Nigel Reo-Coker believes West Ham United are in the right place to continue building towards to mounting a regular challenge for European football.
The former Hammers captain has been to London Stadium on a number of occasions this season, both as a media pundit and as a club ambassador, and says the atmosphere created by 60,000 supporters is an inspiring one.
And with Premier League title winner Manuel Pellegrini in charge of a high-quality squad, Reo-Coker, who led the Irons to the UEFA Cup by reaching the 2006 FA Cup final, is hoping to see his old club competing in continental competition again before too long.
I’ve played in a lot of big stadiums with big reputations but nothing matches that feeling of playing for West Ham with the fans behind you
“Upton Park is never going to be forgotten,” said the 34-year-old, who joined the Hammers from Wimbledon 15 years ago this week. “It was a special place for the fans and the players lucky enough to perform in that environment.
“Moving forward though, to what the club wants to be and deserves to be, London Stadium should be hosting Champions League games. As much as it was tough moving homes, this is the next chapter in the life of this great club.
“I was speaking to some fans after the game and I told them that what is special about West Ham is that it is a proper British football club and it is the fans who make it what it is.
“Sometimes the fans don’t realise how much they can generate that special atmosphere, how much they can dictate the mood and make the players perform better.
“I’m not saying it is all down to the fans – the players have to perform – but when those fans are behind their team, there is no greater support I have either seen or experienced in English football.”
As the Hammers prepare to face the club he joined at the age of 12 in the Emirates FA Cup fourth round on Saturday evening, it may be 12 years since Reo-Coker departed for Aston Villa, but he still remembers his three-and-a-half seasons and 142 appearances in Claret and Blue very fondly.
“West Ham was the best time of my career,” he confirmed. “It was where I made my name. It is a fantastic club.
“I’ve played in a lot of big stadiums with big reputations but nothing matches that feeling of playing for West Ham with the fans behind you.”