'Grafter' Nolan eager to battle his way back to the top-flight

West Ham's captain knows what it feels like to win a play-off final. He tells Martin Hardy why it is vital he succeeds again.

Kevin Nolan scrolls down his mobile phone. The names of every family member and close friend whizzes by. Times two (the amount of tickets they will get) next to some. Times four next to others.

These are the people who have shaped the captain of West Ham United. These are the people who matter; these are the people who will travel from Merseyside to the capital first thing tomorrow morning on a professional football team bus.

The West Ham bus. The Blackpool bus. And the Nolan bus.

He laughs at the suggestion of all three meandering through the crowds of claret and blue and tangerine en route to Wembley, ahead of the most financially lucrative game in football.

On the bus will be Nolan's nan, who has not seen a game since the play-off final of 2001, when Kevin was in the Bolton side that defeated Preston North End. His uncle will be there, his cousins, his grandad, who has travelled all around the country to follow his grandson for Bolton, Newcastle and now West Ham.

His brother James, friends from school, the works. His family, as he calls them all – the people who have instilled old-fashioned virtues of trust, loyalty and honesty, a set of beliefs he has put into the dressing rooms at his two former clubs and one that has helped lead his present side to Wembley.

"I'm a hard worker, I'm a grafter and obviously it's from my roots, it's where I'm from," he says. "I'm someone you can lean on and I will give you 110 per cent no matter what. I'm always someone who will say it to your face and not behind your back. I'm just an honest person. That's why I've had, in my eyes, a very, very good career."

After Newcastle declined to offer him a new contract at the end of last season, West Ham and Sam Allardyce called, and Nolan left St James' Park. "It was just, West Ham? Yeah, get me there, it's another challenge," he adds. "Being able to link up with Sam and having David Gold and Mr Sullivan, the way they were about getting me here and the lengths they went to, I thought I owe them.

"I walked in the first couple of days and no matter what, I was a Sam Allardyce signing because I had worked with him before and I had nine great years at Bolton. For the first few weeks, it was a case of, 'Do the lads trust me?' They only knew me on the pitch and they probably didn't like me because I'm not a friendly guy on the pitch! I'm a moaner but I think the lads have taken to me."

And ahead of his side's clash with Blackpool, Nolan can reflect on being in this position before, when he led Bolton to a play-off final against Preston (at the Millennium Stadium) when he was just 18. "I was only a young pup then," he adds. "I remember the last two minutes of that game. We were 3-0 up and it was so surreal. You're just waiting for the final whistle so you can go and celebrate. Then I just remember running around like an absolute idiot after it. It was such a magic day.

"It will be amazing to lead the team out in front of 38,000 West Ham fans but it won't be remembered unless we win. That is the main thing for me. This is a massive game.

"You have to turn up and you have to produce your best to get to where you want to be."

Something Nolan knows well.

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