Collison: U18s need to rise to the challenge against Chelsea

Jack Collison


Jack Collison has challenged West Ham United’s scholars and schoolboys to rise to the challenge when they face the country’s best U18 side on Saturday.

Chelsea, who visit Little Heath, are the two-time defending U18 Premier League national champions, have won the Southern Division in each of the last four seasons, lifted the FA Youth Cup a record five years in a row and lost just one of the eight games they have played this term.

In contrast, West Ham go into the game on a four-match losing run, but coach Collison has reminded his team that the game is played on the pitch, rather than in the record books.

We know it’s going to be a tough encounter, but these are the games you want to play in as a youngster and really test yourself

Jack Collison

“It’s a big London derby on Saturday and I’m thoroughly looking forward to it, coming off the back off a really, really positive performance against Arsenal, especially in the second half when we really stepped it up and played well and were unfortunate to come away with no points,” he said, reflecting on a narrow 2-1 defeat by the Gunners last time out.

“Going into this weekend we’ve been working really hard on the training pitch and it’s a game that everyone is looking forward to.

“Chelsea have been so dominant in youth football over the last four or five seasons in both the FA Youth Cup and the U18 Premier League, so we know it’s going to be a tough encounter, but these are the games you want to play in as a youngster and really test yourself.”

Joel Wilson-Esbrand

With the U23s hosting Swansea City on Sunday and a number of scholars nursing injuries, promising schoolboys such as Jamal Baptiste, Jayden Fevrier, Joel Wilson-Esbrand and Amadou Diallo could all be given another chance to impress at U18 level.

While facing Chelsea will be the ultimate test for them, Collison has encouraged the youngsters to work hard, express themselves and take the opportunity presented to them.

“It’s going to be another opportunity for some of the schoolboys to feature once again, partly due to their own performances, partly due to injuries and partly due to the U23s’ schedule, which is great for them getting the exposure at such a young age and will stand them in good stead going forward,” said the 30-year-old former West Ham and Wales midfielder.

“It’s a real opportunity for these lads to stake a claim for a regular starting place in the team and, as we’ve seen already this season, if we feel they are good enough then we will put them in and give them the opportunity because, at the end of the day, we’re here to try to produce players for the first team.

“So if we feel they’re ready to play U18 football, then that’s great for them and great for the club.”

Kick-off at Little Heath on Saturday is at 11am, with admission and parking both free of charge for all supporters. However, fans should note that parking is limited.