Friday, 29 February 2008

Nobby On The Buses

Alan Curbishley looks set to have Bobby Zamora back in contention for tomorrow's game against Chelsea. The striker has been out since 28 August with a persistent knee problem but has made three reserve-team appearances in quick succession - scoring a hat-trick in the first of them, a 4-1 defeat of Birmingham City. His last game was the 3-1 win at Tottenham Hotspur on Monday although the 27-year-old forward picked up a slight knock to his other knee. He was taken off as a precaution but has since resumed training. Confirming he would have largely the same squad as he had for last week's 1-0 win at Fulham, the manager added that Zamora was close. "Bobby Zamora only played half a game on Monday. He got a kick just under the other knee and he had to come off with it but he is training. So we will see how he is. He has got through the last three or four weeks and has looked quite sharp so hopefully he will be back."

Dean Ashton also featured in that reserve game at the start of the week and Curbishley revealed it was the player's choice. Having played just ten minutes as a replacement in the weekend win at Fulham, he said: "He scored and he wanted to play in the game. It wasn't what people were reading into it." Ashton played alongside Freddie Sears for the second half of the reserve encounter. When asked if the youngster, who struck twice and made the other goal for Ashton, would figure soon, Curbishley added: "He is a centre-forward who we have got hopes for. It was a good display. As I said previously if we get to it and they go in, I have got no doubts about playing them. [James] Tomkins, [Jack] Collison and Sears have all been around the first-team squad for the last four or five weeks. [They are] part and parcel of the future of the club. Sears is different to what we have got available at the moment. He is Bellamy-like. He is quick, wants to get in behind people and goes about his business very quietly. He is a good finisher. He has burst on in the last two months really and I think the natural progression is to get some sort of football and we will see if that is in the next 12 games. I am not afraid to put the young boys in. If an opportunity arises I will do it."

Meanwhile, Scott Parker has come through eight days of full training after his recovery from a knee injury suffered when Cristiano Ronaldo accidentally fell on him during the Manchester United victory on 29 December. When asked if he would figure against Tottenham on Sunday week, the manager said: "It might be a bit tight for him". In addition, Craig Bellamy is recovering from his abdominal strengthening operation which, if all goes to plan, could see him "out for another three or four weeks".

In other news, John Paintsil has revealed his happiness in returning to the fold at West Ham United after his experience with semi-finalists Ghana at the Africa Cup of Nations. The popular defender, known to his team-mates as Johnny P, played every minute of his country's five games at the finals and but his thoughts were never too far away from the Boleyn Ground. "I am so happy to be back with my group and the team at West Ham. When I was playing at the Cup of Nations, people were shouting the name of West Ham at me and I was so happy and proud to hear my club's name mentioned in Ghana." Since returning Paintsil found himself back on the bench for the first time in the 1-0 win at Fulham last Saturday and was overawed to get such a rapturous response from the travelling fans when he ran out to warm up including a special song in his honour. "It was so amazing to see the fans last Saturday and I am very happy to come back to the club. The song was amazing, it just showed me that I am back with the team and I must be ready for any chance that comes my way."

Hayden Mullins have come in for some much warranted praise. Alan Curbishley took time out yesterday to pay tribute to the contribution of the midfielder this season - describing the 28-year-old as his "unsung hero". Curbishley recognised that Mullins may have been concerned about his place last summer with the arrival of two big signings. "We bought Scott Parker and Kieron Dyer in and he must have looked at that and thought there is a bit of competition here but he has stayed strong," the manager said. "He has stayed fit and he has played every game. He has deserved to be playing in every game." Mullins himself has previously spoken about the impact of increased competition for places on his game. "You can deal with it in two ways. You can let your head drop, which will affect your game or you can let it bring out the best in you as a player with the competition it creates. I want to be at this club with these kinds of players around me, which is going to be pushing for bigger things. I just put my head down and got on with it. Then a couple of injuries occurred, I got my chance and made sure to make the most of it." Mullins has certainly made the most of his time at the Boleyn Ground - playing in 25 of the club's 26 league games this season as well as four in the cups. The definition of a reliable performer, he made 30 league appearances in 2003/04, 40 in 2004/05, 35 in 2005/06 and 30 in 2006/07.

Finally, Nobby Solano has revealed he is looking forward to the chance of repeating his match-winning heroics of last weekend when Chelsea come calling this Saturday afternoon. The Peruvian international came off the bench to score the only goal of the 1-0 victory at Fulham and would gladly take a similar result - especially as Chelsea were winners by the narrowest of margins when the teams last met at Stamford Bridge on 1 December. "When we played away against them, we played well," he declared. "It is always difficult against Chelsea. We can't sit back for 90 minutes and wait for them as they have quality players who can score any time. So we have nothing to lose. We aren't having a bad season. Compared to last season, we are in a comfortable position. But we want to win the game. We want to try and enjoy the game. It is eleven against eleven. They are a good team. But we are at home."

The midfielder is also aware of the desire from fans to see more goals from the team but acknowledges that the front men need improved service. "Our midfield has to give the chances to the strikers to create something," he admits. "It is a bonus for a midfielders to score goals, but the priority is for the strikers to score, as they are in better positions. We need to improve and create more for the strikers. We can't carry on only creating two or three chances in a game, we need to do much better. Sometimes it is very difficult to score in this league, as teams fight and fight for the result. But we need to improve and create more chances - we need to play better football if we want to score more goals."

The 33-year-old Solano is a popular figure at Chadwell Heath, most notably for the youthful enthusiasm he brings to every session. Revealing that he used to work as a bus conductor as a teenager growing up in Peru - "I needed the money to go training, or if I wanted to buy new boots" - he says he is nothing but grateful for the opportunity he has today. "We are privileged to play in this profession compared with different people. That is why I have no complaints. Some people go to work at 7.30, but we start at 9.30/10 - we are here two hours. It is a wonderful profession." Of his time in England and with West Ham United, he said he always tries to tell his colleagues of how lucky they are to be using the best facilities - unlike the experiences of his youth in South America. "When you move here, everything is perfect. That is why I appreciate it. I am very glad that every day I am still playing."

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Ticking Clock

Alan Curbishley has turned the heat up on Avram Grant ahead of this weekend's much anticipated clash. Curbishley warned the clock is already ticking on the Chelsea boss to turn his club's fortunes around following their Carling Cup Final defeat, at the same time insinuating that club owner Roman Abramovich will expect big returns on his huge investment. Curbishley, one of the Barclays Premier League's longest serving managers, also says Grant will not be afforded the sort of time that Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson have been given to win trophies. It is the latest in a war of words that dates back to the previous meeting between the two teams at Stanford Bridge in early December. Grant chided West Ham United for an overly physical approach during the controversial 1-0 home victory, while Curbishley responded by comparing the Israeli's effectiveness to that of Gary Megson. "He’s been put in a position where he’s got a big, big club on his hands, so perhaps he feels he has to make some big, big statements," Curbishley said at the time. "I don’t think he’s changed too much, he’s just said get on with it. I think he’s come in and done what Gary Megson’s done."

