Joe Widdowson is thrilled to be part of West Ham United's pre-season tour of North America and get the chance to show what he can do.
"It is really good to be here," said the homegrown defender who lives a stone's throw from the Boleyn Ground as he warmed down. He took time out to talk after a strenuous training session as players happily signed autographs for scores of fans at Columbus Crew's Obetz picturesque training centre on a balmy Saturday evening. "I have been with the club quite a long time, since I was eleven. This is a big step forward and it was a really good thing to be included in the party coming out here. I am hoping to be involved as much as possible."
The 19-year-old got his opening taste of first-team action last Thursday against Hampton and Richmond Borough with George McCartney not involved. Widdowson played the full 90 minutes in the 4-2 win against the non-leaguers and may get more chances against the Crew this evening or the Major League Soccer All-Stars in Toronto on Thursday. "I was a little bit nervous but it was more excitement really. To play in front of all those West Ham fans was a really good experience."
He added: "I found out on Wednesday that I was on the tour and I was really happy about it. That was the first bonus and then to play against Hampton topped it off." Like his fellow academy products, right-back Ashley Miller, centre-backs Jordan Spence and Bondz 'Gala and midfielder Junior Stanislas, Widdowson is relishing being around the senior players as Alan Curbishley looks to develop another batch of youngsters behind James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Freddie Sears.
"The senior boys are really good. They like to have a laugh with us. Especially Anton and Coley, they get us involved in all the banter with the squad. They work hard to make us feel part of it. There is no tension between the young boys and the senior pros, everyone gets involved. The first team are really good like that. They always come and talk to us and invite us over to hang around with them. We went out this afternoon and were mixing with each other."
Some of the banter has revolved around the prospect of Widdowson possibly facing up directly against David Beckham later this week. "A few people have mentioned it and I must admit I have thought about it. They have been telling me to get stuck in if it happens! If I did play against him it would be amazing. Beckham is just a legend and to come up against him would be unreal."
Widdowson has made good strides in the past year. First there was the confidence builder of regular playing time in Tony Carr's youth team and Kevin Keen's reserves. Then there was a valuable loan at Rotherham United in February where he more than impressed. After a month, he headed back to the Boleyn Ground and signed a new contract but knows he faces a battle to force his way through - especially as McCartney looks set to be involved again when the team return.
He may have to get used to increased attention in the meantime. "It is strange to see so many here and loads of people know my name - I didn't even think people knew who I was! It is nice and I really appreciate it. West Ham have got such a massive fan base and people have come from all over America.
"I didn't know there was so many. It is really good they have come so far to watch us. I am proud to be here to play for them. I am from Forest Gate, five minutes from Upton Park, it is a dream come true all of this." With an attitude like that, Widdowson is clearly not just any old Joe ....