The link between Old Boys AFC and Tony Laker goes back a long way and last week the club’s Donald Gray team visited Tony at his House Of Travel Lakers premises in Invercargill to confirm that the team will carry House Of Travel Lakers branding for a second season at no charge to the business.
“It was the right thing to do,” says Scott MacKenzie, coach of the team. “House Of Travel Lakers has been the team sponsor for many years and the owner/operator of the business Tony Laker has been a long time player and supporter of the club. When times were good for his business Lakers was a very good sponsor for us. With Covid 19 and the world travel slow down, this has impacted significantly on his business, him personally and his family.”
“As a gesture to Tony and Lakers our club both last year and this year has continued to carry his sponsorship through the Donald Gray team without cost, as an acknowledgement of his past support to us,” says MacKenzie.
Tony and his wife Tracey, started their business, House of Travel Lakers 22 years ago ‘‘from scratch’’, building it into one of the largest travel agencies in New Zealand. In 2019 they were voted the best large House Of Travel office in New Zealand and also won the award for the best retail travel agency in New Zealand from over 400 offices at the 2019 National Travel Industry Awards. Tony also received a lifetime achievement award at that time, one of only six, which recognised an individual for their outstanding leadership and contribution to the New Zealand travel industry.
Then came Covid-19 and border closures and a business that was all about international travel went from 25 staff and an impressive annual turnover to 8 staff and zero turnover. The Gore office closed and Tony estimates it will take 5 years to get back to where they were.
“We had to cut all our sponsorships and then Scotty called and said the Donald Gray team were going to carry on our naming rights sponsorship without charge. I had sponsored Old Boys from day one in my business and they will be the first one back again. I am looking forward to getting back down to the club,” says Tony.
Tony started playing for Old Boys as a 16-year-old in the youth team and finished twenty-four years later in the Masters team at the age of 40.
I stopped when someone told me ‘‘watching me change direction was like trying to turn the Titanic’’ he joked.
Tony’s football career at the club coincided with a spell in the Southern League for seven or eight years “We had to play Green Island home and away to get there. At Surrey Park we drew nil all although they hit the post about a dozen times. Then we went up there and beat them 1-0. One of those years we finished second in the league.”
Addressing the current senior team Tony said, “representing the first team was a pretty special thing.”
Scott also acknowledged it had been a difficult year for Tony and his family, not just professionally, but personally as well.
Two months after the Covid-19 lockdown, Tony said he went to his doctor and a blood test showed a rare form of liver cancer. Tony remains positive. ‘‘I will beat it. ‘‘I hated getting second when I played soccer.’’
After four operations and chemotherapy, Tony said his latest results had shown the cancer had decreased, surprising the doctors and professionals. “I’m here to make sure our business and my health recovers.”
House of Travel Lakers had reinvented itself over the last twelve months, changing from international to domestic holidays and tours, however with the Trans-Tasman bubble now open, and the Pacific Islands looking encouraging they are back again booking Southlanders overseas.
”With the complexity of even Australian travel now, it’s really important that people book with experts who will also be there to assist if anything unexpected should happen while they are away.”
The teams season kicks off locally on 10 April and Laker says he is looking forward to being back on the sideline.