Almost three months on and the West Ham United manager, who spent 15 years at Charlton before taking over at Upton Park 14 months ago, said: "It's the life we're in at the moment. Unless you get results and success quickly then you don't get the same time anymore. When you get to a high profile club everything you do is going to be looked at - body language, the way you walk onto the pitch, the way you dress, every last detail. Everything Avram Grant does is going to be analysed and that is something he has to handle. I looked at the cup final and the start was the most important thing and Tottenham made much the better start. If you are lucky enough to be a manager of a top-four club then that comes with the territory. If it's not Avram Grant, it's Rafa Benitez and if Arsenal weren't doing so well it would be Arsene Wenger. Being a manager is getting tougher. That honeymoon period has gone. You even look at someone like Dave Jones at Cardiff who was under pressure and then he turned it around. I think you get applauded over the top when you win, then you get over castigated when you lose. You have to take it with a pinch of salt. I've never been under too much pressure as a manager, apart from maybe when I was first at Charlton when I wanted to do things and change things."

Curbishley insists that the expectancy level is lower at West Ham despite big foreign investment at Upton Park - but he has still set his sights on reaching Europe this season. He added: "We have to win at least half of our remaining games - and perhaps do a little bit more than that. I feel very confident. We need a bit of stability because in the last four or five years we've had a play-off final we lost, a play-off final we won and then last season was played out across the back pages."

Meanwhile, Robert Green has issued a rallying cry for all the West Ham United players and fans to pull together against Chelsea this Saturday. Speaking on the official site, Green expects the team to show the same resilience and form as in 2-1 and 1-0 home wins against Manchester United and Liverpool respectively this season. "In true West Ham style it seems to be the games where we excel," he said. "They had a big game on Sunday and they have a big [Champions League] game on the Wednesday after our game and you know they won't be looking forward to coming to Upton Park. I don't think anyone ever does really. Between ourselves and the fans we can make it as intimidating as possible and really get stuck into them and make it a double over the west London clubs."

The game is the first in a demanding spell that sees the club go to Liverpool on Wednesday and then Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday week. "Chelsea will be tough but we have got a tough few games coming ahead," mused Green. "We are looking up though and we can put a positive spin on the Fulham result. We have played better this season and not won. We created a lot of chances and on another day we would have taken them. It seems to be happening quite a lot this season." Solano's 87th-minute winner at Craven Cottage came just after Jimmy Bullard found himself bearing down on the West Ham United goal. He let fly for what looked like being the decisive moment when Green came to the rescue. "I was fortunate," he said. "It was one of them where I have made myself as big as possible and just managed to react as I am going down to where he has hit the shot. It is something I don't really think about and thankfully got a hand on it. We scored just after that so it was pleasing in what was a pretty terrible game."

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

They Are Not For Sale

The following is a fictionalized account of Brian Clough's very real attempt to buy Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking in late September 1973. It is taken from David Peace's excellent 'The Damned UTD'...

You have been told there is no money. You have been told not to buy any new players. You have been told there is no money for transfers. But you lose 1-0 at Coventry and you know you have to buy some new players. You make a telephone call. You drive down to London. To the Churchill Hotel.
'I hear you are interested in winning a championship medal?'
'Who wouldn't be?'
'Someone who already had one.'
Bobby Moore smiles. Bobby Moore grins. Bobby Moore, captain of West Ham and England. Bobby Moore, World Cup winner and national treasure.
'Would you play for Derby County?' you ask him.
Bobby Moore lights another fag. Bobby Moore laughs, 'Why not?'
'That'll do for me,' you tell him and take him for lunch in the restaurant.
'I'm afraid,' begins the maitre d'hotel at the door, 'that Mr Moore is not dressed appropriately for our restaurant...'
'Listen to me,' you tell him. 'My team will never stay here again if my player can't sit in this restaurant, my player who has won the World Cup for this country, my player who has done more for this bloody country than any other person you have had in your fucking little restaurant!'
'I don't play for you yet,' whispers Bobby Moore.
'Shut up!' you tell him. 'You're my player. I'll ring Ron straight after lunch.'


You do not make an appointment. You do not telephone. You go straight to Upton Park. You do not wait in line and you do not knock on Ron Greenwood's door. You just walk right into his office and tell him, 'I'm here for a chat. Now, have you got any whisky?'
Ron Greenwood gets to his feet. Ron Greenwood gets you a whiskey.
'Any water?' you ask him. 'I am driving.'
'The kitchen's just round the corner,' he tells you.
You go off to find the kitchen. You get the receptionist to take you up to the directors' box. You ask her all sorts of questions about West Ham United, about Ron Greenwood and Bobby Moore-
Twenty minutes later, you're back in Ron's office-
'I've been having a good look around this place,' you tell him. 'Isn't it lovely? All nice and spruce. You don't know how lucky you are, a nice place like this.'
'Glad you like it,' says Ron Greenwood. 'Was there anything else?'
'Yes,' you tell him. 'I want to sign Bobby Moore and Trevor Brooking.'
'You can't be serious, Brian?'
'Every man's got his price,' you tell him. 'And I'd make sure it was a nice big bloody price, with a nice big fucking piece of it for you and for Bobby and Trevor.'
'They're not for sale,' says Ron Greenwood.
'How about we start at £300,000 for the pair of them, plus your slice?'
'They're not for sale,' he says again.
'Well then, how about £400,000 for the pair of them, plus your slice?'
'Brian,' says Ron Greenwood, 'they are not for sale.'
'Well listen then, if I can't have Moore, can I have Brooking? Or how about this? If I can't have Brooking, can I have Moore?'
'They're not available,' he says again. 'But I'll pass your offer on to the board.'
'How about £500,000?' you ask. '£500,000 for the pair of them? Not forgetting your slice of the cake for all your toil and trouble. Can't say fairer than that, now can we, Ron?'
Ron Greenwood is on his feet again, the door to his office open-
'Any chance of another whiskey then?' you ask him. 'One for the road?'

Continental Drift

Ambitious West Ham United aim to join continental drift screams a headline in this morning's Times. According to an exclusive by Gary Jacobs the club are preparing to offer Brescia general manager Gianluca Nani the role of technical director at Upton Park. The Italian’s duties- which would begin in the summer- would include finding players and conducting transfers. If the recruitment is successful then it would bring to an end a long search that has taken in names such as Franco Baldini, Wim Koevermans, Giovanni Trapattoni and the Brazilian Leonardo.

