Wellington Phoenix head coach Ernie Merrick is relishing the visit of West Ham United to New Zealand.

The Hammers take on the Phoenix in Auckland as part of their two-match Football United Tour of the country on 23 July before tackling Sydney FC in Wellington three days later.

As part of his preparations for West Ham's visit, Merrick visited Chadwell Heath in the closing weeks of the 2013/14 season before watching the Hammers register a 2-0 Barclays Premier League victory over Tottenham Hotspur at the Boleyn Ground.

Originally from Scotland, the former Melbourne Victory and Hong Kong coach enjoyed getting up close to Sam Allardyce and his squad in their working environment.


"My visit was about professional development and, since your boys are coming over to play against us, I thought it would be great to make contact and have a look at your pre-match preparations, game analysis and the final coaching session before a match," the 61-year-old told West Ham TV.

"I really learned a lot, actually. It's been a real insight into life at English Premier League level."

While Merrick enjoyed watching Big Sam and his staff in action, he is a successful coach in his own right, having won the A-League twice with Melbourne Victory and been named A-League Coach of the Year on two occasions.

Now preparing for his second season with the Phoenix, Merrick lifted the lid on his nomadic career path.

"I was a very average footballer who went over to Australia in the 1970s and never came back," he revealed. "I've lived over there for quite a while and more recently I moved over to New Zealand to coach the Wellington Phoenix, where I have been for about ten months.

"I'm looking forward to my second season there and I'm a big believer in pre-season preparation and conditioning and setting the team strategy-wise for matches, so to play a team like West Ham is tremendous preparation for us."

Wellington did not enjoy great success in 2013/14, finishing second bottom of the A-League standings, but Merrick is hopeful of better performances and results when the new campaign kicks-off in October.

"We didn't do very well last season. We turned over half the squad, but we showed signs of what we are capable of during the middle of the season, when we had a very good run, but we finished second bottom. We hope to improve on that in a big way next year.

"There is a lot of newness about the Phoenix - we have new owners, have turned over more than half of the squad and have a lot of new staff along the lines of improving our coaching, analysis and strength and conditioning.

"We will play a more possession-based, attacking style of football so it will take a little time to come together, but there are signs next year will be much better for us."

West Ham's visit is just part of a four-month long pre-season schedule for the Phoenix which will also include a fixture with Barclays Premier League side Newcastle United.

Merrick's side face the Hammers at Eden Park in Auckland on Wednesday 23 July and it is a date that the Scot and football fans in New Zealand are really looking forward to.

"It's a good squad to bring over and I think you'll pull in the big crowds in New Zealand. I'm sure the fans are looking forward to seeing a team like West Ham touring. A Premier League side has never visited New Zealand before to play matches there and now we have two coming in yourselves and Newcastle.

"Football is a game that is growing in New Zealand and Wellington Phoenix are the only club playing in the A-League, so the sport and the club are extremely popular now."


Football United Tour

Wellington Phoenix v West Ham United
Wednesday 23 July 2014, 7.30pm (local time)
Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand

Sydney FC v West Ham United
Saturday 26 July 2014, 2pm (local time)
Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand

Football United Tour