, 9am UK time) at the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium and Tony, Bid and their other children Rosie and Jack will be tuning in from their home in Dunblane.

“To see how far George has come with his football makes us all very proud,” Tony said this week.

“His mother is super proud that he is representing the country where she grew up and it means that as well as us watching games at some strange times in the coming weeks, there will also be other family members watching at strange times in New Zealand and everyone is going to be glued to the screen wishing George well.

Tony's son George Stanger in action for Hamilton against Motherwell in the Scottish Premiership last season. Picture: Rob Casey/SNS

“There is no doubt that this Olympics will be different than ones that have gone before because of the Covid restrictions and a lack of crowds, but it is still an experience that not many sports men and women get to experience, so for George to be doing it at 20, we just want him to enjoy it as much as possible and return with great memories.

“The men’s football tournament is for under-23s with each squad allowed a few overage players and the New Zealand squad that has been put together is a good one.They have played some warm-up matches out there and it is hot and humid, but we have spoken to George a couple of times and he is loving being in Japan so far.”

So, where did George’s passion for football come from?

“When he was younger I was coaching down at London Irish and he loved any type of sport, he could always be found kicking a rugby ball or football about,” Tony explains about his son who is now on the books at Scottish Championship club Hamilton Accies.

George Stanger played for Scotland schoolboys against their English counterparts in 2017. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

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“We moved back up to Scotland in 2008 and he joined the mini rugby section at Stirling County, but a couple of his friends were playing organised football and he wanted to try it. He did try it at Dunblane Soccer Club and he loved it, so football started to take over from rugby a bit as training and matches were often at the same time.

“George seemed to take to football very naturally and because he was tall he grew to love defending and stopping other people scoring goals. He was then picked up by Dundee United while he was at Dunblane High School and spent time in their Academy system before moving to Stirling Albion.

“He progressed from the Albion under-17s to the first team and he has grown into a ball playing centre half and he has pace and is strong, so that helps him in the modern game.”

By 2019, George was at Hamilton Accies and George Cairns from the club noticed that New Zealand had qualified for the under-20s World Cup in Poland.

“One thing led to another and once New Zealand knew of George’s eligibility they asked him over for a trial to show what he could do,” Tony continues.

“That showed his toughness because he flew over there at his own expense, didn’t know a soul at the camp, but got his head down and worked hard.

“He clearly did well because he was picked for the World Cup and he gelled with the guys right away, they were a great bunch and it was great for some of the family to go to Poland and watch him play.

“They did pretty well in that event, eventually losing out to Columbia in the last 16 on penalties, but the highlight was them beating Norway 2-0 in the group stages and George and his fellow defenders recording a clean sheet against an attack led by Erling Haaland.”

To build up for the Games, New Zealand played two warm-up matches with Australia this week whilst in Japan. They kicked things off in style with a 2-0 win over their old rivals, second half goals from Burnley’s Chris Wood and FC Helsingor’s Eli Just sealing the victory for Danny Hay’s side.

In the second game, New Zealand lost 1-0 to an early Mitch Duke goal.

A tight affair throughout, both teams carved out chances and although the Kiwis could not score, it was a useful run out ahead of the main event.

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