A date with West Ham United
Ricardo Vaz Te shows reporter his movesCOLLETTE DEVLIN
I'm wearing pink boots for the much anticipated kick-about with a world-class footballer.
Luckily my opponent, West Ham United forward Ricardo Vaz Te, whose goal took West Ham United back to the Premier League, doesn't seem to notice.
Although, I'm sure he notices my lack of effort at showing off any fancy moves.
Earlier this week when I was asked to train with West Ham players, I was tempted to say no.
My lack of fancy moves, and cameras recording my efforts, were enough to put me off.
I changed my mind after my boss, a hard core (and slightly deranged) West Ham fan, sent me a wee email of encouragement - and a gentle reminder of how thousands of people would like to be in my boots.
I arrived at Westpac Stadium with no real preparation - just a Phoenix shirt loaned to me by Yellow Fever, the diehard local supporters' club.
If they were hoping I would provide another victory against West Ham, they would be disappointed.
Vaz Te and I are just passing the ball back and forth, when he says: "Sometimes the simplest of things are the hardest to accomplish."
I'm pretty sure at this stage my face matched my boots.
I haven't played soccer since I was 19 and played semi-professional football in Northern Ireland, so any skills I did have were sure to be rusty - and this certainly was not the place to see if I still had them.
One of my kicks ends up being a chip and just misses his multimillion-dollar goolies.
So I decide we should take a break from my "kicking".
I ask him to show me his moves - I wish I get the chance to say this to a millionaire footballer more often - and teach me a trick or two.
With a simple flick of his foot and a few taps, the ball sweeps up into the air and lands on his back, where he holds it for the photographer.
I would like to say I gave it a go and nailed it - but I didn't even get the chance. Just like that my time with Vaz Te is up. I think it's called "saved by the bell".
FANS OUT IN FORCE
Hundreds of football fans lined Midland Park yesterday to welcome the English Premier League teams to Wellington.
The lunchtime meet-and-greet was a chance for fans of all four teams to get autographs before the Football United double-header clash today at Westpac Stadium, featuring Newcastle United against Wellington Phoenix, and West Ham United against Sydney.
Many in the crowd had travelled from the UK and Australia and mingled with Yellow Fever fans as they waited for the event to start.
The Zaczek family, from Sydney, came to support Sydney and Newcastle, while the Smith family (originally from London) came from Brisbane to support West Ham.
Ryan Scott and his three friends made the trip from Melbourne to support Newcastle - and they made sure the team heard their chants.
Wellington Phoenix management had hoped for a sellout crowd of more than 30,000 but yesterday afternoon 27,700 tickets had been sold.
Phoenix general manager David Dome said he was hoping for a few thousand "walk-ups" to the gate today, as had happened in Auckland.
MetService delivered some good news to the club and fans - "It's going to be a pretty nice day," meteorologist David Miller said.
It would still be chilly, with a high of 12 degrees Celsius and southerlies, but it will not be wet, he said.
Despite fewer than expected ticket sales for the game,Wellington promoters believe the city will be booming this weekend and say it is set to reap the economic benefits.
Positively Wellington Tourism chief executive David Perks said the tour was hugely valuable for Wellington's international exposure. "International football fans will be turning their attention to the capital for the games, putting Wellington firmly on the map as a tourist destination."
For such major events, 30 to 35 per cent of spectators were usually from out of town. With the match heading towards a sellout, the city could expect up to 10,000 visitors.
Statistics from the tourism organisation show there is usually a 27 per cent increase in occupancy with a major football event, and that the number of rooms booked would be up by 38 per cent.
Most hotels in the city are full for tonight and last night had been almost booked out.
This time last year occupancy was 67 per cent.
Wellington could be heading towards 100 per cent occupancy especially with a double-header, he said.
Hotel occupancy was at 96 per cent for the match between the Phoenix and David Beckham's Los Angeles Galaxy in November 2007, and Perks expected it to be at least as busy this weekend.
Restaurants and pubs were also expecting to be jammed, with many tables booked for meals before and after kickoff, said Jeremy Smith, Wellington branch president of Hospitality New Zealand.
He believed the weekend would be bigger than a rugby test match for the sector.
It was likely to bring in 40 per cent more income than a standard weekend, which would also have a positive knock-on for shops, he said.
Hospitality NZ was expecting more than 2000 supporters from Britain and hoped that Wellingtonians and those from the surrounding areas would also come out in force. "We hope they stay after the games and travel around a bit."
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- The Dominion Post
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