Nigel: We're Fighting Back

Nigel Winterburn insists there is no way he can accept that the Hammers are on the slippery slope - despite an insinuation in one newspaper at the weekend that some 'senior figures' at the club have done just that.

Well, they don't get much more senior than Nigel, still going strong at 39 though currently recuperating from an essential wrist operation.

The article was curiously timed, coming as it did in the aftermath of a tremendous win over Tottenham which, as if proof were needed, showed that those involved certainly were not throwing in the towel - far from it.

"I certainly haven't accepted relegation and I have already looked on it as a challenge," says Nigel, " because at Christmas we were bottom and everyone was saying that no team that is bottom at Christmas gets out of it - so that is the challenge.

"We are not hiding from the fact that it has been a very disappointing season, but we can get some sort of credit back by getting out of trouble and not accepting that we are going to be relegated.

"That would just be a small bit of credit, because obviously we were expected to do a lot better, but for the moment that has to be put to one side and you have to concentrate on trying to stay up, and that is what we are doing.

"Then, at the end of the season, the manager, the staff, and everybody can look back and ask why it went wrong and make sure it doesn't happen again for the following season - and that is the most important thing."

Nigel, West Ham's most experienced outfield campaigner - and, in terms of honours won, the most successful to boot - has seen just about everything there is to see in his illustrious career.

So recent public criticisms and the media attention they bring to bear, do not surprise, but do disappoint, him.

"I have always been a big believer that if you have a grievance or a disappointment with somebody, go and speak to them," he says.

"If it is a manager, I think he will respect you a lot more if you do, even if you want to have a moan at him and tell him he is useless - anything, really.

"He will respect you much more if you speak to him face to face and tell him what you think of him, or that you feel training isn't particularly good, or that you thought there was some way you could improve your own game.

"Things do come out in the paper because people do come and speak to the manager occasionally - and you can guarantee that it won't be the person that has gone to see the manager that will have put stories in the paper, it will be someone else.

"It doesn't matter where you are. It happened when I was at Arsenal, I think it happened when I was at Wimbledon, it will happen everywhere because players find out about meetings, they know what has gone on and what has been said, they will talk about it probably in the dressing room, and other people will hear it.

"One person might tell his mate and he might tell somebody else - and before you know it, lots of people are aware of it.

"It is a common fact in football that papers will always run stories that are sometimes true and sometimes not true.

"You just have to get on with it - it is a fact of life that will come out eventually, but as I say, I think it is more important to speak to the manager first if you are not happy.

"He might not agree with you, but it is face to face and it is much better that way."

Despite his old club Birmingham's win at Aston Villa on Monday, he does not think that the team the Hammers visit on the last day of the season are clear of danger.

"I don't think they are out of it yet. I think probably two wins would probably see them out of it and would make it very difficult for us and Bolton to catch them," he says.

"But if we now kept on winning games and Bolton were winning games as well, then Birmingham would obviously not be so safe yet, but they have got a bit of a cushion.

"I'm sure they won't take anything for granted - though you could see by their reaction after the win over Aston Villa that they knew how important it was."

As for his current colleagues, he adds: "I watched the game on Saturday and I thought the team played really well, including Rufus, and I expect him to keep his place in the team."

With Rufus in the driving seat following Nigel conceding his place to him in order to have the wrist operation, he knows it will be a struggle to return to the side.

But, casting thoughts of his own personal situation aside, he insists that it is the club as a whole that occupy his thoughts.

"My main aim at the moment is to get fit, that is all I am looking at, and if I can do that and then help in some way I would be delighted," he says.

"The number one priority is to stay up and then I will make a decision as to what to do.

"From my point of view I think realistically it would be very hard to do another year in the Premier League. I just don't know if that is at all feasible.

"Then I will have to decide whether I want to try and get a club in the first division - I will look at that at the end of the season and maybe take some time to make that decision.

"I really enjoy what I do and I would love to be able to carry on if I could, but I also have to be realistic.

"I will work it out when the season is finished and I know what the situation is with West Ham. Hopefully they will still be in the Premier League and I can then decide what to do with my own career.

"But it is the club that is the main thing right now."