West Ham United may have endured a torrid time on the pitch during their time in New Zealand for the Football United Tour, but the country itself has left a lasting impression on the team.
Thrills and spills
From experiencing thrills in Auckland - New Zealand’s largest city - to enjoying the creative side of Wellington, dubbed the ‘coolest little capital in the world’, West Ham seem to have taken New Zealand into their hearts.
The country has also made a big impression on manager Sam Allardyce, who despite being disappointed by his team’s performance on the pitch, heaped praise on the welcoming nature of New Zealanders.
"We thank everybody for having us here. We’ve had a fantastic time where we’ve been well looked after and have been treated very well," the manager said after West Ham’s disappointing 3-1 loss to Sydney FC at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium on Saturday (26.07.14).
During their nine-day tour of New Zealand, West Ham have experienced the warm and friendly nature of the people - most poignantly during a traditional Māori welcome, or pōwhiri, as they arrived at their Auckland hotel.
Whilst in Auckland they made a trip up the iconic Auckland Sky Tower where team members Danny Whitehead and Sam Howes braved the exhilarating Sky Walk, 103 metres above the city.
As in Auckland, West Ham also managed to get out and about to meet their loyal fans in Wellington - some of whom had made the trip from the UK.
The team also enjoyed some rare downtime with a trip to Weta Workshop and Sir Peter Jackson's Park Road Post film facility at his Miramar HQ. The visit to the heart of New Zealand’s creative film industry made a real impression on West Ham skipper Kevin Nolan, who said it was his favourite part of the tour.
The tour has been such a success that Allardyce is keen for a return.
"The trip has been very good from a host point of view, the way they organised the tour. The hotels, training facilities and the people in general have been so happy and so pleased to see us."
The Football United Tour has also been something of a home-coming for West Ham defender and All Whites skipper Winston Reid. The player - one of only a handful of New Zealanders to ever play in the English Premier League - has enjoyed showing his teammates around his homeland, giving them a unique insight into Kiwi culture.
At his final press conference of the tour, Reid ended with a word of thanks for the country.
"Thank you to New Zealand for having us down here, I look forward to coming back."
Toon in town
Fellow Premier League team Newcastle United have also relished their time in New Zealand. The team nicknamed the ‘Toon’ started their trip with a 4-0 victory over Sydney FC in the southern South Island city of Dunedin.
The team then moved onto Wellington - playing against Wellington Phoenix at Westpac Stadium to a near sell-crowd of over 30,000.
The start of the game was an emotional one for players and fans as a Maori waiata (song) was sung in remembrance of the two Newcastle fans who lost their lives on-board MH17 en route to New Zealand to watch their team.
Newcastle was also lucky enough to experience the wonders of Weta Workshop and Park Road Post. Both goalkeeper Rob Elliott and winger Samuel Ameobi are self-confessed Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit geeks, making this visit a dream trip for the duo.
Elliott had such a good time in the country, he’s even considering coming back to watch New Zealand cricketer Brendon McCullum in action against the world’s best during the Cricket World Cup to be held in New Zealand in 2015.
"New Zealand is brilliant," Elliot said during his time in New Zealand. "When you fly in and you see the different types of terrain where you can live in one country and probably do every activity under the sun, that’s something I find really exciting so I’d love to come back."
Dutch international and Newcastle winger Vurnon Anita echoed Elliott’s sentiments on his first visit to New Zealand.
"It was the first time for me to be here, it’s a nice experience this part of the world. We had fun and trained good - we think it’s a great place … to say that I’ve been in New Zealand, it’s a nice thing."
The Football United Tour has been a chance for New Zealanders to experience football on an international scale, something that is set to be repeated in June 2015 when the country hosts the U-20 FIFA World Cup.
Many of the stars seen on the field during the Football United Tour have made their way through the international ranks, starring for their countries at the second largest football tournament in the world.
FIFA U-20 World Cup 2015
The FIFA U-20 World Cup will be held at seven host cities around New Zealand for three weeks from May - June 2015. The passionate fans and the atmosphere that was on display during the Football United Tour shows New Zealand is fired and ready to host the world during what is sure to be a festival of fantastic football.