Nani is reputed to have a good depth of knowledge of players in South America and has been a familiar face in scouting circles at reserve matches all over the globe. He is also a renowned negotiator, which is something that appeals to Björgólfur Gudmundsson as he seeks greater fiscal control at the club prior to the planned relocation to a new stadium. Overseeing that development project next to West Ham Underground station, as well as the move to a better-equipped training facility, would be responsibilities to fall under Nani's remit. The Italian worked as a sporting events organiser before taking on his present role soon after he married Silvia Corioni, the daughter of Luigi Corioni, the president of Brescia. Nani’s arrival at Brescia coincided with that of Roberto Baggio, whose performances helped the team to seventh place in Serie A in 2001 – the best placing in the club’s history – but they were relegated after the retirement of the former Italy forward in 2004.

Jacobs observes that West Ham United’s shift to a continental structure would be a bold break from tradition for a club that became known as “The Academy” long before the word had its meaning today. They nurtured Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters to lead England to the 1966 World Cup triumph and more recently graduated the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Jermain Defoe. Crucially, Tony Carr, the club’s director of youth development, will be unaffected by any changes and will continue looking for young local players. That would leave Nani to concentrate on discovering foreign talent and experienced players for the first team.

Alan Curbishley has also been part of the interview process, leading the club to believe that there will be no tension between him and Nani. Damien Comolli and Frank Arnesen, the only other sporting directors working in the Barclays Premier League, have crossed swords with the managers at Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea respectively, while Nicky Hammond is the Reading director of football. Comolli’s fractious relationship with Martin Jol has been linked to the dismissal of the Dutchman at White Hart Lane in October. While the Mirror think that the appointment of such a 'low profile' figure as Nani would only strengthen Curbishley's position within the club, the Mail are cautioning that there is still some way to go before a final decision is made. They report that the Hammers' manager, together with chief executive Scott Duxbury, travelled to Italy to talk to Nani and both were impressed with the achievements of the managing director of the Serie B club.

In other news, various reports in Iceland are suggesting a strong interest from the club in signing 17 year old central defender Holmar Eyjolfsson. The player, who has also been tracked by Bayern Munich among other clubs, trained with the first team at West Ham United last week. Eyjolfsson revealed: "I had a great time at West Ham and joining the club is certainly a very exiting option. It was a great experience and a good learning curve. It was also interesting to see how I compared to the Premier League players. They treated me like an equal and it felt like I was just one of the boys. When I sat down with Alan Curbishley and the clubs chief scout Roger Cross, the manager told me he wanted me to join the club and that he would talk to my dad (former Iceland national team manager, Eyjolfur (Jolly) Sverrisson) about it as soon as I went home." Holmar arrived back in Iceland yesterday and news of West Ham United's interest was confirmed on the official HK Kópavogur club site shortly after. Eyjolfsson had an impressive U17 European Championship finals last summer and was voted one of the players to watch out for in the future. He has subsequently emerged as regular for the Iceland U21 side and has only recently returned from a trial at Hertha Berlin.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Freddie Searing Hot

Freddie Sears maintained his impressive scoring form to earn West Ham United a hard-fought 3-1 victory against a youthful Tottenham side tonight. The prolific 18-year-old forward, who now has three goals from six reserve appearances and 21 strikes in 17 games for the Under-18s, struck on the stroke of half-time to cancel out Troy Archibald-Henville's opener for Tottenham. He wrapped up the win with a superb run and shot 17 minutes from time. In between, he found time to set up Dean Ashton for a close-range finish.

Sears had begun the contest on the right wing but moved into attack when Bobby Zamora made way on half-time. It was an experienced side throughout with Jimmy Walker in goal behind Jonathan Spector and John Paintsil. The victory moves West Ham United three points clear of third-placed Reading in the southern section of the Barclays Premier Reserve League and just two points behind leaders Aston Villa - although both have two games in hand after a 1-1 draw on the same evening.

At a chilly Brisbane Road, Tottenham were the brighter of the two sides in a bruising first half which was most noticeable for several robust encounters. Walker, who had Ludek Miklosko as his replacement on the bench after the late withdrawal of Adam Street, and David Button in the Spurs goal were largely spectators in the opening stages as a number of moves broke down. After a couple of fine tackles by young left-back Ashley Miller to stop the visitors in their tracks, West Ham United's first real opportunity came in the 17th minute. Paintsil picked out Ashton in a good central position but he was just unable to make a clean connection and his glancing header flew wide. Six minutes later, Zamora did well to fashion an opening but the ball would not sit kindly and his effort looped over the bar. A minute later, Jack Collison had the chance to head for goal from the middle of the penalty area after fine work by Ashton but again Button watched it fly safely behind.

Tottenham picked up after that and looked the most likely with Danny Rose and Simon Dawkins looking particularly menacing. They finally broke the deadlock in the 34th minute when Troy Archibald-Henville glanced in a Rose free-kick. Walker had no chance with that but did well soon after the restart to save at point-blank range from David Hutton. James Tomkins then had to be alert to stop another potential Tottenham attack and it seemed if any side was going to strike before half-time it would be the hosts. However, good play by Ashton on the right saw him pick out Kyel Reid on the edge of the area. His shot was miscued into the path of Sears, who turned quickly and flashed a shot beyond Button. It was almost the last action of the half and proved pivotal as Kevin Keen's side were always in command after the break. Zavon Hines came on to replace Zamora which in turn allowed Sears to link up through the middle with Ashton.

Within ten minutes of the restart both forwards had made space for a couple of good efforts on goal and looked an effective partnership. With Tottenham making a couple of changes on the hour, the contest was beginning to open up and a second West Ham United goal seemed on the cards. It duly came in the 68th minute as Hines slipped Sears away and he raced through to the byline. From there, he looked up and picked out Ashton who had no trouble converting from close range. Sears was not finished. Five minutes later, he struck a sensational second to put his side two goals clear. Ashton set him away with a neat pass and the young forward did the rest, racing beyond three defenders before confronting Button in the Spurs goal. Before the keeper could react, Sears fired into the far corner and victory was assured.

West Ham United: Jimmy Walker, John Pantsil, James Tomkins (Jordan Spence 70), Ashley Miller (Lorcan Fitzgerald 78), Jonathan Spector, Freddie Sears, Tony Stokes, Jack Collison, Kyel Reid, Dean Ashton, Bobby Zamora (Zavon Hines 46)
Subs: Ludek Miklosko, Junior Stanislas

Elsewhere, Tony Carr was a happy man after his Under-18 side moved two points clear at the top of Group A of the Premier Academy League at the weekend. Goals from Tom Harvey and Freddie Sears helped West Ham United to win 2-0 at Crystal Palace as previous league leaders Southampton were losing 3-0 at Ipswich Town FC. The Hammers now have 42 points from 23 games, while Southampton have 40 from the same number of fixtures. Arsenal in third place are still most people's favourites for the title although they are six points adrift of top spot with four games in hand.

