There was a familiar face back at the Boleyn Ground this week as West Ham United Academy graduate Bertie Brayley popped in to reacquaint himself with some old friends.

Currently plying his trade with Chelmsford City of the Conference South, 32-year-old Brayley was once a pivotal figure in the famous FA Youth Cup-winning side of 1999.

Alongside the likes of Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Stephen Bywater, Brayley netted three times in an astonishing 9-0 aggregate win over Coventry City in the final.

Incidentally, it is only in recent weeks that Brayley has returned to the Boleyn Ground, with almost four years having passed since he turned out for the testimonial of Academy Director Tony Carr MBE.

But with his son now firmly Claret and Blue and the Hammers flying, Brayley is hardly about to stop now.

"I've brought my son to the last few home games and West Ham keep winning, so we're going to keep coming," he told West Ham TV. "To be fair, I did give him the choice of who to support, but there was only one team for him.

"The Club's doing really well at the moment. It's nice for the fans, because it had been a bit of a slow start this season but we've turned that corner now and things are going right at the moment, so it's all good."

While some 15 years have passed since Brayley lifted the FA Youth Cup, the Basildon-born Hammer still regards that triumph as one of his finest hours.  

He continued: "It was a great experience. It was great playing in front of a full house at the Boleyn Ground. I scored at both ends in that game, so walking back around brings back some nice memories.   

"It was a special group that year, every single boy, and they were all very good players. It was a great experience and probably one of the best of my life.

"It really is lovely to see people like Joe [Cole] and Michael [Carrick] win the Champions League and trophies like that. I'm proud of them and it's good to say that I was once alongside them."

With the Hammers' U18s currently top of the Barclays U18 Premier League, the Academy is still as potent a force as ever and Brayley paid tribute to long-serving director Carr.     

"The Academy has always been very good and I was fortunate to be in one of the best youth sides that West Ham's ever had," he explained. Above that you had Rio [Ferdinand] and Frank [Lampard], who were two, three years older than us.

"It was a good time to be at the Club and it will always have a name for that [youth development]. Tony Carr has done a fantastic job here over the years, so it's down to him."

In fact, 1998/99 was a fine season all round for the Hammers, with Harry Redknapp leading his seniors to fifth in the top flight and subsequently into the then UEFA Cup. For all the success on the pitch, Brayley was just as thrilled to rub shoulders with some household names.     

"You had players like Ian Wright, John Hartson and Razor [Neil Ruddock], some real characters. The special thing for me was being lucky enough to get up every morning, not have to go into work, go to training and mix with those sort of characters, Paolo Di Canio and people like that, it was amazing. When you're living it you don't realise how lucky you are.

"I would go in the old gym at Chadwell Heath with Wright in the mornings and we used to play two-touch against the wall. Just little things like that. Everything about it, it was just fantastic."