Kids Triumph

West Ham have been invited to represent England in the forthcoming Nike world club championship in Berlin.

This is as a result of winning the Nike tournament in Durham - without conceding a goal in the process.

Director of youth development Jimmy Hampson says: "I'm very proud indeed, and when you think there was the likes of Arsenal, Newcastle, and Liverpool in it, they have done really well.

"It was a great squad effort but Danny Bunce was picked out as the player of the final by Peter Reid the Sunderland manager - and thoroughly deserved it."

West Ham beat Coventry 2-0 with Marshall Collington and Ollie Allen grabbing the goals. And yes, Ollie is a member of the famous Allen dynasty - he is the son of Clive.

Next up, it was Sunderland, and a 1-0 win with Danny Bunce scoring. Peter Reid voted him player of the final, but it was David Shore [2] and Marshall Collington who scored the goals in a 3-0 win over Aston Villa.

"This was the English club stage to go through to the world club championship where 20 teams are competing in Berlin in May," says Jimmy.

"It's going to be a top quality competition against clubs from Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Italy, Spain, and so on and the boys have earned the right to be there.

"There is every chance that one or two of the boys at the club, if they keep on the right lines, shouldn't have a problem.

"It's down to aptitude and attitude, but there are a lot of obstacles in the way - like girls!"

The pressure to find the brightest young prospects is something Jimmy thrives on and he admits: "It's very competitive."

But he refutes a recent report about just how far that is purported to go and he says:

"There was a thing in the paper the other day that was supposed to be about us and Tottenham vying for a little eight-year-old.

"But that was so far from the truth it is unbelievable: he trained with our community scheme, he was never at our Academy.

"He was being assessed and that is it but the way things are blown up in the papers you wonder where it all comes from."

Coercion of kids to join West Ham just wouldn't work, he stresses: "They've got to enjoy their football, each and every player at the club, and if they don't then they obviously won't play for you - and they won't play for themselves.

"The first thing we want from them is a big smile on their face.

"They have got the talent or they wouldn't be invited anyway; then it is down to the coaches to make them happy and want to play for West Ham United.

"We have a hard working staff and Paul Heffer does an absolutely outstanding job for us with the 15s and 16s. A lot of credit has to go to him and the coaches that take the boys from the age of 9.

"We feel our coaches are equal to anyone in the country and they are getting the best out of the kids because of that.

"When you look at the success we have had in the cups and the championships that is great but most of all it is producing players for the first team.

"That is the be-all and end-all really, and when you see the likes of Frank, Joe, Michael, Rio, and Pottsy in the first team it gives you a tremendous buzz."

There is a timely reminder of the recent success of the youth scheme when world record defender Rio Ferdinand returns to Upton Park for the first time since going to Leeds. Will he get a good reception?

"I should imagine so," answers Jimmy. "He was always West Ham orientated when he was here, and gave us everything.

"I can't see why the fans won't give him an ovation when he comes back."

But one of his former proteges leaving Upton Park always leaves Jimmy with a lump in his throat and he admits: "I suppose I want them all to succeed for West Ham, but sometimes you have to move on.

"I'd like to see the best player in the country at West Ham but you know that can't happen.

"I still believe that he could have achieved things with West Ham had he have stayed there.

"I've been a West Ham supporter since I was eight and I want to see all the best players stay at the club."

Surely West Ham can't churn them out season after season though?

"They say you can't produce it every year but I still believe we can produce one or two every year.

"We have had a 16 year old play in the last two reserve games - he is still a schoolboy, but apparently did really well. We've got Glen Johnson away with England - he has a lot of potential.

"The coaches are there, the boys with the talent are there, but you can't have a team full of youngsters because it doesn't work. You have to have the blend with experience."

Jimmy feels the whole infrastructure of the club helps with the youth scheme and adds: "At the end of the day we couldn't get any better support from the chairman and the board, Harry Redknapp the manager and Frank Lampard.

"Frank has been round boys' houses with me to make sure that we signed them, and the support we get from the senior staff is unbelievable.

"This is what the fans don't see - but as Harry said to me when I came to the club: "You get the right players to the club and I promise you I will get them into the first team" - and he has been true to his word.

"Harry has been over there coaching, Frank has been over there coaching in the evening, and the fans don't see that either.

"The board has never refused us anything to do with the youth system; they have been so supportive you couldn't get any better.

"You can't force any child to go to any club - they have got too many options.

"But we find the boys come over, they fall in love with the place after the first two or three sessions, and they don't want to leave."