Reflecting on Saturday's fifth victory in six unbeaten games and a third clean sheet in a row on the road, Carr said: "We would like to finish the season on a high and keep this run going to the end. Certainly defensively we are looking quite strong. We are playing as a team unit at the moment. There is a lot of togetherness in the squad. We are getting the results and breeding confidence at the same time." Once again, Sears found himself on the score-sheet. His 85th-minute goal was impressive for the way he evaded the Palace defence before rounding the keeper to score and even more remarkable because he had only just come on as a late replacement. Carr said: "He is the guy you want in those positions because he can finish. He has had a terrific season and caught the eye. All the players at this level must keep grounded and he is that sort of player. He is West Ham through and through and just wants to do well for himself and the club."

Fulham 0 West Ham United 1

Fulham Berate Referee And Lurch Closer To Trapdoor by Sachin Nakrani
Fulham are lurching ever closer to the Championship and they know it. Defeat in a match they deserved to draw at least has brought gloom among the players and simmering tensions at boardroom level, where the cost of relegation is measured not only in pride but also in financial diminution of the most severe kind... Guardian
Solano Hands Out Cruel Punishment To Fulham by Will Buckley
The Duke of Edinburgh is probably to blame. Last week Fulham chairman Mohamed Fayed was outlining his conspiracy theories, and he had more grist for his mill during a London derby that was as dull as it was bleak. The desperately mediocre contest was decided by substitute Nolberto Solano's elbow... Observer
Solano's Controversial Winner Lifts Veil Of Mediocrity by Brian Glanville
“I THINK when you’re down at the bottom, it does go against you somewhat,” said West Ham’s manager Alan Curbishley, generously. Although he insisted that he had not had a plain view of West Ham’s late, highly-contentious winning goal, he felt from what he did see, there was “a clear contact”... Sunday Times
Nolberto Solano Nudges Fulham Closer To Relegation by Alyson Rudd
Roy Hodgson, the Fulham manager, tried to put the result into perspective. “I wouldn’t have been doing cartwheels with a 0-0 but I certainly wouldn’t have been as depressed as I am at this particular moment in time,” he said. Had he executed a cartwheel or jumped 50 feet into a bucket of water, it would not have been enough to lift the spirits at Craven Cottage... Times
Solano Joy Leads To Fulham Fury by Nick Townsend
Now this may have been worthy of a conspiracy theory. If Fulham chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed believes someone in high places doesn't want his Fulham team to retain their Premier League status you could offer him some sympathy on this count... Independent on Sunday
Upson's Defiance Honours No 6 Shirt by Evan Fanning
The last time Fulham emerged victorious from a league encounter with West Ham, Bobby Moore was not only captain of the Upton Park outfit but also of the recently-crowned world champions. On Saturday, Craven Cottage acknowledged the 15th anniversary of Moore's death with a minute's applause before Saturday's game... Independent
Fulham Furious Over Solano's Winner by Colin Malam
A scruffy game won with a scruffy goal. West Ham substitute Nolberto Solano settled this undistinguished London derby three minutes from the end of normal time by winning a challenge with Fulham goalkeeper Antti Niemi dubiously and then accidentally knocking the ball into the net with his elbow... Sunday Telegraph
Solano Hands More Bad Luck To Fulham by David Miller
Should Nolberto Solano's goal have been allowed? Roy Hodgson, manager of a sinking team, thought not. Alan Curbishley, manager of the winners, conceded that it might not have been. "You get these moments of luck." Crucially, referee Howard Webb saw no infringement... Telegraph
Upson Inspired By Moore Legend by Steve Curry
Matthew Upson stood in the centre circle wearing the No 6 West Ham shirt Bobby Moore made famous while the crowd applauded in respect the 15th anniversary of his death. Up in the stand England boss Fabio Capello joined in the warm remembrance of a man who played with dignity and honour for both clubs... Mail on Sunday

Sunday, 24 February 2008

The Boy From Bootle

In the absence of any real news, here is a small piece on Alvin Martin taken from the latest issue of Hammers News...

Born in Bootle, on Merseyside, in July 1958, Alvin Martin signed for West Ham after only being offered a part-time apprenticeship with his local club Everton. The 15 year-old defender took the brave decision to move to London when he was offered terms by West Ham. The decision paid almost immediate dividends, as Alvin was a part of the side which reached the final of the FA Youth Cup in 1975. His sterling performances led to him being offered a professional deal the following year. Despite showing great promise in his early appearances, Martin could do little but look on as the team were relegated to the Second Division in 1978.

However, in many ways, this unfortunate situation would be the making of young Alvin. He soon became a regular in the side the following season, where he would benefit greatly from the experience and guidance of his usual central defensive partner, Billy Bonds. It would not be long before martin collected his only piece of silverware in a Hammers shirt, when he played a huge role in West Ham's infamous FA Cup win over Arsenal in 1980. The following season West Ham romp to the Second Division title and also provided yet another Wembley cup final appearance for our young defender. Although the Hammers lost in the League Cup showpiece against Liverpool, it was Alvin Martin's header which was handled on the line, thus allowing Ray Stewart's dramatic penalty equaliser.

The following season, Alvin had his first taste of European football as the Hammers took part in the European Cup-Winners' Cup. Martin shone on the European stage and this eventually led to international recognition. Ron Greenwood was manager of the national team by now and the man who had signed Alvin as a youngster showed no hesitation in throwing him in truly at the deep end, as the Hammers centre-half made his international debut against Brazil! Despite a defeat, Martin emerged with great credit from a game which saw him come up against, amongst others, Brazilian legend Zico. This led to a total of 19 international caps for the composed defender, including an appearance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, although he had unfortunately missed the 1982 tournament through injury.

By this time, Martin had become one of the finest defenders in the country and upon the initial retirement of Billy Bonds, Alvin forged another exceptional partnership with Tony Gale. There have been few instances in English football in which two central defenders who are so accomplished on the ball have been paired together, yet Gale and Martin provided the platform for the hammers' most successful season ever in 1985/86. having pushed Liverpool and Everton all the way in the race for the title, West Ham eventually had to settle for third spot. Nevertheless, it was the club's highest ever finish in England's top flight and the season also saw Alvin record the strange first of scoring a hat-trick, against three different goalkeepers! It came in an 8-1 demolition of Newcastle, whose goalkeeper Martin Thomas picked up an injury, before being replaced by Chris Hedworth and then Peter Beardsley, with Alvin scoring against all three in the same game.

The following season however, injuries began to take their toll and a number of knocks restricted the tall defender's appearances over the coming seasons. However, every time it seemed as though he might have played his last game for the club, Martin would somehow find the determination to battle back and prove the doubters wrong. this was most evident when he had suffered a 10 month lay-off through injury, only to come back and help the Hammer' assault on the premiership in 1993/94. he had done enough to earn himself yet another top flight contract, at the age of 36.

