West Ham United's Football United Tour is a big deal to Wellington Phoenix.

The visit of the Hammers, Newcastle United and Sydney FC to New Zealand was the brainchild of the A-League club, who will face Sam Allardyce's side at Eden Park in Auckland on Wednesday evening.

While both clubs are still in pre-season, Phoenix head coach Ernie Merrick says the Football United Tour has caught the imagination of his players, staff and the general public alike.


"I'm looking forward to it, the players are certainly looking forward to it and it has created a huge buzz around the whole of New Zealand," said Merrick, who visited Chadwell Heath earlier this year. It's great to see so many fans come out to see us.

"This has never been done before in Australia and New Zealand, having two English Premier League sides visiting the country at the same time. This is first-class and we'll be making the most of it and hopefully we can put on a show for the fans.

"First and foremost this is about our preparation in pre-season. In the A-League the pre-season is a prolonged period, so we really need to utilise the time well and play games regionally and against Australian sides. To play two Premier League sides is a huge boost for us and it will give our boys a chance to play against the players they have only seen on television."

Merrick said the Football United Tour, which is being broadcast in more than 20 countries worldwide, would offer the opportunity for his players to catch the attention of European clubs.

"This is going to be broadcast on television, so it will be seen in Europe as well and I have no doubt that some of our young players will want to be spotted. I don't think it's a bad thing for them to have that ambition and we have some technically very good youngsters here.

"It will be very competitive. There is no doubt that Kiwi boys are very competitive, but they'll want to play good football too. This isn't about rough and tough or about defending - it's about trying to play a style that entertains the fans.

"The result is important, but performance is very important for us at this stage as well."

Ticket sales for Wednesday's fixture and Saturday's double-header at Westpac Stadium in Wellington, where West Ham will face Sydney FC and the Phoenix will host Newcastle, have been very strong.

A 20,000-strong crowd is expected at Eden Park, while a sell-out 34,500 will attend at Westpac - outstanding figures in a country more commonly associated with rugby union.

"Ticket sales have been terrific, thanks in part to the promotion done by West Ham and Newcastle and the fact they have brought all their players," Merrick confirmed. "On the back of the World Cup, this really promotes the game in our country."

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

Related stories

Football United Tour - Supporters' Guide

Opposition File - Wellington Phoenix

Football United Tour