WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Number 1 - 16 August 2008
When West Ham United hit North America for their summer 2008 tour, one very interested observer was John Harkes.
The 41-year-old, who played a dozen games on loan at the club in the 1995/96 season, is still involved in football, working as a commentator for ESPN covering Major League Soccer in the United States. It is a measure of the game's progress stateside that such a leading sports broadcasting network is involved.
The first American to score at Wembley during his time with Sheffield Wednesday, Harkes relished the opportunity to describe the action as West Ham United took on the MLS All-Stars in Toronto. "It was quite exciting and a little bit surreal to see West Ham over here representing the Premier League," he said. "They did very well. To think they were only three weeks into the pre-season, yet they were able to come out and put on a display like that.
"It was only a short spell at Upton Park but the old memories have kicked back in again. I talked about it on the broadcast. I still look out for the results and once a Hammer, always a Hammer. It's very simple."
The New Jersey native, who retired as a player in 2002, has been perfectly placed to guage the reception of West Ham United's summer tour and can see only positives. "It has been good here for the club in the States and in Canada," he said.
"The exposure around he All-Star game means a lot of people get to know what West Ham is all about. They had a lot of fans and will have made a lot of friends."
He was equally positive when asked to reflect on his memories of east London. "It was such a great time," Harkes said of a short but sweet stay that saw him play alongside current goalkeeping coach Ludek Miklosko and club legends like Julian Dicks, Steve Potts, Alvin Martin and Tony Cottee.
"The environment that is created there at Upton Park from the fan base to the staff is very special. It was a good time under Harry Redknapp and Frank Lampard."
That 1995/96 season closed with the 90-times capped international helping the team to tenth place. Although now watching from afar, he was a more than interested observer last season as the club replicated that mid-table finish in 2007/08.
"The team did well and I think they will start the Premier Lague positively this year. Alan Curbishley and his staff know they have got certain players to come back down the line. It is very important to make sure they are healthy. Good times are ahead this season.
"You have Dean Ashton and Craig Bellamy, and Curbishley has picked up a good signing in Valon Behrami. You are also looking at players that are coming off bad injuries last season who will want to pick up and display as much as possible. Julien Faubert coming in from Bordeaux is right again after rupturing his Achilles and he will want to start the season off with something to prove."
Harkes is eager to get to see the team in action again in the near future - as soon his busy TV schedule allows - but this time at the more familiar Boleyn Ground. "I haven't got back lately," he said. "My son is 13 now. He loves soccer. He was barely a year old when I was at West Ham. I have always told him I will get back to a match and I have got to get him over to Upton Park. Hopefully I will be there soon."