My West Ham Scrapbook - Jack Collison

As former Hammers midfielder and current Academy coach Jack Collison celebrates his 30th birthday, he recalls some of his finest memories in Claret & Blue...

AN UNEXPECTED DEBUT

I made by first-team debut for West Ham against Arsenal at the Emirates on New Year’s Day 2008, when I came on as a substitute for Freddie Ljungberg.

The best thing about that day was that my good friend James Tomkins and I had been in and around the squad that season but not yet been named on the bench.

The manager Alan Curbishley told us we were both involved in the matchday squad as substitutes at the hotel and we celebrated like we had won the World Cup.

I remember we were warming up on the pitch and being abused by the Arsenal fans about our haircuts as nobody knew who we were.

But before I knew it I was on, making my Premier League debut. Curbs told me to ‘try and get close to Cesc Fabregas’, which was obviously a tough task, but it was just great to be out there with world-class players. That game gave me a real taste and desire to get more of the same.

I remember Anton Ferdinand was playing in defence that night and he was very supportive as I came on, saying ‘this is where you belong, so enjoy it. That gave me a real boost, having him behind me.

I felt I had made a real breakthrough for me and family, but unfortunately we didn’t know I was going to be involved so none of them were at the game!

MY FIRST GOAL IN CLARET AND BLUE

I scored my first goal for West Ham against Everton at the Boleyn Ground in November 2008 in what was my home debut!

I’d been in and around the squad a little bit, but I was meant to be going out on loan to Peterborough United, my old club, but I stayed around as Mark Noble got a little injury.

I had come on at Manchester United and started at Middlesbrough the weekend before, then I was named on the bench against Everton and got on quite early as Matty Upson got injured.

I had quite a good game and settled into things and then scored that I think was a pretty good goal!

Scotty Parker did a little flick back, I had a touch and the top corner was just screaming at me, so I opened my body up and curled it in there.

The feeling when the ball hit the back of the net was one of pure elation and joy. To score my first goal at home was amazing.

They got some really good photos of the goal and my celebrations, but unfortunately Louis Saha scored a couple of goals and we lost game 3-1.

Despite the result, it was a great moment for me and a feeling I’ll never forget.

AN UNFORGETTABLE NIGHT

My third game is the League Cup tie against Millwall at Upton Park in August 2009.

There were sad circumstances leading up to the game, as I had lost my Dad, who passed away after being involved in a road collision on his way to watch us play Spurs the previous weekend.

Despite the shock, I knew I wanted to play and spoke to the manager Gianfranco Zola and told him I wanted to play in such a big game. It was great to use football as release and have a bit of normality.

Everyone was really supportive, but the emotion was still raw and I nearly burst into tears getting on team bus.

It was a rollercoaster game. Millwall went ahead, but Junior Stanislas popped up late and got us back in the game.

We went into extra-time and got a penalty and one of my few regrets in football is not taking that penalty, but I knew Junior would score and thankfully he slotted it away!

Then Zavon Hines, popped up with the third and dedicated that goal to my Dad, which was a great gesture.

I had lived in digs with Zav, so we were close, and Junior had come up through the youth team with us. We were all getting tastes of it at the same time, so it was nice to share such an emotional time with them.

It was an unbelievable night. I have spoken many, many times about the fans that night, but I felt they carried me through the toughest 120 minutes of football of my life.

The game will be remembered for the trouble, but for me I will remember it for very different reasons. I was very thankful and tried to repay the fans every time I played afterwards.

THE PLAY-OFF HERO

My fourth game is the Championship Play-Off semi-final first leg at Cardiff City.

It was a really enjoyable season, overall. We were obviously disappointed to be in the Championship, but the squad and characters in it meant we really enjoyed it that year.

We wanted to win the league and be promoted automatically, but in hindsight it was more fun to go through the Play-Offs and the fans had a couple of extra games to enjoy!

On a peronal note, it was the best season of my career in terms of appearances and goals and I felt I had my biggest influenced on the team in a West Ham shirt.

On the night, I went back to Wales to a stadium I’d played in for my country and to set us on our way with two goals was just great.

I felt really good that night and really confident and to score the first one so early, even if I made a bit of a mess of it by having my initial shot saved from Ricardo Vaz Te’s great pass before heading in the rebound from about a yard, calmed us down and gave us a real boost.

For my second one, the ball came out and dropped and Matty Taylor said ‘Shoot!’ and I did. It got a little defelction but I think it was going in anyway.

The win set us on our way to getting to Wembley, which was incredible.

BACK WHERE WE BELONG

My fifth and final Scrap Book entry is the 2012 Championship Play-Off final at Wembley.

This was one of the biggest games any footballer can play in. Obviously the World Cup and Champions League are massive, but the future of people at the club is on the line with promotion to the Premier League at stake.

We all knew the expectation and pressure on us that season and it came down to one game in front of a packed house at Wembley, which was a special occasion.

I fell on my shoulder in the second leg of the semi-final, so my shoulder was strapped and by that time my knee was hanging off and, watching it back, I can’t believe I made it out on of the pitch but it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.

I remember it so well. Carlton Cole gave us a great start, then they came back and scored and we were stunned.

We had beaten them twice that season, comfortably, but this game was in the balance.

I had scored at home, when we won 4-0, then Robert Green got sent-off in the away game, which we won 4-1.

But the final was a game of few chances before Vaz stepped up to win it for us. If you watch the video, you can see that, if it hadn’t dropped to him, the ball was coming to me, but I probably would have missed!

Even then, I got the ball really late and cramped up. I lost the ball and they nearly equalised and Kevin Nolan gave me the hairdryer treatment on the pitch!

When the final whistle went, celebrating out on the pitch and going up the steps to the Royal Box was amazing, but then I got called for a drugs test, so I missed the celebrations in the dressing room and was probably the last person to leave Wembley that night!

Looking back, it was just sheer relief to get promoted and being playing Premier League football again.