Jack's year to remember

Four years ago, Jack Collison watched on in horror as Cambridge United's 35-year stay in the Football League ended with a goalless home draw with Notts County.

Then 16, Collison's time at the Abbey Stadium would come to an end a short time later when the relegated U's took the decision to disband their youth team, leaving the young midfielder to find a new club.

Collison received a number of offers before opting to join West Ham United's famous Academy and work under the watchful eye of Academy Director Tony Carr and his staff.

After two-and-a-half years of hard work, Collison made his first-team debut for the Hammers at Arsenal on New Year's Day 2008.

While he would make just one further appearance in 2007/08, the teenager's potential was such that he was handed his first full cap for Wales against Iceland in May last year.

This season has seen Collison take his game to a whole new level under the guidance of manager Gianfranco Zola and first-team coaches Steve Clarke and Kevin Keen.

After forcing his way into Zola's thinking following an impressive appearance as a substitute at Manchester United in October, the now-20-year-old went on to make 24 appearances in all competitions, scoring the first of his three goals for the club on his home debut against Everton on 8 November.

In December, his undoubted ability was rewarded in the shape of a new five-year contract.

Collison is understandably proud of his achievements over the past year, crowned when he received the Young Player of the Award following Sunday's Barclays Premier League victory over Middlesbrough at the Boleyn Ground.

"It's been a massive 12 months for me," said the modest midfielder. "I think I've really progressed as a player and have just really enjoyed my time playing in the team, learning new things and getting the opportunity to play.

"I definitely have to pinch myself sometimes, especially on days like Sunday when I won the Young Hammer of the Year award. Just getting the opportunity to play week-in, week-out in the Premier League is brilliant and I'm really enjoying it."

Having secured a regular place in Zola's team, Collison is now aiming to make further improvements to his game to ensure he remains in the starting eleven at the start of the 2009/10 campaign.

"I'm still fairly young and I'm fairly new in the team as well so I'm going to keep learning things on the training ground and by playing against new players. Obviously the manager wants me to improve as well so I'm going to take bits and bobs and try to keep progressing."

While Collison's own contribution to West Ham's ninth-place finish was great, he was quick to point to the performances of his team-mates during what was a hugely encouraging season.

"It was a real squad effort this year. It wasn't just the starting eleven. We've had injuries and people have been and out of the team.

"I think Scottie Parker fully deserved the Hammer of the Year award. Also the likes of Matty Upson, Herita [Ilunga] and [Robert] Greeny did well so, like I said, it was a real squad effort."