Bowditch's unashamed Premiership ambitions

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The next big thing in English football sits down, tugs at his baseball cap and talks about the enjoyment of being in the play-offs. Enjoyment? Nail-biting, gut-wrenching, nerve-shredding torment more like. But he's 17. And Dean Bowditch, 18 in June, is ripping up records as quickly as he tears past opponents.

The next big thing in English football sits down, tugs at his baseball cap and talks about the enjoyment of being in the play-offs. Enjoyment? Nail-biting, gut-wrenching, nerve-shredding torment more like. But he's 17. And Dean Bowditch, 18 in June, is ripping up records as quickly as he tears past opponents.

His exuberance is boundless and it may just edge Ipswich Town nearer the Premiership. Bowditch is bursting to get there. "I always wanted to play in front of 20-30,000 people," he says. "Now I want to play in front of 60-70,000. Everyone wants to be in the Premiership and we know that we have a great opportunity."

If being a striker is all about impact, then Bowditch's future is outrageously rich. Just look at his brief career so far. His debut came at 16 - last season against local rivals Norwich City, of all teams.

With 20 minutes to go, Bowditch came on and created the two winning goals. "Big day, big derby day," Bowditch says with a grin. He'd only trained three times with the first team. "I just lived on the enjoyment for months," he says. "Now, I guess, I'm starting to think that I want to play as much as anyone else."

His first startat Portman Road earlier this year saw him score three times, rekindling the club's promotion hopes. It made him Ipswich's youngest ever player to record a hat-trick - beating Colin Viljoen's record by almost a year. That was set in 1967, the year after a certain Joe Royle made his Everton debut. Also a striker, also 16, he is now Bowditch's manager, of course.

"It helps that the gaffer was at a young age when he started," Bowditch volunteers. "And he knows what I should do." Nevertheless, through his enthusiasm, he admits that he did once say "look I want to be playing". Royle has largely resisted. He's rationed the teenager's appearances to 19 this season. He knows the talent he is nurturing. "At the moment my confidence is high but I know that can change," Bowditch says. "He's rested me a lot. He doesn't want to throw me in and expect me to do it because that can ruin someone's career." Nevertheless, Royle freely admits that the "secret" is out.

The manager may have been a striker, but his career was long before Bowditch's time. After all, the latter was only born during the 1986 World Cup. And it is Michael Owen and Teddy Sheringham - and not Gary Lineker, the top goalscorer in that tournament - whom he looks up to. "Two mixtures," he says. "If you mould those players into one you have Thierry Henry, I guess. And he's just unbelievable." He bases his game, he says - surprising himself perhaps - on Sheringham. "I want to use my awareness," Bowditch explains, and he has had a few bumps and nudges in training from old hands such as John McGreal to sharpen that.

Bowditch's certainly switched on. A product of the successful Ipswich Academy - he joined when he was nine - he lives with his parents Peter and Debbie and his two brothers, seven-year-old Sam and "little Ben". "Well big Ben actually," he corrects himself in reference to his brother, 20, who is a forceful midfielder at Tottenham Hotspur. Both have won recognition with England. The family live in Braintree, Essex - handy for both clubs.

"I've grown up a bit," Bowditch says, "although my parents do remind me I'm still not 18 yet. They sometimes say 'if the fans could see you now' when I'm lounging about at home." He revels in the security. "My family won't let me fly through the sky," he says.

His father was a footballer, playing in the Harlow leagues, but didn't have the drive, or "the support", that his sons have received to go that step further. Sam is unlikely to complete the hat-trick. "He's more interested in tanks," chuckles Dean.

Ipswich will come out all guns blazing themselves today against West Ham United. It is the only style they know. Goals are scored and conceded. The two league meetings between the sides resulted in away wins but a sequence of just two defeats in 19 games has bred confidence. Ipswich also have experience to match their opponents. It may be just one season since West Ham were in the top flight, but it's only two since Ipswich were there, too.

Their exit bit deep, with the club going into voluntary administration for three months last year. It is a fate that West Ham, of course, only narrowly avoided. Such is the price of falling out of the big league. "There are players who have been there," Bowditch says. Such as Jim Magilton and Jermaine Wright. "And others like me and Ian Westlake and Darren Bent who want to see."

Bent is likely to start today despite his arrest earlier in the week over an incident involving a ball-bearing gun. There is pressure on Royle to recall Bowditch, who was left out of last week's "physical battle" against Cardiff City. He feels ready. "I know it's hard because I'm only young but I want to grab it," he says.

"Luck will come into it," Bowditch reasons of the play-off games. "We know we're so close and yet so far and that's hard. All you can say is that you will go out and do your best."

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