West Ham United's first Open Training session in New Zealand proved a huge success as fans flocked to North Harbour Stadium.

Supporters from all over the world - including the Auckland-based great, great, great grandson of the Club's founder Arnold Hills - watched the Hammers be put through their paces before taking the opportunity to meet their heroes.

While the squad went through a series of drills, the fans showed their support by cheering loudly and singing a stirring rendition of 'Bubbles', which was greatly appreciated by Joint-Chairman David Gold, manager Sam Allardyce and his staff and players.

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For many of the several hundred in attendance, the Open Training session represented a unique opportunity to see a Barclays Premier League in the flesh, while for others it formed the first part of their once-in-a-lifetime trip to the other side of the world.

Kiwi Gerald Smith may have lived in New Zealand for his entire life, but his family history records that he is the great, great, great grandson of the founder of the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company and its football team, Arnold Hills.

Gerald Smith
Gerald Smith is a descendant of Hammers founder Arnold Hills

"I've lived in New Zealand all my life but my parents are English and on my mother's side, she was a Warner and one of my cousins was a director of West Ham United until the 2000s," said Smith, who was joined at North Harbour by wife Tresna, son Timothy and daughter Lucy.

"My mother's mother was a Hills and her grandfather was Arnold Hills, the founder of the Club and also the founder of the Thames Ironworks. I'm definitely a fan because of my family links, but Wednesday [versus Wellington Phoenix in Auckland] will be the first time I've actually been to a West Ham game.

"When we won the FA Cup in 1980, my cousins sent me postcards and scarves, so this is really just re-establishing my association with the Club. The associations I've heard of him through the family are strong. My grandmother was a vegetarian and that's because he was a vegetarian, too.

"I've visited my family in London a few times, but I've never actually been to the West Ham stadium, so we'll definitely all come over soon to watch a game."

Open Training
The session took place at the modern North Harbour Stadium

Following the successful session, the squad happily signed autographs and posed for photographs, while six players - Adrian, James Tomkins, Guy Demel, Mo Diame, Mauro Zarate and Cheikhou Kouyate - remained on the pitch to take part in a community football session with local youngsters.

The community session was organised by the Wellington Phoenix in partnership with their sponsors Huawei, the Chinese networking and telecommunications company.

Huawei's director of public affairs Andrew Bowater said everyone connected with the company in New Zealand had been looking forward to West Ham's visit.

"We've got our partnership with the Wellington Phoenix here in New Zealand and, as part of that, we like to get our community involvement going," he explained. "So, as soon as we heard West Ham were coming down, we were keen to build on that connection through the games with Premier League clubs which are going on here.

"As much as possible, we try to link the Phoenix with their fans, so the community programme is very important to us. We want to bring fans closer to the game.

Huawei
Six players took part in a Huawei community event

"One thing about New Zealand is that people generally think of rugby, but football is the sport most kids play at weekends. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the excitement around seeing the kids playing football with Premier League players is great for us.

"New Zealand has strong connections with West Ham and those will only go stronger through events like this one."

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

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