Friday, 19 December 2008

The Waters Lapping

But they couldn't stop Jack, 'or the waters lapping,
And they couldn't prevent Jack from being happy.
A rare piece of good news today as Jack Collison penned a glistening new five-year deal with United that keeps him tied to Upton Park until 2013. The 20-year-old Welsh international midfielder has made just five appearances for the Hammers thus far this season but has impressed both the club and supporters with his cultured displays. He opened his goalscoring account for the club in the 3-1 home defeat against Everton last month.

Talking to tonight, a happy Collison said:

"It has been a really good year for me. It is a nice Christmas present and a good way to end the year after making my debut for the senior team at Arsenal at the beginning of the year. I now want to claim a regular place in the starting eleven if I can and really push on now.

"I am delighted that the club wants me here for a long time. It gives you security and now it is sorted, I can just concentrate on my football. I have worked my way through from the youth team to the first and want to be a regular part of it all.

"The new manager has come in and given me the confidence to show what I can do - and now I am aiming to make the most of all my opportunities on the pitch."

West Ham United CEO Scott Duxbury added: "I am delighted that Jack has signed a new long-term deal and followed Freddie Sears and Carlton Cole in committing his long-term future to West Ham United. I know Gianfranco Zola and his staff have been very impressed with him and this is just reward for all his hard work. As his performance at Chelsea showed last week, Jack is an exciting young player and one the Academy can be proud of producing. We are fully committed to giving our young players a chance to shine in the first team."

Collison's rapid emergence from Tony Carr's youth team set-up saw the Watford-born number 31 make his international debut in the 1-0 victory in Denmark last month - a game won by a goal from Collison's West Ham United team mate Craig Bellamy.

Elsewhere, there is a nice interview with Mark Noble in today's Mail...

Sometimes it's tough to be a local hero. The pressure, the emotion. Just ask Mark Noble. No sooner had he established himself in the West Ham team than his nerves were being tested by a fierce relegation fight. His tearful trudge from the Upton Park pitch after a defeat to Tottenham remains one of the defining images of a tumultuous season for the Hammers.

On the flip-side, no one savoured the euphoria of their eventual escape like the teenager who walked back after his first-team debut in 2004 to a home where his bedroom walls were still plastered with claret and blue posters.

Almost two years on from that last-gasp defeat to Spurs and Noble is the first to admit he has changed. He has developed into a more mature professional. He talks with authority, aware of his responsibilities, and has been spied sharing advice with young team-mates Jack Collison and Freddie Sears.

'I'm only 21 but it feels like I've been around for ages,' he says, smiling.

'The boys can't believe it either. It seems like I'm so much older. That's just my personality and the fact I've managed to become a first team regular.'

The club is in his heart but his transition from regular fan to key player is illustrated by the team's dip in form during his time out with a calf injury. Perhaps these are early stages of his transformation into West Ham's answer to Steven Gerrard or John Terry.

He started his first game in almost two months in the draw at Chelsea last week and will be in the midfield against Aston Villa today.

'I'm always going to be a West Ham fan, but it's strange,' Noble admits as he reflects on life since West Ham escaped the drop in 2007.

'You can say you're a fan but this is my job. I work for West Ham. I live football 24 hours a day. Even when I'm sitting at home, I'm thinking about football, what can happen, this and that.

'My friends and family have learned to leave me alone - otherwise I'll just give them the cold shoulder. They've got their opinions but I know the players well and I know what's happening at the club.

'I think they've slowly moved away from asking me what's going on, who's this, who's that, what happened Saturday, why didn't we do this, why didn't we do that because, after two years of it, it drives you mad.

'West Ham fans are so proud of their club and what it stands for. I fully understand that. I've been brought up around it all my life. But when I finish training, I want to get away from that, otherwise I'm a bear with a sore head around my girlfriend and I don't want that.'

Hammers fans have endured more than their share of anxiety in the past two years. First, the great escape, then the legal battle surrounding Carlos Tevez and Sheffield United, relegated when the Hammers survived.

The club's future is again uncertain because of the financial issues of chairman Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson and his decision to invite offers from potential buyers but Noble insists the Hammers are heading in the right direction under Gianfranco Zola.

'Two years ago was the low of all lows,' says Noble.

'Ninety per cent of the football population in this country thought West Ham had gone down. Then we went and beat Arsenal away and Man United away.

'I've always been positive. I think a club like this, with its traditions of bringing through young talent and with a manager like Zola, who is young and enthusiastic, can only look forward positively.'

Noble has other things to look forward to, including parenthood. He and girlfriend Carly - the couple have been together since they were 14 - are expecting a daughter in early March.

Then there are the European Championships in Sweden with England Under 21s and the chance to improve on their gallant efforts in Holland two years ago. After writing off his money on a summer holiday to Mexico, Noble forced his way into Stuart Pearce's squad and then broke into the midfield during the tournament, scoring two penalties in the epic 13-12 penalty shoot-out defeat to the hosts in the semi-final.

'When you score your first one, you think, "Yes, that's out of the way",' he recalls.

'Then James Milner's going, "I've got to take another one". I thought, "That means I've got to take another one as well then". It was a mad old trip.'

It was a mad season for Noble. It started on loan at Ipswich. Then he was recalled and Alan Curbishley's decision to fast-track him into the first team paid off. He scored his first Premier League goal against Tottenham in March but the game ended painfully when two late goals condemned the Hammers to a 4-3 defeat.

'I thought we'd won it with Bobby Zamora's header and, five minutes later, we'd lost it,' says Noble, who left the pitch in tears.

'It was too much emotion for me.'

He describes that season as a 'freak of nature' and is confident West Ham's recent slide down the congested Premier League does not mean another relegation battle is looming.

'Once we play how we can do, we'll pick up points,' he says.

'We've got to stay out of that fight this year and when the gaffer gets his foot firmly in the door, maybe next year, we can push on. In a couple of years, we want to be doing what Aston Villa are doing now.'

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