Soccer superstar David Beckham landed in a rugby stronghold yesterday but it was hardly enemy territory as hundreds of fans gave him a rapturous welcome in New Zealand's capital.
Beckham and his Los Angeles Galaxy team arrived in Wellington for a friendly game against local side Wellington Phoenix tomorrow, following their 5-3 loss to Sydney on Tuesday night.
They were given a traditional welcome by indigenous Maori performers, in a first for the global celebrity.
"We were honored by the welcome we received today, it's incredible," Beckham told a press conference at the team hotel.
Watching the All Blacks play rugby had already given him respect for the haka war challenge.
"I'd love to stand in front of the All Blacks and see them do it," he said.
The hundreds of fans at the airport, many of them teenage girls, didn't seem too focused on tomorrow's match, calling out: "We love you David".
"I kissed him," one young woman said. "He seemed quite shy, a real cutie. I need a cigarette and a whisky now."
Beckham has been delighted with the adulation of fans in Australia and New Zealand on the short Galaxy tour.
"It's amazing, we have gone through this trip and the love and passion we've been shown by the people has been incredible so far," he said.
Although much of the interest in Beckham is for his status as a style icon and global celebrity, he is hoping soccer will get a boost in a country where rugby is "notoriously big," he said.
"I hope we can change that just for one day and hopefully going forward," Beckham said.
The England international may get his wish with 15,000 school children expected to watch the Galaxy train today.
"To have 15,000 kids and people who want to come and watch us train, I'm not sure I've had that before," he said.
The match is expected to come close to selling out the 34,500-seat Westpac Stadium in Wellington and to break the attendance record for a New Zealand soccer match.
Beckham said he was excited about tomorrow's match, although the home team will include a number of second-string players after playing a regular Australian A League match tonight.
He is hoping to play 90 minutes in the friendly and repeat his trademark Bend it like Beckham goal from a free kick which lit up the Sydney match for 80,000 fans.