Ask any West Ham fan what one of the highlights of the past few seasons has been. It shouldn’t be hard as there hasn’t been many, but one stand out feature has been the emergence (again) of some exciting youngsters from the Tony Carr conveyor belt. Last season we saw brief glimpses of Zavon Hines before injury cut short his season, but it was the emergence of the trio of James Tompkins, Junior Stanislas and 21 year old Welsh midfielder Jack Collison.
Collison was certainly one shining light in the back end of the 2008/09 season, continuing his assured form into last season, earning his first few caps for the Welsh national team. Unfortunately, injury struck again in March when he was ruled out for the rest of the year with a re-occurance of his knee injury.
We caught up with Jack as he continued his rehabilitation, trying not to distract him from his PlayStation 3.
How much of a blow was when Cambridge United lost their place in the league, and consequently their youth team set up?
Yes at the time I was obviously gutted but I had been through it before when I was at Peterborough United when I was younger so I was better at dealing with it. Luckily West Ham came in and I jumped at the opportunity.
How did you end up at West Ham under Tony Carr?
I was offered a trial game against MK:Dons and did enough to impress. There were a couple of options but as soon as I knew West Ham were interested there was only one place that I wanted to go. The club has a great history and Tony Carr has a massive part to do with this.
Most fans see the development of talent from the academy as something to be really proud of. Recently we have seen James Tompkins, Mark Noble, Zavon Hines, Junior Stanislas and yourself make the first team. So who are the next big players coming through?
There’s a real good crop who have just come on full time. Rob Hall looks like he scores goals for fun. Sebastien Lleget is a very exciting prospect as is Georgie Moncur and if he keeps progressing hopefully it won’t be too long until we see him making an impact at first team level.
How do you feel about the home grown player rule that will soon come into play in the Premier League? Do you think it will give clubs like West Ham who develop such talent an advantage, or will the bigger clubs simply see as a supermarket?
The new rules seem like they haven’t made a difference at all. The only thing that I see happening is more players being loaned out to other clubs.
The current England squad normally has a fair share of players that have started at the West Ham. What is it about Tony Carr that enables him to continuously produce such exceptional talent?
Tony has great experience and has produced some great players. It’s the perfect place for a young player to go and learn his trade. There a real family feel around the club and you get taught to play football the right way and get chance to express yourself.
Having first seen you play in a pre-season game at Dagenham & Redbridge (the one where West Ham played in a training kit) I couldn’t believe how confident you looked on the ball. Was this the moment you thought “I’ve made it”?
I remember how excited I was that game and I was even more excited to be playing alongside someone like Scotty Parker. He made it easy for me and I just enjoy going out there and playing football. I still feel I have alot of areas I need to work on so I am hoping there’s a lot more to come.
You couldn’t have asked for a better stadium to make your debut than the Emirates. When you were about to come on as a sub for your debut, what strange thoughts went through your head?
I remember this very well. Freddie (Ljundberg)went down injured and when the gaffer told me I was going on I didnt really have chance to think. before I knew it I was in the thick of the action. Anton ferdinand was really good talking me through it all and he said just “just enjoy it and play your usual game”. It was a great experience but I remember feeling disappointed with how I had performed afterwards and felt I still had an awful long way to go.
During your first full season you adapted to the pace of the Premier League so quickly. How did you mentally prepare from playing in front of one man and is dog one minute, and then 75,000 at Old Trafford the next?
I had dreamed of playing at packed stadiums since I was a kid so it was great for me. I just enjoy playing football and want to win every game so if its one man and his dog or a packed stadium I just go out there and try my best and enjoy it.
West Ham fans can be forgiven for forgetting that you are still very young. So what has been your proudest moment as a player so far?
My home debut (versus Everton) was massive for me even though we lost the game. I scored and thought I did well, but what stood out for me was the way the fans were towards me and it gave me a great feeling and made me hungrier for more.
Last season must have been so difficult for you in a number of ways. The injury at the end of the season was pivotal in the fight against relegation – how difficult is it for a player to sit out those games knowing that you are absolutely powerless to help out your team mates? And how far are you away from full fitness after your knee surgery?
Picking up injuries is one of the downsides of playing football. It’s even worse when I felt I could of helped the team but couldnt do anything about it. I tried to play on with my injury for a while but it got to the point where i was really struggling and not training so I had to have the operation. Now I feel great and the rehab is going really well. I aim to be back at the start of the New Year and am hoping to show everyone what im about once again. It will be nice to be playing without pain.
One of our standard questions – who is the most famous person in your phone book?
Probably the old manager (Gianfranco Zola) – he’s a bit of a legend as you saw when he was one of the guest of honours at the Community Shield in August at Wembley.
Dispel the myth for us that professional footballers train for a couple of hours and then spend the rest of the day playing golf? We know for instance that Wolves’s Jody Craddock is an accomplished artist, so who has the most “interesting” past times at the club?
Quite a few of the boys are really into their golf. I know Keiron Dyer fancies himself as the next Tiger Woods. James Tomkins is by far one of the worst out there so we always have interesting games!
There is considerable amount of talk about a potential move for the club to the Olympic stadium in 2013. Would you be happy having to keep running across the athletics track to fetch the ball rather than having it handed back to you by a refurbished East Stand?
This is a tough one for me. I love playing at Upton Park and I know lots of fans would be disappointed if we moved away, especially with all the history of the ground. I still get goosebumps walking out of the tunnel when Bubbles is echoing around the stadium. At the same time moving to the Olympic Stadium could be a great move and help take the club forward, so I am undecided.
Do you think that Manchester City are simply “hoovering” up players to stop other clubs getting them? What do players think about what is going on there?
It’s exciting times at Manchester City and they have signed some of the best players in the world. It will be interesting to see how they do this season and if they can gel and perform as a team.
Fans assume that just because you play for a club you support that club. What game do you look forward to each season and why?
Most my family are Chelsea fans so thats always a massive game in the Collison house. It’s also a chance for me to test myself against some of the best players in Europe so I always look forward to that one.
Have you seen an increase in your female admirers since you appeared quite high up in the “Wales most attractive man” poll? And was Danny Gabiddon pissed off that he wasn’t ranked?
Haha I had a bit of banter about that. I’m sure Gabbs was gutted deep down. We must be struggling in Wales if I was that high. Would be nice to have a few more female admirers though!
Wales probably have the best chance in many years of qualifying for a major tournament with the draw for Euro2012. How disappointing has it been that Wales haven’t filled their potential in the past considering the talent at their disposal? And how good will it be to walk out at a full Millennium stadium when they play England?
Wales have a great chance and I can’t wait to get fit and get back into action. Fingers crossed Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) will be back for the England game and with the experience of the likes of Craig Bellamy and the youngsters coming through like Gareth Bale and Chris Gunter we feel we can have a real crack. There has been talk for a while about all of these promising youngsters and there is a feel around the squad that its about time we started getting the results.
We love an International away day here at The Ball is Round – football, beer and a bit of sightseeing. Where has been the best place you have travelled to for football?
One of the perks of the jobs is getting to travel around a lot. For me the best place would have to be Japan when I was in the youth team. They really love there football out there and it was a great experience. It would be great to get into Europe so we had a few more away trips and I know this is what the fans would love to see.
Finally, sum up Jack Collison in a 140 character Tweet
Can’t wait to get back playing…..!!!!!
Most West Ham fans will be counting down the days until Jack is back in the first team. As you will see from the above he is a level headed chap, who has been desperately with injuries so far in his career. Jack – we wish you well and are happy to add you to the The Ball is Round fantasy football XI team.