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2014-07-29T11:00:00 Updated 2015-02-18T21:28:29

'We all follow the West Ham'

Not even a speeding ticket could dampen Kevin Best's enthusiasm for West Ham United's pre-season Football United Tour to New Zealand.

A lifelong Hammer who emigrated to the other side of the world in 1974, Kevin could not believe his luck when he learnt that his beloved team were coming to visit.

Son Alex has also caught the Claret and Blue bug and was even featured on the front page of the local newspaper, the Taranaki Daily News, pictured in his West Ham kit in his West Ham-themed bedroom!

The pair drove through the night from their home in the picturesque coastal town of New Plymouth to watch the Hammers in training at North Harbour Stadium, during which Kevin unfortunately collected a speeding fine.

"We drove up and it took five hours, but even that was a little bit shorter than it could have been, according to the policeman who stopped us on the way up!" said Kevin, with a smile. "It was worth it, though.

"Mum and Dad brought us two kids out here back in '74, which was a big call back then because we had no other family here. We settled in a place halfway between Auckland and Wellington called New Plymouth, which is a lovely spot.

"It's a great place to bring up the kids and I'm far from being the only West Ham fan in town! You will be staggered to learn that there is a group of us who watch the games and cheer the team on from afar.

"We love the passion of the team and the fans and we're just as passionate."

Alex West Winston Reid
Alex Best with New Zealand All Whites captain Winston Reid

Kevin has been a West Ham supporter for as long as he can remember, having been born in London in the same year that Alan Sealey fired the club to European Cup Winners' Cup glory.

"I was born in 1965, which was a good time to be a Hammers fan. As I grew up I guess the football they played and the fact they have an Academy and bring players through just personified what I love about football, as did the colours!

"I lived in west London, so I just don't know why I'm a Hammer. I didn't pick the team, they picked me!

"We suffer as much as any other place with people who want to support the winners, so it's nice to be with a club which just stands for football."

For Kevin, the experience of watching West Ham face Wellington Phoenix in Auckland and Sydney FC in Wellington was the first time he had seen his team play live since the 2006 FA Cup final.

"That's the only time ever in my life. As soon as they reached the final I bought a flight on the hope that I could get a match ticket and I was lucky that I went to the last game of the season and managed to get one there

"If you remember, that was the Tottenham game when they all got food poisoning, so I'd travelled 12,000 miles and there was doubt over the game going ahead - I was crying, but I enjoyed that game in the end, but unfortunately we didn't win the cup final!"

Alex West Adrian
Young Alex enjoyed meeting his Hammers heroes

Fast forward eight years and Kevin was able to share his love for West Ham with son Alex, whose absence from school could not be kept a secret!

"We loved going to see the guys train, then we drove back to New Plymouth and picked up the whole family, including the grandparents, and drove down to Wellington for the game.

"We weren't going to tell the school that I was taking Alex out to see the players, but then it appeared on the front page of the local paper, so we're expecting a call from the school now!"

For Alex himself, the detentions and extra homework will be worth it.

"Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure this is real, because I never thought I'd get to meet the team in real life," said the teenager, who took selfies with manager Sam Allardyce, fellow Kiwi Winston Reid and a host of other players.

"Dad has always promised that if we made the FA Cup final again, we'd go back, but now they've been here and it's amazing.

"He told me about West Ham when I was younger and I like the way the Club works, bringing our own players through.

"This is the best day of my life, definitely."

So, what will West Ham's visit and the Football United Tour do for the Hammers' profile across New Zealand and across the Oceania region?

"It's going to give people like me every reason in the world to say 'See, this is why we support this club'," said Kevin.

"I know Tottenham and Chelsea supporters who went down to the watch the games because they were grateful that West Ham had bothered to come to New Zealand. I think the spin-off here is going to be huge."

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