Craig Dawson: I can't wait to play in front of a full stadium again
Craig Dawson's first season with West Ham United could hardly have gone any better.
The experienced centre-back arrived on a loan deal from relegated Watford in October 2020, and initially had to wait patiently for his opportunity, not making his Hammers debut until the goalless draw at Southampton just after Christmas.
Dawson helped the Irons keep clean sheets in each of his first four appearances, scoring an FA Cup third round winner at Stockport County in the third, and ended the season with 24 appearances, four goals, eight clean sheets and 14 victories under his belt.
Having helped West Ham secure a sixth-place finish and European qualification, the 31-year-old made his move permanent in the summer, and told whufc.com he is now hugely looking forward to his second campaign in Claret and Blue.
Daws, as you prepare for your tenth season as a Premier League player, how are you shaping up, particularly after your nasty looking fall in our win over Atalanta last Saturday?
"Oh yeah, I'm fine! It was one of those ones where I knew it was coming, so I was ready for it when I landed on my back and I'm all good."
It's been a good pre-season all in, hasn't it?
"Yes, it's been good. The lads have worked hard and we've had a good pre-season, but the business end is here now. We're preparing for the Newcastle game now and that's what matters.
"It has made a difference for me to have a full pre-season with the squad. We were obviously a few players down with those who went to the Euros, but it's been a good, long pre-season and I'm looking forward to the season starting now."
You've been around for a while now, so have you still got that same buzz ahead of the new season?
"Yeah, of course, especially because hopefully we can continue where we left off last year. Hopefully we can have another good season. We've prepared well and the lads are looking fit.
"Obviously, it's an exciting season for everyone. We've got a lot of games coming up, so it's one to look forward to."
We start at Newcastle, then welcome Leicester and Crystal Palace to London Stadium, and the fans are back!
"It's great to have the fans back in and it was obviously great to have them here for the Atalanta game. Personally, I can't wait to play in front of a full stadium again.
"I'm really looking forward to playing in front of our fans. Hopefully we can make many more good moments for them like we did last season.
"It would be nice for us to start with three points up there for them. We've been looking sharp on the training pitch and fingers crossed we can kick-off with a win."
Finally, you've not played in Europe before, so how much are you looking forward to the UEFA Europa League, because it's a big thing for any player?
"Yes, it will be my first time and a first time for a few of the other lads, as well, so it's an exciting time and one we're going to have to be at our best at because we know we've got lots of games against tough opposition.
"This group of players and coaching staff will be working hard for each game and fingers crossed we can get the best results possible in all competitions."