Tomkins still on a high

James Tomkins cannot wait to get started again in pre-season and show that he has what it takes to become a West Ham United regular.

The Academy ace, who is still only 19, achieved much for club and country in 2007/08 but is well aware the hard work starts now to show he can make the jump full time from the reserve team set-up. Having had a taste of first-team football and made his mark at international level, the challenge is to remain part of Alan Curbishley's plans for the future. The task will be made harder by the increased options at the manager's disposal.

Tomkins has a number of central defenders to compete with in Matthew Upson, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, James Collins and Calum Davenport, while Lucas Neill also showed his ability in the middle last season. He will also know that in 17-year-old Jordan Spence there may soon be another youngster looking for a chance to shine. The Basildon-based Tomkins takes it all in his stride though. "There is so much to look forward to. I am going to go all out pre-season. I am going to keep working hard and just try to improve."

Complicating matters will be his involvement with England in this month's European Under-19 Championship, which could also cost him and Freddie Sears the chance to go on the pre-season tour of the United States and Canada. That said, the experience of playing in top-level UEFA competition between 14-26 July against the best young players in the continent cannot be underestimated. "If I am away from the gaffer when I am with England then I am going to come back fighting for my place. We will just see how it turns out. Playing for England is such a massive honour and we are going out there [to the Czech Republic] to win it."

Tomkins, who is the first choice for his country at his age group, is on a major high from his breakthrough campaign that saw five starts and one substitute appearance, including against the champions Manchester United when he got the chance to test himself against world-class talent. "I am still on a buzz from the season. I keep looking back at playing for the first team and still can't really believe it. It was brilliant to play a few games and the highlight for me was at Old Trafford. I have played a few games and it is still a buzz for me. That kept me going."