Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin are about to find out just how mad many Englishmen are.
Confirmation of the malady was provided yesterday when a street in West London became a Kiwi backyard.
“We don-t mind admitting it,” said Chas Sturton, a Londoner built like an All Black prop, after leading a small choir of fellows singing “I-m Forever Blowing Bubbles” in sobriety and the full glare of daylight.
“This kind of madness is the euphoria of being a fan of the West Ham football team, so we-ll be singing that song when the team plays in Noo Zeeland in a couple of weeks- time,” Mr Sturton said. “It-s the supporters- theme song and it is sung at every West Ham match.”
Full-strength English Premier League teams West Ham and Newcastle United will play official pre-season trial matches against teams from the Wellington Phoenix and former A-League champions Sydney Football Club in Dunedin on July 22, Auckland on July 23 and Wellington on July 26.
Television channels in 20 countries have signed to broadcast live coverage of the matches.
Mr Sturton is among a group of English supporters who will follow their teams to New Zealand.
Several hundred Australian fans are also expected at the games.
Part of a street in Notting Hill, famous for its annual Caribbean festival, was fenced off from the usual traffic of Ferraris and Range Rovers for a barbecue to give the travellers a taste of New Zealand.
Host was Tom Gibson, originator of the Gisborne Rhythm and Vines festival, who now runs the popular Provenance butchery in Notting Hill. New Zealand meats were expertly cooked by butchery staff.
Mr Sturton-s son Graham is also on the trip. “It-s often said that God invented war to teach Americans geography,” Graham said. “We learn geography through football. We-ve followed West Ham through North America, China and parts of Europe we-d never have heard of otherwise. Now we-re about to discover Noo Zeeland. What-s the beer like?”
Other guests included Steve Wilkinson, who said he-d been a Newcastle supporter for 50 years, and former Newcastle star and Scottish captain Bob Moncur.
Mr Wilkinson said: “New Zealand is about to experience passion it didn-t know Englishmen possessed. Football is the only thing that brings out passion in the English. It transports them to song-singing euphoria and it reduces them to tears. They can bear anything else with stoicism; the only thing that will make them cry is their football team. But no matter how bad their team is, no matter how many times it loses matches, they will continue faithfully to support it and you will hear no end of their misery.
“Believe me, it-s better to hear them singing, and they do it with religious fervour.”
The BBQ included the presentation of a Welcome to New Zealand pack to travelling West Ham fan, Marcus John. All 80 travelling squad members from Newcastle and West Ham have been provided with Welcome to New Zealand packs containing delicacies and luxuries provided by iconic New Zealand companies, to give a pre-tour taste of Kiwi hospitality.
Included in the packs are Pure South lamb cuts from Alliance Group, olive oil from The Village Press, tomato sauce, peaches and baked beans from Watties, confectionery from RJ-s Liquorice in Levin, beer from Parrot Dog Brewery in Wellington, and Peter Yealands Wines- gold medal sauvignon blanc.
Other Welcome Pack goods include New Zealand books provided by the New Zealand Book Council via publishers Random House, VUP, New Holland and Penguin. Kathmandu supplied the 80 backpacks to hold all the goodies.
The packs also include DVT travel health socks from The Merino Company, essential to preserve the circulation of those star athletes. Also included is the July issue of Wellington-s fish head magazine, providing a profile of Wellington as pre-reading for the squad members for the July 26 double-header there.
Other Welcome Pack partners, Cathay Pacific and Mainfreight, have provided facilities and invaluable assistance in getting goods and personnel to Britain.