Contrary to the realms of possibility, Alvin continued his career for another two seasons, despite being constantly dogged by injury. He eventually made his last appearance in an emotional game at his beloved Upton Park against Sheffield Wednesday, on the final day of the 1995/96 season, at the age of 38. It is unlikely any player in the modern era will ever replicate the commitment and service Alvin Martin showed to the club in 19 years of service. Despite his numerous injury problems, when the Scouse legend eventually left West Ham, he had made 586 appearances for the club, which meant that Alvin Martin would forever be remembered as an undoubted Hammers Hero.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Able And Ready

A nice interview with Luis Boa Morte in this morning's Independent...

Luis Boa Morte: 'I'm always able and ready and up for the fight. I'm not going to turn my back'... The Portuguese international returns to Craven Cottage today having endured a miserable first year at West Ham but, as he tells Mike Rowbottom, he has worked too hard getting where he is to give up now

Luis Boa Morte is on the spot, and clearly growing a little anxious. Behind his back, a slide screen shows a drawing of something which 20 eager pupils of West Ham Church School, seated in front of him, are striving to communicate – without using the word itself.

"It's quite big," shouts out one eager girl in a red sweatshirt. Well, that's narrowed it down a bit...

"You use it to do things," offers another. The picture is still not crystal clear to West Ham's famously spiky midfielder, who at this moment is looking like a puzzled boy.

"It helps you think," comes suggestion number three. Not quite correct, but it has the desired effect as Boa Morte – the day's guest player/mentor at West Ham's thriving Learning Zone project with local schools – announces with relief that he is sitting in front of a brain. If only all of his challenges could be solved as straightforwardly.

The Portuguese international's last appearance in the West Ham team, when they secured a 1-0 home win over Liverpool at the end of January, saw him substituted on the hour to a chorus of boos and ironic cheers. Missing two chances – albeit neither of them sitters – had failed to endear him to the Upton Park faithful, who have yet to embrace him in the way Fulham fans did at his previous club.

During his six and a half years at Craven Cottage, Boa Morte, now 30, thrilled the home fans with his mixture of speed, skill and spite. The latter quality has always been a distinguishing feature of his game, leading to a relationship with referees which once prompted former Fulham manager Chris Coleman to joke that his side would never have a chance of qualifying for Europe through the fair play trophy while Boa Morte was in the side.

Balancing the indiscretions, however, was a sequence of performances which yielded a regular if modest contribution of goals but always a major contribution in terms of influence and dynamism. Boa Morte has the power to transform football matches.

It was a power which Arsène Wenger appreciated very early on, as, in one of his first signings upon joining Arsenal, he paid Sporting Lisbon £1.75m for their hugely promising 20-year-old winger in 1997.

In the two years Boa Morte spent at Highbury he picked up Premiership and FA Cup winners' medals as part of the 1997-98 Double squad, although he missed out on the FA Cup final itself. Let go by Arsenal after he failed to earn a regular first-team place, he was signed for Southampton by Dave Jones in August 1999, but by January of the following year Jones had been replaced by Hoddle. And Hoddle, as Boa Morte recalls with a wry smile, was not a fan of his style of football.

"I only played three times for him, and at the end of the season he told me I wasn't part of his plans and I could go," says Boa Morte, who is in the squad for today's away match against his old side, Fulham, and eager to return to action after missing two games with minor calf problems. "But it was the end of July and I had difficulty getting another club. Even Huddersfield said no, they had a full squad, they didn't need anyone. I was struggling to get a club and I got a bit lost. I thought to myself, 'What am I going to do?' And then it came to my mind to phone Mr Wenger to ask for his help.

"He was always very clear with me when I was at Arsenal. He was very good."

Wenger contacted his fellow Frenchman Jean Tigana, then in charge of Fulham, and arranged a trial, after which Boa Morte joined on a year's loan. That move became permanent after a season in which Fulham won the First Division with a record number of 101 points, with Boa Morte contributing 18 goals in 39 appearances.

Thus was launched a Fulham career which ended only when Boa Morte moved across London to Upton Park in last year's January transfer window for a fee believed to be around £5m. He was plunged straight into a relegation battle, but played a key part in West Ham's unlikely recovery as they remained unbeaten in their last nine games, scoring a crucial first goal in a 3-0 win at fellow strugglers Wigan Athletic which seemed to convince players and fans alike that Premier League status might yet be retained.

This season, however, Boa Morte's form has been undermined by niggling injuries and he has started only 14 of West Ham's 31 matches, coming on as a substitute in seven others, and – most painfully as far as he is concerned – failing so far to contribute any goals.

"It's been one of my most difficult periods in football since I came to West Ham," he says. "But I'm always able and ready and up for the fight, you know, I'm not going to turn my back away.

"We are in a better position as a club this season, so of course I feel better. Personally I just need to score one or two goals to get the thing going because I have been putting in the hard work to get back from my hamstring injury but it is just the scoring bit that hasn't come along. It's been my fault because I have had a few chances, so I'll keep working hard."

Reflecting upon his misses against Liverpool, he adds: "The first one probably was the easiest one to hit the target, but my body was in the wrong position. The second one – I didn't really expect the ball to come to me.

"But I will take the blame. That's a side of football that exists, and we are here to take that. My back is big enough to take the boos for missing chances. But it is not big enough to take the boos for not working hard. That I won't take from the West Ham supporters or any other person. If someone says that, I won' t turn my face away."

As he speaks, his expression hardens, and you begin to see how this slight, amiable character becomes someone else on the pitch. He is unapologetic about the aggressive side of his game, which he believes stems from the attitude he established as the second youngest of 10 boys being raised by his mother in the Lisbon suburb of Quintela.

"Whatever people think of me, my way to be on the pitch is my way and I'm not going to change. My way to be in football is working hard and fighting, because whatever I have got in life in these days, it's because I did work hard and fight for it.

"My dad wasn't at home all the time, so my mum looked after us. I used to lie to my mum about how I'd done in my exams and when I was going to school. She couldn't keep up because she was so busy working. She would get up at 6.30am in the morning and be back home at 7.45pm to cook for all the kids and get things ready for the next day.

"I gave up school when I was 15. It's something I don't want my kids to do. I would like them to have a good time at school and then good careers and university. I did some naughty stuff as a kid. I told my mother recently what we used to do. She almost had a heart attack!'

But the naughty boy had a big talent – he was signed up by Sporting at the age of 11 and was soon playing in one of their junior teams. He also had the determination, or pig-headedness, not to let his opportunity go to waste. "One thing that was hard in my life was to leave school and start working. I worked in a supermarket, then I worked repairing engines on fridge-freezers. Then I was working as an electrician. So one thing that really hurt me was to get up at 5.30 in the morning and catch the bus at quarter past six. That was hard because by the end of the day, when I'd finished work, and when I'd finished training, I would get home about 10pm and I'd sit and try to watch TV and I would just go to sleep.

