Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Phoenix eye up EPL clash

West Ham's Winston Reid is the only All White in the Premier League.
West Ham's Winston Reid is the only All White in the Premier League.

The chance of an English Premier League club appearing on these shores for the first time in almost 30 years is edging closer to reality.

The Phoenix are in advanced discussions with several Premier League sides to play a pre-season friendly here.

West Ham United, featuring All Whites skipper Winston Reid, is an obvious choice and believed to be among those clubs in the mix, but the Wellington club are also understood to have held talks with Everton and Newcastle, among "three or four" teams on the radar.

The proposed match would be played in July at Eden Park or Wellington Stadium. If confirmed, there is also a possibility the English side would play in Australia en-route to New Zealand.

West Ham are 12th in the Premier League but not yet free of relegation danger, such is the closeness in the bottom half of the table. Everton are sixth and making a good bid for Europe and Newcastle are ninth.

The deal is said to be close to completion but luring Premier League teams is complicated.

The Phoenix attempted to arrange a similar fixture before last season but couldn't get the deal across the line, though they started discussions much earlier this time.

There is heavy competition. There are only 20 teams in the English top flight and they are in big demand, especially those with a long standing tradition and established name. Some of the clubs have become the sporting equivalent of top music acts with their global appeal.

Negotiations can go well and be promising, but if a more attractive offer is received from another part of the world, or the coaching staff decide on another focus for pre-season, it can all come to nothing.

Asia, with their huge fan base, large market and ability to pay big match fees, are an attractive drawcard and most of the top Premier League teams have played regularly on the continent in the past decade.

North America has also become a popular pre-season destination. Spurs are playing Ryan Nelsen's Toronto FC in July as well as fellow MLS teams Chicago and Seattle, while Arsenal are also believed to be heading to the US after the World Cup. Almost every Premier League club has played in North America in recent years.

The biggest clubs - Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and both Manchester sides - are not economically viable for smaller economies, as their match fees alone are well into seven figures.

Then there are flights and accommodation for 50 to 60 people and tight commercial arrangements, which can see the visiting clubs own the television rights, merchandise and, in some cases, even take most or all of the gate money.

Liverpool's visit to Australia last year, which drew more than 95,000 fans to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, was largely funded by the Victorian state government.

If the game in New Zealand goes ahead, it would be the first visit by a top flight English team since Division One champions Everton visited at the end of the 1986-87 season.

The team, which featured internationals Peter Reid, Kevin Sheedy, Gary Stevens and Graeme Sharp, were brought out to commemorate the centenary of the Auckland Football Association.

They beat an Auckland XI at Mt Smart 2-1 and a Canterbury Selection 3-0 in Christchurch.

Other notable British clubs to visit these shores include Newcastle United (1985), Glasgow Rangers (1984), Queens Park Rangers (1983), Watford (1982), Sunderland (1976) and Manchester United (1967).

- Herald on Sunday

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