Steve: I'll Sign

Young goalkeeper Steve Bywater says he will sign a new contract at West Ham - and is looking forward to facing Glenn Roeder's penalties when pre-season training starts!

Steve, one of a quartet of players whose deals have expired but have been offered new contracts, reveals that he will not be looking elsewhere for a contract this summer.

"I will get these two England under-21 games played then hopefully go to West Ham to sort things out," says Steve, preparing for Monday night's friendly with Serbia and Montenegro at Hull City - a club with whom he spent a short period on loan in 1999 - prior to the European Championship clash against Slovakia next week.

The loss of Premiership status does not affect Steve's thinking, and he adds: "I don't have a problem; it is still the same, good people about the place and it is just a different league.

"But the lads will get out of that, no problem, so hopefully there will be good morale and a good team spirit around the camp if we are winning most of the games.

"I am in a job and it is hard to get jobs nowadays."

Indeed, Steve sees a potential benefit of playing a marathon 46-game season in the first division, and he adds: "It will stand the young lads in good stead playing all those games - it will toughen them up, because from what I have seen on telly it is not pretty football, but you get stuck in.

"It is a different way of football but the lads will learn stuff from it."

As for his under-21 colleague Jermain Defoe, who submitted a transfer request the day after West Ham went down, Steve insists: "I think he got bad advice - but he will be all right with the club anyway because he is a nice person.

"The club and everyone who knows him knows he is not like that and all he wants to do is play games and work hard, which is what he does do.

"It is not fair that people think he is the kind of person that has been portrayed. He is ruthless on the pitch, but not off it.

"He is all right, he is happy; he was just concentrating on training and to be honest I think he will be there next year.

"It would be a shame if he is not because he is going to score absolute bagfuls of goals in Division One - as he will in the Premiership - but it has blown over anyway."

Whether David James remains next season remains to be seen - though stories of a move to Barcelona are fanciful - but Steve says that will not affect his decision.

"It doesn't matter who stays. You just have to play well and if you get the chance to play, you have to do that," he says.

"Jamo is number one in England and I am learning from him. I am still young for a goalkeeper, and a player in general, so it is just nice to watch and learn.

"Sven has picked Ian Walker and he knows that Jamo has been playing well so he is going to pick him on performance and I am sure one division is not going to make a difference as to whether they play him or not.

"It is still a good division and, no disrespect, it is not like Division One in Scotland - it is still a good standard, and he will still be busy!"

Steve has a good relationship with David James, and, now Raimond van der Gouw has left, he can consider himself, at this moment, the club's number two goalkeeper.

He is delighted that David is establishing himself as England's number one, and adds: "I am pleased for him. I texted him and he has been getting about a bit, meeting Mandela.

"Him, Joe, and Jamo getting picked shows that the lads have been playing well and they deserved it.

"We battered every team in the last couple of months - we hammered Chelsea, and it is good to know that we can perform like that under pressure."

But Steve finds it hard to put his finger on why relegation hit the Hammers and he adds: "It was a poor start to the season and we didn't win that many home games, which is what you need to do.

"But I don't really know about football - I'm a goalkeeper!

"You watch the football and think 'how did we get beat?' and that is what it was like for me because we were playing really well.

"And you need a bit of luck - but it has happened now, you can't do anything about it, and you just have to get on and back into the Premiership next year."

Steve, from the north west, is only too aware that Bolton's revival, coinciding with West Ham's, effectively killed off the club's hopes of staying up and he says: "My friends all support Manchester City; I haven't got any friends who are Bolton fans, and that is a good job. They always seem to scrape out of it, don't they?

"But as far as we are concerned, I think most of our players will stay, we will go up, and it will be history then.

"It will all be in the past and we will move on from there."

He admits, though, that next season will be a challenge, and adds: "It will be a tough task because there are a lot of games to be played - Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday - and the fans are going to get their money's worth."

His former colleague Shaka Hislop, of course, is returning to the Premiership with Portsmouth, and Steve says: "I kept ringing Shaka up last season and he kept saying he had a game coming up.

"He hasn't said anything to me about Division One, except that it is hard work, but he does say he can't believe he is in the Premier League.

"You need a big squad in the first division and we have got to try and keep everyone. We have very good players and hopefully they will come through; they are good enough for division one, easily."

Centre halves Elliott Ward and Anton Ferdinand could well emerge next season, and Steve adds: "They just need to play games - stick them in and they will be all right.

"They are strong and quick and should be looking forward to next season."

Could they be as successful as Glen Johnson in establishing a place?

"Glen Johnson is a one off to be honest. He is very good, but in a different position to Anton and Elliott. Hopefully they will turn out the same and do well, though.

"Glen is as tough as boots, he has got rhino skin, and it doesn't matter what people say to him, he just gets on with it."

As for Glenn Roeder's sudden illness caused by a low-grade, benign, brain tumour- from which he is recuperating at home - Steve adds: "I couldn't believe it, but the physio got in touch with us the day of the operation to say it had gone well, so I was well chuffed - but it just puts things in perspective.

"There is more to life than football. He has got a family and it would have been a disaster, but everything is all right now."

Glenn is due to resume work later in the month and Steve adds: "He will come back, be strong, and be the same person."

Steve is looking forward to returning to a training ground ritual that he enjoys and he explains: "He will still miss penalties against me. He has one penalty a day and he misses.

"It is always me, he says 'Stephen, get in goal and I will have a penalty against you' - but he always misses it.

"No, he always scores, actually. I was lying about the missing - if he hears I say otherwise he will have a go at me, won't he? I don't want him pulling that contract offer!"

Trevor Sinclair, meanwhile, is likely to miss the full England international against Serbia and Montenegro on Tuesday with a dead leg.