"My mum said to me 'It's hard, isn't it? Go back to school...' But because I took the option to start working I was not going to give up. I never give up. I always try to get a better job, better conditions. So that was the same thing in football.

"To move to Arsenal was a big surprise, a big gamble for me. I never had any regrets about going to Highbury because it was a big help to my career to play with people like Marc Overmars and Dennis Bergkamp.

"Then I move to Southampton, it was smaller than Arsenal. Then things didn't end up well at Southampton and I ended up going lower to Fulham because they were in the Championship. But then from Fulham I start building up again, because we fought and we did all we could and we got promoted. Then we were fighting for our lives in the Premiership every single season, apart from when we had a great season and finished ninth.

"That's the way that things go. You find sometimes you have downs in life, but you can never give up. You keep fighting to get back to the top. And because I have achieved, I am not going to give up now. I'm expecting to play until I am 35, 36 so I have to keep going."

And now Boa Morte, glancing at his watch, has to get going – back home to Romford, where his wife, Sarah, who is expecting a second child this month, is looking after their lively 19-month-old daughter Rafaela. With an eight-year-old son in Lisbon, Luigi Jnr, this most committed of midfielders has plenty of motivation to maintain his career. He could do with a goal. Perhaps an appearance against his old club today would help do the trick.

Bobby Moore Remembered

Fifteen years ago, on 24 February 1993, football fans in England and across the world united to mourn the tragic death of Bobby Moore at the age of just 51. Instinctively, thousands of them made their way to the Boleyn Ground to pay their respects and leave claret and blue tributes ranging from shirts and scarves to flags and flowers. It was not just West Ham United fans either. Rightly regarded as one of the all-time greats, Moore stood for everything that was right about the game and his passing compelled supporters of other clubs to offer condolences.

In his remarkable career, the legendary Barking-born defender served West Ham United to distinction between 1958 and 1974 before a three-year stint with Fulham. Moore helped the east London club to FA Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup glory as well as winning 108 England caps and lifting the World Cup trophy in the 1966 final at Wembley. That led to Royal recognition with his OBE in 1967. His achievements will never be forgotten. Indeed, visitors to the Boleyn Ground cannot miss the Bobby Moore Stand built in 1993 which serves as permanent recognition. Then there is the blue plaque in his honour outside and the statue on the corner of Green Street. Much more than all of those things, however, is the unseen legacy in the heart of every fan - that unstinting expectation of football played the right way by those who understand what it means to wear the shirt.

Moore's name also lives on with the Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research, set up by his widow Stephanie to raise money in his memory. The bowel cancer that claimed his life is the third most common type of the disease in the UK after breast and lung cancer. Around 100 people in this country are diagnosed every day. The Bobby Moore Fund is one of West Ham United's two chosen charities this season. Bobby Moore was the essence of West Ham United. A local boy made good who walked with the best on a global stage but always in a down to earth manner that never belied his roots. His is the standard by which all others are judged.

Incredibly, this afternoon's fixture list has paired together West Ham and Fulham, the two English clubs for whom he played during an 18-year career. The match will provide a poignant memorial to the man who captained England to success in the 1966 World Cup final, as well as leading West Ham to victory in the FA Cup in 1964, and the European Cup-Winners' Cup the following year. "We will try and honour the occasion as much as we can," Alan Curbishley said. "Both teams will wear armbands. It is quite right that someone of his stature should be remembered."

Today's match has considerable significance for both sets of players regardless of the connection with Moore. West Ham require points toward their push for European qualification; Fulham, meanwhile, are three points adrift of safety and desperate to extricate themselves from the relegation zone. Lucas Neill was just short of his 15th birthday when Moore died aged 51, recognised the mantle he has taken over. "I have the utmost respect for his achievements," Neill said, "so it is an honour to wear the captain's armband like he did for West Ham."

At about the same age as Neill was in 1993, Curbishley was training regularly with West Ham, and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Moore, before following him into the first team. "I used to come to West Ham as a schoolboy and do pre-season training with Bobby Moore," Curbishley said. "We used to go running around Epping Forest and I soon became aware that he knew a shortcut or two. I was about 14, but [then manager] Ron Greenwood invited me to do pre-season during the school holidays. My introduction to the club was people like Bobby and Frank Lampard Snr."

Curbishley, now 50, did not break into the West Ham team until shortly after Moore left in March 1974 to wind down his domestic career at Craven Cottage. During his 16 years at Upton Park, Moore played nearly 550 League games, and he made more than 120 League appearances for Fulham during three years there before heading out to the United States to play for San Antonio Thunder and Seattle Sounders. Co-incidentally, at the end of his first full season with Fulham, they reached the FA Cup final where, co-incidentally, they met West Ham. There was no sentimental swansong for Moore, though, as Alan Taylor scored twice in West Ham's 2-0 win. "I was an apprentice here at the time," Curbishley said, "and I had played in a couple of games near the final and I thought I might have been in the squad, but I wasn't. I went to the final as part of the club and it was a great result."

Fulham were in the Second Division at the time, and face a return to the second tier unless Roy Hodgson can conjure the type of escape that Curbishley managed at West Ham a year ago. West Ham won seven of their last nine games to stay up, and when asked what Fulham need to do in their remaining dozen games, Curbishley said starkly: "Win six more games. That is all I can say. Last year, we were in a very similar position with 12 games to go. We know what they are up against. Hodgson has steadied the ship. Now he just needs to pick up results."

Thursday, 21 February 2008

The First And Last Englishmen

Last weekend's FA Cup fixtures threw up an unexpected West Ham United related story with a small feature on the 1975 cup winning side. Most Irons fans will know that that particular team- Day, McDowell, Lampard, Bonds, Taylor T, Lock, Jennings, Paddon, Taylor A, Brooking and Holland- was the last all-English team to win a major domestic trophy. Not only that, but the beaten finalists of Fulham was also an entirely English team and featured, of course, Bobby Moore. As if things were not parochial enough, ten of the eleven players representing West Ham United at Wembley that day were born locally. The exception was Alan Taylor (pictured) who was born in Hinckley, Leicestershire. Taylor was the hero in the final with both goals scored in the space of four minutes.

The main point of the article in the Mail is to highlight the dwindling numbers of English talent in the top flight. Such a trend is hardly a revelation considering the way the game has developed over the last thirty years but the numbers are still startling. There are 210 English players in the Premier League and the squad list breaks down like this...

