Premier League team to play at stadium

The Forsyth Barr Stadium, where the game will be played. Photo by ODT.
The Forsyth Barr Stadium, where the game will be played. Photo by ODT.
Top-tier English Premier League team Newcastle United will take on Sydney FC in a major football fixture at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.

The evening clash, which organisers hope will draw a crowd of 15,000 or more, will be staged on July 22.

The exhibition game would be the only South Island fixture in a four-match tournament being held in Dunedin, Wellington and Auckland in late July, Dunedin Venues Management Ltd chief executive Terry Davies said.

The Football United Tour had been organised by the Wellington Phoenix club, which would play another premier league team, West Ham, in Auckland on July 23, followed by Newcastle in Wellington on July 26.

West Ham would also play Sydney in Wellington earlier on July 23, to round off the tournament with a double-header.

Full details are expected to be unveiled in Wellington this morning, but Mr Davies has confirmed Dunedin's part in the tournament after being approached by the Otago Daily Times.

News of the clash was welcomed by Football South general manager Bill Chisholm and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who was ''delighted'' Otago and Southland football fans would have a chance to see EPL players ''in the flesh''.

''This is an opportunity for football fans across Otago and Southland to watch top-quality football in a world-class facility without having to trek a great distance,'' Mr Cull said.

Mr Davies said securing the July 22 clash in Dunedin was a major coup for the stadium and the city.

''You would rarely have the opportunity to see an EPL team from England come down to Dunedin. We've been lucky to grab hold of it.

''Newcastle are a sexy club. They've got a great following, a great supporter base, and they're a very passionate group.''

The match was the first major event secured for the stadium since Mr Davies' appointment, and both sides had guaranteed to bring full squads to Dunedin for the match, he said.

''They will treat it fairly seriously and it will be a great spectacle on our surface and under the roof.''

Newcastle has struggled in recent rounds of the current EPL season, losing its last six matches, but is still ninth on the table, and boasts stars including French internationals Yoan Gouffran and Loic Remy.

Sydney qualified for this year's A-League finals after finishing fifth in the 10-team league, before being knocked out in an extra-time 2-1 loss in an elimination final.

Former Italy and Juventus great Alessandro Del Piero had been expected to travel to Dunedin as part of the Sydney FC squad, but the 39-year-old confirmed on Monday he was leaving after two seasons with the club.

However, the club is set to announce another marquee signing, who will travel to Dunedin, the ODT understands.

Live coverage of the match would be beamed to an audience of about 2.5 million viewers in Europe, as well as fans around New Zealand, providing valuable international exposure for the city, Mr Davies said.

''It's big for us ... It's about promoting the city out to the world, and we're using the product as that vehicle.''

Mr Davies would not divulge details of the financial arrangements yesterday, but confirmed the stadium's 2200 members would enjoy free entry as part of a new push to acknowledge their loyalty to the venue.

Sponsors and the football community would also be offered early-bird tickets from May 10, followed by sales to the general public from May 21, he said.

Mr Davies said he hoped the match would attract ''die-hard football fans'', event-goers and families, which was why Dunedin's ticket prices were cheaper than those for matches in Auckland and Wellington.

''We're trying to make it accessible for everyone.''

It would be ''very important'' to get Dunedin's football community to support the event, and he hoped they would turn out after being ''starved of top-quality football down here''.

''I'm sure there is a big following, and excitment, to see one of the top EPL teams coming to town.''

Mr Chisholm said it was a ''brave and exciting'' fixture to stage in Dunedin, and although it was a mid-week game, he hoped sports fans from Dunedin and further afield would support it.

''It's the sort of thing you have got to try and see what sort of response you get. People say they want more big events.''

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