Tonys Birthday Surprise

When Tony Stokes was called into Alan Pardew's office last Friday morning, little did he know that, just over 24 hours later, he would be making his Football League debut.

The young midfielder was offered the chance by Pards to head out on a one-month loan to Rushden and Diamonds and, having agreed to the move, he travelled to Peterborough on Saturday lunchtime to meet his new colleagues before their League Two clash at London Road - only to find himself named in the team!

After a quick introduction and a chat with manager Barry Hunter, Tony stepped out for his senior league debut and, despite ending up on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline, produced a performance that earned him the man of the match award. To top things off, the East London-born youngster celebrated his 19th birthday on the same day.

Reflecting on his extraordinary weekend, Tony revealed: "The gaffer called me into his office on Friday morning and asked me if I fancied going on loan to Rushden for a month. He said he needed a quick answer so, thinking that it would be good experience for me, I said yes straight away.

"I was told to be at Peterborough's ground for 12pm the next day, and thought I would just be meeting the manager and the players before watching the game from the stands. When I got there, though, they told me I was starting!

"It was certainly a bit of a shock, but I didn't really have much time to worry about it, I just went out and played. It was disappointing to lose the game but I was happy with the way I played. I had a couple of chances that, on another day, would have gone in and afterwards the manager said he was really happy with me."

Tony, who made his senior bow for Hammers as a late substitute in our Carling Cup second round win at Sheffield Wednesday back in September, didn't actually train with his new team-mates until Monday morning, but is now looking forward to establishing himself in the Rushden side and admits he would be happy to extend his spell at the club if Alan Pardew feels it could benefit his progress.

"I had my first training session on Monday, so I got to know the players and staff a lot more and that made me feel settled in," he said.

"I'm here for a month to begin with, and I suppose the gaffer will decide at the end of that if he wants me to stay for the rest of the season or come back and fight for a place at West Ham.

"To be honest, I'd be happy with either scenario. I obviously want to play at West Ham, but it would be good to get 20 league games under my belt here and get used to the experience of playing senior first team football. I think that would really set me up for next season, when hopefully I will be able to push on at Upton Park.

"It's been a great season for me so far, I've made my debut for West Ham and now my league debut. I just want to keep working hard and hopefully the progress will continue."