Hislop Comes Home

THERE could scarcely have been a more popular signing among the Hammers faithful over the summer than goalkeeper Shaka Hislop.

A favourite of the Upton Park crowd during his four-year first spell at the Boleyn Ground between 1998 and 2002, the likeable Trinidad & Tobago international's return is sure to go down well with the army of Hammers fans who made him their Hammer of the Year in 1999.

Shaka left the Club in the summer of 2002 to join Portsmouth, where he helped the Fratton Park club not only make an improbable return to the Premier League, but survive two seasons in the top-flight.

Having been released from Pompey over the summer, the 35-year-old was in search of a new club when he got the surprise call from Hammers boss Alan Pardew asking him to make an unlikely return to Upton Park.

And, as Shaka reveals, he did not hesitate in accepting the invitation to return to East London.

"When the opportunity came up there was no doubt in my mind that it was the right move for me," he said while relaxing in the familiar surroundings of the Club's Chadwell Heath Training Ground.

"West Ham United has always remained very special to me. I had some great times here during my first spell at the Club and I'm extremely excited about getting the chance to come back and play for them again.

"The interest did come as a bit of a surprise. I was training with Crystal Palace at the time with a view to moving there when I got a call from West Ham's goalkeeping coach Ludo Miklosko saying that they wanted someone to push Roy Carroll for the number one shirt and would I be interested.

"Once I had spoken to Ludo I didn't hesitate to commit myself to the Hammers again. This felt like the right club at the right time for me and everything was sorted out within the space of a week.

"Out of respect I spoke to Iain Dowie, discussed the situation, both theirs and mine, and told him that there was another offer. Palace weren't in a position to make an offer and they understood my decision to want to move back to West Ham."

Despite his four years living in Essex, Shaka must now reacquaint himself with London life after three years on the South Coast.

"Disappointingly I actually sold my house up here," he smiles. "I moved my family down to Portsmouth when I joined them. I still have plenty of friends in this area and used to come back fairly regularly, but now it'll be a few weeks of looking around for houses, schools and all that other fun stuff that footballers have to go through when they move clubs."

Nevertheless, Shaka was greeted by one or two familiar faces when he reported for his first day back at Chadwell Heath.

"On the playing staff there is Stephen Bywater, Christian Dailly and Tomas Repka who were here from my first spell at the Club," he explained. "Of course, I know Teddy Sheringham from our time together at Portsmouth, and Anton Ferdinand and Elliott Ward were young trainees when I was last here, and they have both done extremely well to come through into the first-team.

"I've kept in touch with Stephen Bywater since I left and he's become a very close friend of mine, but coming back into the training ground you see plenty of familiar faces amongst the staff and in many ways it felt like coming home for me."

Shaka has travelled with Alan Pardew's squad to Holland for this evening's game against FC Den Haag and could make his first start in a Hammers jersey for more than three years.

The 6ft 6ins goalkeeper last played in the Hammers first-team back in November 2001 in a 4-4 draw at Charlton, and having been brought to the Club to fight Roy Carroll for the goalkeeper's jersey, Shaka is determined to get another chance between the sticks for West Ham United.

"It will be a tough task for me to get into the team," admitted Shaka. "Roy is a very talented goalkeeper who has come from arguably the biggest club in the world. He's got a wealth of experience playing on some of the biggest stages in football and that's going to be invaluable to the Club throughout the season.

"But I've been brought here to push the other goalkeepers and if my presence can make sure that Roy is playing at the top of his form every week then my job will be done, even if I don't play a game all season.

"Having said that, I would love to play at Upton Park again. The fans here were fantastic to me, the Boleyn Ground is one the greatest places to play football and obviously I'll be doing all I can to get into the team and play for them again.

"My final 12 months at the Club were disappointing. I picked up a bad injury, and perhaps came back too quickly, which meant my form suffered and I couldn't get up to the standard that I expected of myself.

"I'd like to put that right, but first I have to get down to some hard work in pre-season and make sure I'm ready to go come the start of the season.

"Settling in won't be too much of a problem, because I'm used to the area and I know plenty of people around the Club anyway.

"There have been some changes, certainly the training ground and facilities have been redeveloped and looks great and the coaching set-up is different.

"But from the first moment I came to West Ham United the Club always had a very homely feel. It's in essence a family orientated club and I like that.

"I already feel pretty settled to be honest and now I just can't wait for the season to start."

Shaka helped Portsmouth to promotion in 2003 and then Premier League survival in their first season back in the top-flight. Now he has a similar brief back at Upton Park and is confident Alan Pardew's squad has what it takes to stave off a return to the Championship.

"West Ham United is a great club and it deserves Premiership football. Now that we are back in the top-flight the aim is to stay there, and from what I have seen already we have the squad to do it.

"I came up and survived with Portsmouth and I know it isn't easy. There will be some tough times during the season and the fans will have to understand and help the team through that.

"But I'm sure they will and I'm confident West Ham United will survive in the Premiership this season."