The faith is football - West Ham prepare for games in NZ

Twenty four of the world’s best footballers, who include All Whites captain Winston Reid, are in a religious-style retreat in preparation for their tour of New Zealand this month.

Twenty four of the world-s best footballers, who include All Whites captain Winston Reid, are in a religious-style retreat in preparation for their tour of New Zealand this month.

Chastity, abstinence and obedience rule in the West Ham training camp in Western France as they did for the monks of Notre Dame-s d'Abondance who built their abbey on a nearby hill in the fourteenth century.

West Ham are spending a week in camp at Evian on the banks of Lake Geneva, with every training facility imaginable. There is an indoor pool for waking up exercises, a 13 man supporting staff of medics and sports scientists, and a view over Lake Geneva to die for.

But on the nearby training field, more like a bowling green than a footy pitch, McDonald puts the most powerful legs in the world through a tough regime. Then, next on the daily programme, is an intensive gym session to prepare the team for the seven official English Premier League pre-season games they are facing in New Zealand, Germany and England.

Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin are hosting English Premier League pre-season trial matches of full-strength teams from West Ham United and Newcastle United football clubs in Dunedin on July 22, Auckland on July 23 and Wellington on July 26. Teams from Phoenix and former A-League champion Sydney Football Club will also play in the series.

Friar for these modern day monks from West Ham is Neil McDonald, who enforces the discipline with all the authority of a Pope. However, there is no comparison on the grounds of poverty for this $100m group of these top athletes.

McDonald, who is deputed the day to day running of West Ham under manager Sam Alllardyce, rules with an iron hand but the players see him as a father figure.

“That-s OK with me”, he says, “because what I am trying to build here is a family atmosphere.”

McDonald, who has the title of assistant manager at West Ham, is looking forward to the New Zealand trip he last made 29 years ago as a player for Newcastle United, and played four games against the All Whites and two in Fiji.

He wants to catch up with an uncle in Dunedin and sample the best golf and wines New Zealand can offer. His charges also want to do more than football in New Zealand.

Towering striker, Ricardo Vaz Te, from Portugal, said “I want to get into all the activities New Zealand is known for like bungy jumping and white water rafting, but I am not sure Neil will let me”.