The Big Interview - John Hartson

Ex-West Ham United and Wales striker John Hartson was back at the Boleyn Ground for Sunday's match against Queens Park Rangers.

Current QPR manager Harry Redknapp signed the striker during his spell as Hammers' manager from Arsenal in February 1997 for a fee of £3.3m. The Welsh striker was a huge success, scoring 33 goals in two years at the Boleyn and remains a fans' favourite.

West Ham TV caught up with Hartson on his return to east London…

John, it's great to see you back here at the Boleyn Ground, is it good to be back?

JH: "It is. It's always nice to go back to your former clubs. I do a bit of work for the BBC now so I'm quite busy.

"I always get a nice welcome from the fans and it gives me opportunity to catch up with people in football that I haven't seen for a while. David Pleat for example, was in the press room, he gave me my debut when I was at Luton Town so it was good to catch up with him."

Have you been impressed with how West Ham have started the season?

JH: "I have yes, they've brought in some pace to the side with Enner Valencia who I saw do very, very well for Ecuador in the World Cup. That was a shrewd bit of business.

"Sakho's already got five goals this season. Stewart Downing is playing the best football I've seen from him, I wouldn't be surprised if he got a call up to the England squad soon, he's been playing that well.

"Form wise, West Ham have been playing well. West Ham got a great result against Liverpool here the other week. They were a little bit unfortunate to lose at Manchester United because they could have got a point there. On another day it might not have been ruled offside, if it were here instead of Old Trafford it might have been a different story. That's the bit of luck you need."

Sakho's got five goals in five games. How important is it for strikers to get off the mark that quickly?

JH: "Every team needs goals it's as simple as that. Under Sam Allardyce West Ham are very strong defensively. Reid and Tomkins are both very strong, then you've got James Collins as well, a good friend of mine.

"But you need goals. West Ham haven't had a 15-20 goals a season striker for a while now and they've brought in Sakho, who's a threat - you can play it into his feet and expect shots on target, he's a good finisher. He's fast, he's strong, he's a presence. So it's important to have a player you know will finish the chances you make for him."

How important is Alex Song going to be this season?

JH: "He's got great experience. He's fantastic at sitting in front of the defence. He can maraud around the midfield, he's good on the ball and he's another presence on the pitch.

"I think the new signings have all been very good additions to the squad. Song, obviously coming from Barcelona, has played at the biggest stage. He'll help the younger players in the squad too which can only be a good thing for the club.

What are your favourite memories of playing at the Boleyn Ground?

JH: "I have quite a few to be honest. I scored quite a few goals here, I think it was 33 goals in 70 odd games here at West Ham. The majority of them scored at home.

"On my home debut we beat Spurs 4-3, I got above Sol Campbell and put him and the ball in the back of the net. We won the game 4-3 and I knew how important the win was for the fans. Tottenham obviously being a big rival. I won a penalty too in that game which Dicksy smashed into the roof of the net. It was a really wet and windy night.

"Another memory was beating Leicester 1-0. John Moncur scored that day. We needed wins to stay up so that was important.

"Another great memory was beating Sheffield Wednesday 5-1. Paul Kitson got a hat-trick and I scored two..

"I remember scoring at the Boleyn against West Ham for Arsenal, we beat them 1-0. I scored a disallowed goal here for Coventry. So great, great memories. It's a wonderful place to come to. The fans are renowned for the passion and the atmosphere they create here. The noise and the songs here are very special.

"Historically, West Ham is a very big club. It's good to see them back as an established Premier League club, they're back where they should be."

Exciting times ahead too, as the club move into the new stadium?

JH: "Absolutely, it's only about 18 months to go now. It's important the fans get behind the move. It'll mean greater revenue with 20,000 more seats. They'll be more income coming into the club and an even better atmosphere. In turn that'll mean more money for transfers. The key is to make sure the ground sells out.

"It works both ways. If the team is doing well, playing good football and doing well in the league, then the crowds will come. West Ham is a hugely supported club, it might not have the same profile as the Arsenal's or the Chelsea's but they are a massive club in their own right. "

Finally, James Collins misses out with injury, but how big are Wales' next two internationals?

JH: "I'm covering the games. First game is against Bosnia so that's a big test. They have good players like Edin Dzeko at Manchester City.

"Aaron Ramsey is out with a hamstring injury, I think he's out for a month so that's a huge blow. Hopefully Gareth Bale will be fit, he's such a huge player for Wales.

"We've got Bosnia and then Cyprus next week, they're difficult games but definitely matches Wales can get something from. I think Chris Coleman needs to get four points from the next two games if Wales are going to qualify for the Euros."