‘West Ham are entering an exciting new era under Bilic’

Former fan favourite Jack Collison tells David Blackmore that Mark Noble deserves an England call and Martin Samuelson will be a star

West Ham fan favourite Jack Collison has tipped Michail Antonio and Martin Samuelsen to become leading players for West Ham in years to come. The midfielder, who announced his retirement last month at the age of 27, also called for Roy Hodgson to call up Mark Noble to the England squad, and believes the Hammers skipper would ‘easily’ slot in the England midfield. In a wide-ranging interview, the former Wales international admits he cannot wait to return to the Boleyn Ground at the end of this month to play in Noble’s testimonial.

‘It was a really nice touch from Noble [to ask me to play] and I was really excited when I got the text,’ Collison, who scored 14 goals in 121 appearances for West Ham, said. ‘It’s going to be an amazing event and I just feel lucky that I’ll be able to get out there to play. ‘What better way to honour one of the best servants West Ham have had in the modern era. Nobes has been fantastic for the club. ‘He has probably played under seven or eight managers now and he has always been a regular – even more so this season. He’s been in good form.

Collison explained the role Noble played in his own development, and added that he could not believe the Hammers star was still waiting on an England call up. ‘Nobes was good to me as a youngster coming through,’ he explained. ‘He has been there and done it and he looked after me and I’ll be forever grateful for that.’

‘I think [his England chances] is a no-brainer especially with the type of football West Ham are playing, I think he could slot in there really easily. The England midfield is a very competitive place to get into at the moment with the emergence of the likes of Dele Alli and Ross Barkley but I think Nobes has shown he can hold his own at any level. ‘With the amount of games he has played and the way he is driving West Ham forward at the moment, if he doesn’t get a call-up there’s definitely something going on there.’

Collison’s last club was Peterborough United, where he has also been their Under-21s coach since last summer, and he has been very impressed with what he has seen of Posh’s West Ham loanee Martin Samuelson. ‘I can remember Peterborough played West Ham in a pre-season friendly and Martin was tremendous that day,’ the former Bournemouth and Wigan Athletic loanee said.

‘Ever since then there have been a few people looking out for him, and then we heard that he was coming on loan to Posh. I can remember that he came into training and we saw just what a good player he was. His balance, his footwork, the way he goes past people, it’s just unbelievable. ‘Over the years there have been lots of players who can do that in training but he has gone out on the pitch and put in some great performances.

‘Then against West Brom in the FA Cup he showed the rest of the world that he has arrived. What a performance it was and more importantly he delivered on the big stage against Premier League opposition. ‘I think he is very fortunate that he is at a club like Peterborough who try to play the right way, he is getting well looked after and protected by the coaching staff and hopefully now he will get the opportunity to play quite a few games and help them push for promotion.’

But can he make it to the top of the English game? ‘I don’t see any reason why not,’ replied Collison, who played for Wales 17 times. ‘He is 18 years of age. For a player of any age to go out and play like he did against West Brom, I think he has got a big future ahead of him. ‘Not only is he a good player but he has also got a great attitude. He works hard and wants to be out there playing football every day.

‘He settled in really well here at Peterborough. It’s always tough for a young fella to go out anywhere on loan, but he is a nice lad, people like him and everyone wants him to do well because he is such a nice fella.’ As for the current crop of youngsters seeing regular action at the Boleyn Ground, Collison picked out Michail Antonio as being a ‘fantastic signing’

‘From the moment he put on that shirt, he has worked hard, put his body on the line, made tackles, got forward at every opportunity and what’s been very pleasing has been the goals he has scored. ‘I think if he keeps applying himself the way he has been then there is no doubt that he is going to get better and better and go on to become a big part of West Ham’s team.’ The conversation turns to his first game for West Ham against Arsenal on New Year’s Day 2008, he continued: ‘What better place to make my debut than at the Emirates.

‘I knew Freddie Ljungberg was struggling before the game, but before I knew it he was coming off and I was preparing to go on. ‘I’ve said it a couple of times in interviews before, the last words I was told before going onto the pitch was to try and get close to Cesc Fabergas which was one hell of a challenge but it was a great experience. ‘I can remember feeling that although I was pleased to have made the breakthrough and got my debut for the first team, I came off the pitch thinking I had an awful long way to go before I’m ready for that.

Although Alan Curbishley gave Collison his debut, Alan Pardew had been the man in charge when he was invited to train with the senior side. ‘He gave me a taste of the first team with me training with them regularly and he took me to the FA Cup final for the experience. ‘That was great for me and James Tomkins at the time to have a little taste of it and see what it was like and I think that helped inspire us to go back and work even harder so I was very grateful to Alan for that.

As for his favourite goal and moment during his West Ham career, Collison’s first goal was something he will always regard as being ‘special’. ‘Unfortunately we lost the game but that was a great feeling scoring at the Boleyn in front of the home fans.’ Another moment that will remain with Collison for the rest of his life was the League Cup tie against Millwall in 2009, just two days after his father died in a motorcycle accident.

‘It really was a special and strange night. To lose my Dad at such a young age was difficult to deal with,’ he said. ‘I made the decision to play and the support I received was amazing to be honest. I know the game will be remembered for various other reasons like the pitch invasion and the trouble before but for me that was a night where the West Ham community really came together. ‘They united to help me get through probably the hardest 90 minutes of my life. You could see the emotion had got to me at the end as I walked around the pitch.’

And Collison admits he feels he has always had a strong relationship with the West Ham faithful, and that was why he wanted to write an open letter to the fans when he left the club. ‘The West Ham results are always the first I look for because of the connection and journey I had there. ‘I’ve still got a few of my good friends there like Noble, Tomkins and James Collins. Obviously I want my friends to do well and I want West Ham to do well.

‘It really is an exciting time now, they’re going into a new stadium, they have a great squad, and they’ve got one hell of a manager. ‘I imagine I’ll be able to get down a bit more now I’m retired and watch West Ham take their first steps into an exciting new era.’

Collison was speaking to Claret and Hugh for Moore Than Just a Podcast. Listen to more from the team at www. moorethanjustapodcast. co.uk

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