Rice: The experiences I’ve had this past year have been amazing

Declan Rice


A year ago this week, Declan Rice signed a new contract before captaining West Ham United’s U23s in a 1-1 Premier League 2 Division 2 draw with Stoke City in front of a crowd of 768.

Last weekend, he played for the Hammers’ first-team in front of nearly 54,000 fans in the Premier League at Liverpool. This Saturday the 19-year-old could feature in a top-flight six-pointer at Swansea City.

Rice himself admits he is surprised how far he has come in the space of 12 months, but the level-headed teenager is determined to remain focused on the job in hand and keep his talent-filled feet firmly on the ground.

The Academy has given me a great grounding and got me ready for the challenges ahead

Declan Rice

“A year ago, I wouldn’t have thought I would be playing at Anfield in front of 50,000, or at any of the other stadiums I’ve had the pleasure of playing at this season,” he said. “The experiences I’ve had this past year have been amazing, but I put it all down to hard work, believing in myself, believing in my ability and the coaches preparing me, from the Academy up to the first team.

“Terry Westley, Liam Manning, Mark Phillips and Steve Potts all pushed me on and the Academy has given me a great grounding and got me ready for the challenges ahead.

“The coaches there are all so passionate and they want us to do well, so when we move over to Rush Green to train with the first team, it’s massive for them because that’s what they are working towards. I can only thank Mark, Steve and Terry and I’m really happy with the way things have been going.”


Academy Director Terry Westley watches Declan Rice sign a new long-term contract in March 2017


Every time he pulls on a Claret and Blue shirt, Rice takes pride in the fact he is representing the Academy of Football.

The versatile youngster is one of six graduates to have featured for the first team this season – captain Mark Noble, Reece Burke, Josh Cullen, Reece Oxford and Nathan Holland being the other five – and he believes it is no coincidence that the Hammers remain among the best at producing their own home-grown players.

“When you look at other clubs, you can’t say many of them are bringing their Academy players through, so to have played first-team games this year, alongside the likes of Nobes, is massive for me and has given me a lot of confidence.

“Without a doubt, it is hard to break into a Premier League squad, so every time I was asked to come and train with the first team, it was like an audition and I gave everything I’ve got, because you might only get one chance to show the manager what you can do. You’ve got to take your opportunities.”


The 19-year-old celebrates victory at Wembley alongside fellow Academy graduate Mark Noble


Rice’s next opportunity could come at the Liberty Stadium, where the Hammers will be targeting a win to stretch the gap between themselves and the bottom three. Victory in South Wales would just about complete a perfect 12 months for the talented No41.

“Swansea have got some good results since their new manager [Carlos Carvalhal] has come in, including a big win against Liverpool, and they won again in the FA Cup in midweek, but we need to go there, perform and get three points as it’s crucial now.”