West Ham 18

Tottenham 17

Middlesbrough 15

Manchester United, Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers, Derby County 13

Everton, Wigan 12

Newcastle 11

Portsmouth, Sunderland 10

Chelsea 9

Birmingham, Reading 8

Manchester City 7

Fulham 6

Blackburn, Liverpool 5

Arsenal 4

As can be seen, West Ham United are now, as back in 1975, still leading the way in championing home bred English talent. Just one more reason to be proud of this great club.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The March Of Youth

It is another quiet day today save for a slew of youth related stories on the official site. First up is Mark Noble, who we're told, is mightily impressed with the likes of James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Freddie Sears. All three have shown up well while training and travelling with the senior squad in recent weeks. Of reserve-team captain Collison, Noble said: "He is a fantastic player and a really nice kid as well. He handles himself well, gets on with everyone and is well liked. He is great in training every day with us, he is definitely one for the future." Collison, 19, made his senior debut away to Arsenal on New Year's Day, a match when central defender Tomkins, 18, also figured in the matchday 16 for the first time. "I rate Tomks highly," added Noble, who said it was harder for defenders to come through given the fact some of the best attacking players in the world are on view in the Premier League. That said, he has faith in his young colleague. "He is a clever centre-back who can pass, who can head - who can do everything."

The duo have been regulars around the first team since the turn of the year and Noble is convinced both will blossom when the time is right. He explained: "I am sure it is just a case of putting them in. As with me, you get chucked in and the adrenalin and the nerves kick in. You do things you don't expect you can do. They are just waiting for their chances and I am sure they are both going to be fantastic for this club in the future." Another name on the horizon is prolific scorer Sears - who has 20 goals in 16 games for the U18s this season and has begun to establish himself alongside Tomkins at England Under-19 level. Noble described getting a recent glimpse of the 18-year-old forward in action during a training ground match. "All the first team was watching and he was head and shoulders above the rest. He is quick, he can finish and he has got a little bit of arrogance about him as well. We have got some bright youngsters coming through."

The West Ham United reserves return to action this evening against Fulham at Bishop's Stortford. The two London rivals meet three days before the senior sides go head to head at Craven Cottage in top-flight action. Kevin Keen's side are on a roll and aiming for a third straight victory after a 1-0 success at Portsmouth and a 4-1 home defeat of Birmingham City. The Irons can go second, temporarily at least, in the 12-team southern section of the Barclays Premier Reserve League with victory. The club are two points behind Reading, who do not play until welcoming Arsenal on Thursday night. Aston Villa, whose away game against Chelsea on Tuesday night was postponed, lead the way at the top of the division by a further five points. Collison is intent on securing the highest possible league finish this season as well as maintaining his personal goals with the first team. "Kevin (Keen) had told us before the game against Birmingham, that if we won, we could go second in the table," he said. "That's what we want to do, get as high as we can in the table and keep getting the results. We have set standards for ourselves, we have a good mix in the reserve team of senior pros who have the experience and younger lads looking to push their way into reckoning for the first team."

Collison is also progressing well on the international stage, with another good outing for Wales Under-21s earlier this month in a 4-0 win in Malta, that also saw him make it two goals in three appearances for his country. If Wales continue their European Championship qualifying form for the 2009 finals, Collison could even find himself up against Mark Noble's England in the play-offs later this year. "It was nice to get amongst the goals and I was pleased to be able put in a decent performance," said the young midfielder. "It might be interesting if we get to meet England. I am sure there will be some extra banter between Nobes and myself if that happens."

Also hoping to continue his progress at reserve-team level tonight is Junior Stanislas. The attacking midfielder played a significant part off the bench in last week's 4-1 success against Birmingham City. Kevin Keen introduced him at half-time with the score at 1-1 after Jack Collison had cancelled out Birmingham's opener. Stanislas's arrival helped provide extra impetus behind Bobby Zamora that paved the way for the striker to score a comeback hat-trick. "Kevin wanted to change things around a bit, he felt we needed to push on in the final third and told me to come on, get involved and try to help change the game," Stanislas said. "He said get on the ball and do what you can for the team. Jack had got a goal and then Bobby went on and scored a great hat-trick, it was good to be involved and Kevin told me I had worked hard and done well."

These are good times for Stanislas as also continued his great form with the Under-18s at the weekend by scoring the winning goal in a 1-0 win at league leaders Southampton. "I am enjoying it," he stated. "Playing for the reserves has made me more confident and of course, you are learning alongside some of the senior players as well, it's good. My aim is to hold down a regular place in the reserve team, develop more as a player at that level and still push on and get better in the Under-18's. Playing reserves is a step-up, the game is much quicker and you have to learn that you don't get as much time on the ball, so you have to be thinking ahead all of the time." He has also had another taste of the England Under-19 set-up already familiar to Jordan Spence, James Tomkins and Freddie Sears - all of whom should also be on view this evening. He was involved in the 2-0 friendly win against Croatia earlier this month having also got a taste of playing against Germany last November. "It was a good experience, I loved it," he said. "Everyone wants to play for their country and you do think you must be doing something right for to be picked. But it only makes you want to go on and do more. In the last match, I came off the bench and had a few minutes and my aim is to have even more minutes on the pitch for both West Ham and England. With international football, it's all about keeping the ball and moving it fast as well. I had moral support from Tomka and Fred up there, and I really enjoyed it, so hopefully there is more to come if I keep working hard at my game."

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Beasts Of Burden

West Ham United return to full training this week after a few days' rest with the likes of Bobby Zamora, Julien Faubert and Nolberto Solano pushing hard for first-team recalls. Speaking on the official site, head physiotherapist George Cooper revealed he has been very pleased with Zamora and Faubert's progress following their match-winning contributions over 90 minutes for the reserves in the 4-1 defeat of Birmingham City last week. Cooper also had positive news on the efforts being made by Scott Parker and Kieron Dyer, which comes after similar optimistic news concerning defenders James Collins and Calum Davenport last week.

A persistent knee injury has kept Zamora out of action since the Carling Cup victory at Bristol Rovers in the first month of the campaign. Having undergone extensive rehabilitation work to cure the residual swelling, the 27- year old is now closing on a first-team return. "He is strong as an ox now," said Cooper. "His legs are really good and he is in good nick. Bobby is always in early, has been working very hard and been very patient. It looks to have paid off. His running fitness is as good as anybody's at the club, if not better." The ox will become the beast of burden for a misfiring forward line still minus the services of Craig Bellamy. The Welshman will be sidelined for some time yet as he is due to have an abdominal strengthening operation to complement the core work he has been doing in his struggle for fitness. "He [Bellamy] has been absolutely brilliant," stated Cooper. "Everything he has done has got him back to almost being ready and there is a feeling that if he carries on with slight symptoms they are likely to get worse rather than better. The symptoms have to go. The operation will complement the excellent work he has done before and that should be the last bit he needs before continuing his strengthening." Despite several sources suggesting Bellamy would not return before season's end, Sky Sports are now reporting his absence could be more like six weeks.

