Phoenix coach indebted to Hay brothers

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 28/09/2013
Ernie Merrick
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax Media
AHEAD OF SCHEDULE: The Ernie Merrick rebuild job at the Wellington Phoenix appears to be ahead of schedule.

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Ernie Merrick might not be coaching the Wellington Phoenix if it weren't for a Christchurch schoolteacher friend.

Shirley Boys' High School physical education teacher Derek Hay grew up with Merrick in Scotland.

"I went through college with Derek," Merrick said. "His family moved to Melbourne and encouraged me, after a year of teaching in Glasgow, to move to Melbourne too."

Merrick and Hay flatted together there and Merrick was also good friends with Hay's brother, Colin.

"Colin said he was going to be a rock star and I said I was going to be a football star. We had a $5 bet."

Merrick admits he should have paid up - Colin Hay went on to become the lead singer in Australian band Men at Work, who had a huge hit with Down Under in the early 1980s and sold 30 million albums.

"Colin is still touring. They are doing a documentary on his revival," Merrick said. "I was at one of his concerts recently. He does a one-man show and he's very good."

Merrick and Derek Hay have remained "very close for many years", even though they've lived on opposite sides of the Tasman. "Derek married a Kiwi girl, Kate, and they moved to Christchurch and have been here ever since."

Hay is a football coach at Shirley BHS and invited Merrick to present prizes at a school awards evening on Wednesday. The 60-year-old did double duty next morning at Mainland Football's champagne breakfast awards ceremony, where he was guest speaker.

Merrick admitted then that he played football "badly", so he probably does owe Colin Hay "five bucks".

But maybe they could call it evens because Merrick has certainly achieved as a coach, guiding Melbourne Victory to two A-League championship titles after grooming a generation of professional players at the Victorian Institute of Sport.

Now, after a 10-month stint as national coach in Hong Kong where he "enjoyed the people, the place and the players but just couldn't deal with the politics", he is hoping to turnaround the Phoenix's fortunes.

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- The Press

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