Bobby Zamora tells a little story against himself. "The other day, against Crewe, when I came off, I was thinking, 'Oh no'," he says with a laugh about the late substitution. "They put the board up and I just stood there, not moving, hoping they would take it down again. But it doesn't happen like that." It was no act of petulance, no sign of dissent. Just a desire to relish every minute of finally playing for the club, West Ham United, he loves.
"I always wanted to come back. I always knew I would," he says with an unerring certainty, stretching as he sits in a hut at the back of the training ground in Chadwell Heath, east London. Outside, the elements are battering away, but it's as nothing compared to the whirlwind of his transfer from Tottenham Hotspur in February. The move returned him to the club he left aged just 14, with Jermain Defoe going back round the A406.
"It was quite funny, as I'd seen him a couple of days before," Zamora remarks. Both players were unaware. "There were bits in the papers but I didn't pay too much attention. The next thing I get a phone call from my agent saying, 'This has come up'. There was a day left [before the transfer window closed]. 'What do you think?' ''
It was Sunday evening, and it would be 2.30am before he got to bed. Not that he had any doubts. "I'm pleased to be here, very pleased. It's where I want to be and Jermain obviously wants to be going to the European finals," he says. "He's gone there [Tottenham] and started off well, so hopefully he'll be in Portugal."
A good start. It is essential, especially for a striker. "Look at [Jon] Stead at Blackburn," Zamora, 23, says of the teenager plucked from Third Division Huddersfield Town. "He's managed to get a couple of goals early on and people are saying, 'Oh, he can do it'. If that goal doesn't come in the first game or two then people [the media] are on your back."
At Tottenham, where Zamora moved last summer for £1.5m after scoring 83 goals in 134 games for Brighton & Hove Albion, it didn't come. Eighteen sporadic appearances, one goal. And that came against West Ham. "Delighted and gutted at the same time," laughs Zamora again. "If that's possible!"
"It was just frustrating at Tottenham," he admits, paying tribute to the fans. "I knew I wouldn't be able to go there and start every week, but it doesn't half get to you, not playing all the time. I was just saying to myself, 'I want to be playing', especially after I'd had a taste of it."
Zamora believes he will taste the Premiership again, and soon, with West Ham. They are a young team now, and he is their totemic leader. His arrival, and Defoe's departure, was a watershed. And they are, most definitely, Alan Pardew's team. "He's desperate to get us in the Premier-ship and the lads can see that," Zamora says. "Mathematically it's possible. So obviously we have to be gunning for it. If not, then the play-offs, and that's a real dogfight." Which is just what many believe today's derby against promotion rivals Millwall will be.
Much has changed. Zamora - as a fan as well as a player - is well placed to pass judgement. He knows the weight of expectation. "Everyone still thinks you've got your Di Canios and Joe Coles doing their bits of magic," he says. "But we're starting afresh, and people have to realise that." Nevertheless, as a fan, he had a word last summer with his friend Michael Carrick. "I just said to him, 'Now don't you go anywhere'." He didn't.
At West Ham, second time round, Zamora got the break. Scoring on his debut, away to Bradford City, and suddenly the fans are singing, to the tune of "Volare", "Zamora oh-oh/Zamora woah-oh-oh-oh/He comes from White Hart Lane/He's better than Jermain/Zam-ora..." Another winning goal followed - on his home debut against Cardiff City - and he was flying again. But there are critics to answer. Those who ponder whether he is good enough for the top. "Give me a chance and let me show you," is his response. As for those doubters: "What do they know? Where have they played - in the park on a Sunday?"
The sense is, his Tottenham experience will not be his last of the top flight. "It's working out well," Zamora argues. There were two promotions, two "golden boots", and an injury-ravaged relegation at "tremendous" Brighton. "So coming here and fighting for promotion is pretty similar." Self-belief is the lifeblood of every sportsman. Zamora, at 6ft 1in, has it, earning it the hard way after rejection - "too small" - from a host of clubs and a six-month lay-off, when 15, suffering from Osgood-Schlatter's Syndrome, a painful affliction akin to growing pains. Born and raised in Barking, he also took the bold decision of leaving London to serve his apprenticeship at Bristol Rovers when he could have gone to Southend. He didn't want distractions. "I didn't doubt that I'd get an apprenticeship - it was just at what level," he says. "I've always wanted it. I've always played in the best team, played well, always scored."
Not least for the incredible boys' team Senrab. "Well, we had Ledley King at the back and I don't think he's changed since then," Zamora says. "I'm sure his passport was dodgy! He was that big when he was 13. John Terry was in central midfield and he was unbelievable." Then there was Paul Konchesky and Jlloyd Samuel. Every week scouts patrolled the touchline. "I just wanted to be a professional footballer. That was the dream," says Zamora. "but you've got to be at the right place at the right time."
He is now. The welcome at Upton Park has been "brilliant", aided by the fact that his best friend, Luke Edwards, when scuffling around in those days in Bristol after both were released by Norwich City, now works for West Ham, as does Paul Rolls, his manager at Senrab, who is a scout. For Zamora, it is a case of familiarity breeding content.Reuse content