Ward’s Brotherly Love


THERE aren't many players in the Hammers dressing room that will not be relishing the clash with Millwall at Upton Park on Saturday.

But the game could have special significance for promising young centre-back Elliott Ward, who could well come face to face with his older brother Darren, a defender for the Lions.

"It would definitely be a strange experience to play against Darren," he confessed. "I come from a footballing family - my three brothers, Lee, Scott and Darren have all played professionally.

"But this would be the first time any one of us have ever come up against each other in a game at this level. It would be terrific for the family if Darren and I do play against each other on Saturday, their two sons playing on the same pitch in a Championship game.

"I'm really looking forward to the game anyway, but if that happens it will make it an extra special afternoon. To play against my brother would be a fantastic experience, to beat him would be even better!"

With a wry smile, Elliott admits that there is a bit of competitive spirit between the Ward brothers and if they do play against each other on Saturday, neither will be giving an inch.

But off the pitch they enjoy a close relationship.

"We're all good mates," he insisted, "but as professional sportsman you could say that there is a competitive edge in all of us.

"It's not rivalry or anything like that. We're the best of friends off the pitch, but if we do come up against each other on Saturday there certainly won't be any favours.

"I'll be there to win the game for West Ham and that's all that will be on my mind from the first whistle to the final whistle."

However, Elliott, who has just signed a two-year contract extension that will take him through until 2007, does credit his older brothers with helping his development as a footballer. Like his brothers, Elliott began his career as a trainee at Watford before moving to the Hammers Academy and graduating to first-team honours earlier this season in the Carling Cup against Southend.

But it's in the last few weeks that the big central defender has really shone, taking the step up to Championship football in his stride.

"It's been a brilliant few weeks," he admitted. "When I first came into the side against Crewe it was just a case of finding my feet. But by the Wigan game I felt more settled and it's really been a case of trying to contribute a bit more to the team each time I play.

"I'm the youngest, so I've learned a lot from the others playing and training together when we were kids.

"Along with mum and dad they've been the biggest influences on my career.

"It can be a steep learning curve at this level, but I'd like to think that I've dealt with okay so far. All I want to focus on is staying in the team and helping us win as many games as we can between now and the end of the season."

Despite his desire to put one over on his older brother, Elliott's main concern this weekend will be taking another vital three points against Millwall and hopefully steering Hammers back into the Play-off places.

"The last three wins have got us back in contention for the Play-offs," he said, "but the teams around us have been winning as well, and we're not even back in the top six yet.

"That proves there is still plenty for us to do and it's crucial we keep this good form going against Millwall.

"It's going to be a massive match and we really need the three points."