Julian Faubert returned to action with those three reserve team assists against Birmingham City. He has been handled carefully in the previous two weeks because of tightness in his calves, although Cooper stressed he was not injured. He, like Nolberto Solano, who has recovered from a hamstring problem, is reported to be back to full fitness and in contention for the games to come. Equally positively, the duo could soon be joined in the battle for midfield places by Scott Parker. The England international has "totally recovered from his posterior capsule rupture" with Cooper adding that "we are extremely pleased". The midfielder, who was hurt in an innocuous challenge against Manchester United on 29 December, a problem unrelated to any previous knee problem, has started his running programme and could be back in full training in a fortnight. Elsewhere, Kieron Dyer continues to make "excellent progress" from his double leg break and is also running, although it is too early to set a date on his return while Danny Gabbidon is being treated for a persistent groin problem.

Away from the injury news and Robert Green has been dealt a further snub by Fabio Capello. In an interview with Rai Radio Anch'io in Italy, the England manager bemoaned the number of foreign players in the Barclays Premier League that has meant "the pool is reduced" when it comes to squad selection. "Only 38 per cent of the players are English," he complained. "The pool is reduced. I have had to reinstate a 37-year-old goalkeeper but I have spotted one in the Under-21s [Joe Hart] who is very interesting." Meanwhile Anton Ferdinand says that he hopes to follow his brother's footsteps by forcing his way into Fabio Capello's England squad. The 22-year-old defender has been enjoying good form since returning to the West Ham United first team following a turbulent year which saw him castigated for flying to America in order to attend a friend's birthday party (under the pretence of being with a sick relative) then land a spell in court for a club fracas in which he was later acquitted. But with all his troubled hopefully behind him, the new mature Ferdinand says that his immediate aim is to emulate his brother by making one of Capello's forthcoming squads. "It is definitely in my mind," he told "I am too old to play for the Under-21s now so the next step is the senior squad. All I can do is turn in performances for West Ham and that is what I am going to continue to do. I am just going to concentrate on doing that. If I do get the call, then great. If I don't, then so be it."

Monday, 18 February 2008

The Golden Thread

You see stars that clear have been dead for years
But the idea just lives on
In our wheels that roll around
As we move over the ground
And all day it seems we’ve been in between the past and future town

She was the golden thread that united him to a Past beyond his misery, and to a Present beyond his misery: and the sound of her voice, the light of her face, the touch of her hand, had a strong beneficial influence with him almost always...

Next Sunday will be 15 years to the day that Bobby Moore passed away and the man currently wearing his number has revealed what it means to him to have the shirt. "It's a big honour," reflects Matthew Upson. "Sometimes I do sit at home and think about it and I get a little buzz because it's a big honour. I didn't actually specifically ask for it. I was given it and it's a real honour to wear that shirt." With the team not playing this weekend ahead of the trip to Fulham, fittingly a club also served by the legendary Moore, next Saturday, Upson has relished the chance of an extended break. "It has been a crazy couple of weeks. I have had six games in two weeks, so the body and mind could do with a rest." That said, he is not going to stop putting in the work on the practice pitches - with a refreshing philosophy about life at the training ground. "Never waste a day," he said. "Turn up to work every morning and improve at something, even if it's learning how to do something really miniscule, it doesn't matter. Take something out of the day which has made you a better player. If you do that throughout your career, you can only get better."

Having played every minute of this season's league campaign after the "dreadful" events of last year when injury cost him the chance to help in the fight for survival, Upson said: "It's only just beginning at West Ham. I want to give some very good years in my career to West Ham and I feel I am coming into my prime." His current partner Anton Ferdinand is still only 22 himself and, having played alongside his brother Rio for England earlier this month, Upson can see that his young colleague has a bright future ahead. "They are quite different. Rio is a more polished version at the moment his stature, career and experience is at a greater level but Anton has some every good aspects and if he keeps working and improving I am sure that he will do very well." He also sees plenty of competition coming up through the ranks with the likes of England youth internationals Jordan Spence and James Tomkins set to stake a claim in future. "Tomka's showed some real talent and understanding of the position. Jordan looks very good too. He's trained with us a few times and he looks a really good athlete. He's got a good athletic build. There are some good young prospects coming through."

Also waiting in the wings is Bondz N'Gala. The imposing young defender is developing fast and enjoying life at reserve-team level alongside England Under-19 defender Tomkins. The pair first came together for Kevin Keen's side at home to Chelsea on 10 December with N'Gala turning in a man of the match display in the goalless draw. They then reunited last week for the visit of Birmingham City and again were imperious in a 4-1 success. "My aim is to be a regular for the reserves now and try to push on from there," the 18-year-old, who is nicknamed Bonzo, told WHUTV. "The next step is to make my mark for the reserve team. Hopefully, the manager is watching and I will do all I can to impress."

He could get another chance to do just that on Wednesday night when Fulham arrive at Bishop's Stortford looking to fare better than Birmingham. "It was a very good win," N'Gala said of last week's success. "We worked hard at them and got the result in the end. We had a good team out so we believed in our ability and got back in the game, and in the end we got four." As well as Tomkins, the back line featured the highly rated Spence, who is still only 17, at right-back and Jonathan Spector, a veteran by comparison at 21, at left-back. Having the chance to play alongside the likes of established US international Spector and returning hat-trick hero Bobby Zamora further forward is something that N'Gala is looking to use to his advantage. "I am always listening to what they have got to say and take it on. They have been there and are willing to help. It is good to see Bob back out there. Hopefully we will see him out there soon for the first team doing the same."

In between those Chelsea and Birmingham reserve fixtures, N'Gala went off to Weymouth on a work experience arrangement last month only to be recalled after a change of management at the Conference club. Despite that aborted spell he did get the chance to taste the top level of non-league football and found it as useful an experience as playing alongside Zamora and Co.
"It has helped me playing competitive football elsewhere," the homegrown talent from Forest Gate said. "I have grown up a bit more. I had to grow up quick in that league. It is a bit different to being here - they play the ball a bit long more, you have got to get used to it. There was more heading for me. It was good." N'Gala's first game upon his return to West Ham United was helping the Under-18s to a 2-0 win at Arsenal on 2 February and he was back in action again for Tony Carr's in-form Academy side at the weekend as they won 1-0 away to Southampton. "It is good to be back and to see the lads again. It is good to be playing in the West Ham shirt again as well."

Following that victory against Southampton, Tony Carr was effusive in paying tribute to his young team. "We just deserved to win it on the day," he said. "I thought we carried the bigger threat going forward. They defended resolutely and restricted us to a few efforts at goal but we got there in the end. It is a good time at the moment and hopefully we can carry on and remain unbeaten for as long as possible." Aware his team had previously lost 6-1 and 3-2 to Arsenal and Southampton respectively inside a fortnight at the end of October and start of November, Carr explained his satisfaction at seeing things go his side's way. "It is always nice to make amends for an earlier defeat. Three or four months down the road, the teams are slightly different and it is a different game but it is always nice to get one back if you get beaten by a team. Southampton are at the top and Arsenal are second. We have beaten them both and kept a clean sheet."

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