It may be more than 18 years since Stuart Pearce first pulled on the claret and blue shirt as a player but, although much has changed since then, the former England left-back insists the heart of West Ham United remains very much the same.
Pearce returned to the club this week as one of new manager David Moyes’ coaching assistants and, while he may have a new stadium and a new training ground to get used to, the 55-year-old is looking forward to reconnecting with the people who have always remained a constant pillar of loyalty.
“I think all football clubs have got a set DNA,” said Pearce, in an exclusive interview with whufc.com. “And that DNA probably comes from the fans. West Ham fans have the right to be demanding, which is a refreshing thing, but we also need them to be supportive.
“Any football club in the country needs that support, and it’s vital that the supporters feel valued by the players and everyone connected with the club.”
Pearce first arrived at Upton Park in the summer of 1999, towards the end of a long and distinguished career that saw him win 78 England caps. Signed by Harry Redknapp on a free transfer from Newcastle, he went on to make 50 appearances over the course of two seasons – a figure that would no doubt have been higher had he not suffered a broken leg early on in his debut season, when he famously played on with the injury against Watford at Upton Park.
“I’ve matured a little bit more since then and playing on with a broken leg isn’t something I’d advise now!” he smiles.
“Life certainly wasn’t dull under Harry. I was 37-years-old when I joined and, within my first few games, I was called back into the England squad, so it was a real Indian summer for my career.
“It was an eventful couple of years but it was fantastic to join a squad of real youthful players that we had at the club then, and a real sprinkle of talent aswell. I’d like to think that I played my part in trying to help those players, which is the job of an experienced player.
“It’s a fantastic club,” he adds. “I had two great years here, some ups and downs but, in the main, real good memories and some fond memories of people here.
“It’s been nice to see four or five members of staff who were here when I was here as a player, and there are a few familiar faces in the playing squad too, such as Mark Noble and Joe Hart, who I know from my time with England, and Michail Antonio, who I worked with at Forest. But it’s also nice to get to know a new squad of players, and it’s an exciting challenge for all of us.”