Siggy stoked to be home

CHRISTCHURCH is fast becoming Wellington Phoenix FC’s home away from home, and one of the city’s favourite footballing sons is thrilled to be back in the southern stronghold for another match on his home turf.

CHRISTCHURCH is fast becoming Wellington Phoenix FC-s home away from home, and one of the city-s favourite footballing sons is thrilled to be back in the southern stronghold for another match on his home turf.

While Ryan Nelsen is the city-s most famous football product, Wellington Phoenix and All Whites defender Ben Sigmund is fast catching up, building a big reputation on and off the pitch.

Having joined the Phoenix from New Zealand Football Championship side Auckland City for the Hyundai A-League 2008/09 season, Sigmund-s stocks as the country-s premier centre back skyrocketed during a successful first season as a fully-fledged professional.

And there-s nothing the affable centre back and former Canterbury United skipper likes more than playing in front of his home crowd – a chance he-ll get when the Phoenix take on a Mainland Football Selection XI at QEII Park on Sunday.

“It-s always nice to go home and see everyone that you know and to catch up with friends and family that you haven-t seen for a while,” Sigmund said. “The club and I have always had fantastic support in Christchurch and that-s certain to continue on Sunday.”

The Phoenix drew a crowd of almost 6500 for last year-s match against the Mainland XI at QEII, with more than 5000 attending a Hyundai A-League pre-season match against the Queensland Roar at the same venue in the Phoenix-s inaugural season in the competition in 2007/08.

Sigmund, who played a solid 60 minutes against the Melbourne Victory in a 1-1 draw in Queenstown last weekend despite still recovering from a hip injury and suffering a dose of the flu, admitted he still had plenty of work to do before being ready to play 90 minutes.

“I-m still struggling a little bit, to be honest. My flu-s gone but I-m still feeling a bit sluggish getting back from the hip surgery I had off-season. My turning-s a bit slow at the moment, I feel a bit like an old cart-horse, but hopefully I can get 70-75 minutes at QEII on Sunday and work on things from there.”

Several frontline players were missing for the Phoenix in Queenstown, but the Wellington club had arrived in Christchurch with most back on deck for Sunday-s warm-up match. Set for match time are skipper Andrew Durante, who could play alongside Sigmund at the heart of the Phoenix-s defence, defensive midfielder Jon McKain and English import striker Chris Greenacre.

“Now it-s about putting the team together and working on our combinations,” Sigmund said. “If we can get a team out there that-s roughly our first XI and work on that it-ll be good. There will be guys coming back who may only play half-an-hour or so, but if we can build on from where we left off in Queenstown it-ll be pleasing.”

Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata said Christchurch had been a fabulous host city for the Phoenix in the past and that the club was delighted to be back in the southern capital.

For the first time in the club-s history the Phoenix will take Hyundai A-League competition matches to cities outside the national capital, with Christchurch to host the Wellington club-s Hyundai A-League 2009/10 round 25 clash with Adelaide United on Saturday, January 30.

“Mainland Football and the people of Christchurch have been amazing and have really supported us from the beginning,” Pignata said. “That-s why we decided to go there to play a competition fixture in January and we-re confident that-ll be a big success. All things going as expected with a big crowd at QEII Park on Sunday and for the match in January, we-ll be working on coming to Christchurch more often.”

Sunday-s match between the Phoenix and the Mainland XI kicks off at 2pm. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for students. Children can attend for free. Tickets are available from QEII Park and English Park. See www.mainlandfootball.co.nz for more details.