Tomkins proves the best man

James Tomkins may finally be putting his feet up this summer but the young defender is still savouring the memories of his breakthrough season.

After emerging into the West Ham United first team, the 19-year-old defender was instrumental last week in England qualifying for the European Under-19 Championship this July in the Czech Republic, playing all three games in the successful qualification mini-tournament. The Young Lions beat Poland 2-0, Serbia 1-0 and then made sure of their progress to the eight-team finals with a goalless draw against the week's hosts Belarus. He was joined in the team by prolific club-mate Freddie Sears, who scored twice in the opening game.

Tomkins said: "The experience of playing in Belarus and against different countries I have never played against was brilliant but to get through was the main thing. We kept three clean sheets which was also great and overall the experience of seeing a different style of football. They were a lot bigger than our team, physically but we managed to get the ball on the floor which helped us. We didn't really get into a physical battle. We played really well in the first two games and then in the last game I think we tired a bit. But the main thing is we got through."

Of his good friend Sears, Tomkins revealed with a smile that he was perhaps fortunate to get his second from the penalty spot against Poland on the opening day. It came about after a Tomkins' goalbound effort had been handled. "Freddie carried on his form from the season. He scored two in the first game and they were vital for us to get off to a good start. I had a header and it was going in but their player handballed it on the line. It was untrue and he got a straight red for it as it was going in. Obviously Freddie took the penalty and I wasn't going to fight it for him. It was just good to get the two goals, we played really well in that game."

The Serbia contest followed and Tomkins revealed the team thought that "was the biggest game" until results turned the final match into a do-or-die game when a defeat would have eliminated England. "The last game was even bigger because if Belarus had won they would have ended up going through. It was nerve-wracking towards the end. We were under a lot of pressure and to be fair to Belarus they played really well. We were working really hard and that was tough with the heat. I had played 90 minutes in the first two games and I was feeling it towards the end, like the other boys.

"To come through that game was vital, especially with the crowd behind them. At the time, it was like we had won the final. It was such a relief to get a 0-0 out of what could have been a loss when we look back it. We were all really pleased and whatever the team is for Czech Republic we have done ourselves proud. Fingers crossed me and Freddie will stay in the team. Obviously we can go on holiday now but I have got to start back running as soon as I am back and I have got to prepare properly for it. If I am in the team, I have got to be ready."

Tomkins has also got to be ready to fight for his place at West Ham United having made his first six appearances. There may be more competition for places next season but he is determined to stay in Alan Curbishley's plans. He will also have to compose himself for upcoming best-man duties at his brother's wedding. For now, it is his speech - and not how to deal with world-class strikers - that is most occupying his mind. "I have got to sort that out. I have just started it now. It is a massive day for my brother. It will be a great occasion. Hopefully it will flow. I get nervous but I am looking forward to it."