In an exclusive interview, we speak to Watford keeper and former Hammer Sam Howes about his time in East London, his hopes for an exciting future, a Hammer taken far before his time and much more.
England Youth International Sam Howes joined the club as a schoolboy several years ago and quickly progressed up the ranks to the U21 and U23 sides whilst still a teenager.
Having made his First-Team debut in Australia during the 2014 Pre-Season campaign at the mere age of 16, Howes unfortunately never got the chance to don a Hammers shirt at senior level again.
However, he still managed to play a key part in both the Development Squad’s previous two trophy-winning campaigns, lifting the Premier League International Cup in 2015/2016 and playing a role in the PL2 Division Two Play-Off victory of last season.
Despite this, Howes felt it was right to make the switch to Marco Silva’s Watford. At the time, many Hammers were disappointed to see a potential successor of Joe Hart or Adrian depart at such a young age, but how would the man himself respond to them?
“I had a good run there, being at West Ham for 10 years was great, the support was so great and the PL2 Cup win and Promotion was incredible, you just can’t describe moments like that and I can’t thank the club enough really”.
For all of his highlights in a Hammers shirt, one of the harsh lowlights would have almost definitely been the passing of someone who not only was a great friend of the keeper but an inspiration to many.
We are, of course, talking about that late Dylan Tombides with whom Howes played with for many years, but just how much of an impact did the Aussie leave on him?
“At the time I was 15 and training with the U23s” exclaimed the shot-stopper. “I always remember Dyl as really active and jokey but then he had this serious side lots of talent as well, I remember against Colchester, he scored the best goal I have ever seen, chipping the keeper from a most audacious angle.
It is such a shame that he is not with us today because he would easily be in the First-Team right now”.
In honour of the striker, Howes’ Dad, Scott Howes, recently ran the London Marathon for Tombides’ charity DT38, making for one of football’s warm stories.
Over the past few seasons, the keeper has enjoyed various loan spells mostly with Hampton and Richmond Borough, a club in which Howes has bedded in well to in the National League South.
One of the great questions in modern football surrounds the standard of Non-League football to the standard of Professional Youth football, but what does a keeper with experience in both make of the difference?
“The standard is obviously different, there is a lot of quality in the U23s, but there are more winners and the game means a little bit more in the National League, you also play in front of bigger crowds than you would for the U23s.
You have the mentality of playing in front of those crowds for experience, but you are playing against men who sometimes want to put you on your backside, but it is still physical in the PL2”.
Another feature of modern Youth Football is the difficulty involved for a young player to break through to a First-Team at the highest level.
But, does Howes think that there are enough opportunities for young players in the game today? Especially for a goalkeeper?
“If you work hard then yeah, I believe there is,” exclaimed the shot-stopper.
“It is hard because you are playing for just one position, but going out on loan and getting that experience will stand me in good stead for the future, as a keeper you need to keep making a change to gain an experience and keep moving up the game”.
Of course, one of the benefits of the different tiers of Premier League Club’s Youth systems is the vast array of coaches that a young star gets to work with, who was the favourite of the former Hammer?
“I wouldn’t say I had one, but you take little bits from every coach right through from Academy to First-Team.
Last year, I was working with Chris Woods and he taught me a lot of different things and working with Martyn Margetson from the age of 16 and he is now with England, I have worked with some great coaches”.
However, it is not only coaches that teach the starlets a thing or two about the game, as Sam explains:
“Being at West Ham, the keeper I was there the longest with was Adrian, he took me under his wing and showed me some things, last year, training with him and Darren Randolph was great for me to learn from them as other keepers”.
Like Howes, Randolph too departed in the summer, controversially and publicly stating the reasons for his departure, but Howes has no such bitterness for the club he has served since boyhood.
“I will always look back on my time at West Ham fondly, the club always has had a massive part of my life and heart,” stated Howes.
“I fancied a change, that was all, to be honest, being there so long, I wanted a new challenge as well, I felt that Watford was right and the time was right for me to try test myself with a new challenge”.
But, leaving West Ham was one of the hardest decisions that I had to make and looking back, my time there was good and I can set myself a new target of progression at Watford as well now”.
On the subject of his move to Marco Silva’s Hornets, how has he been settling into is new Hertfordshire surroundings?
“I have settled in quite quickly, obviously, I have been here for around three months now, the players and staff have been nice to me, so I have settled in well.
I have been training with the U23s, but playing for Hampton & Richmond, so, that has been great for development.”
However, the most interesting thing about the young charge is that his sporting life could have panned out so differently, had he chosen to pursue his other incredible talent.
In his teens, Howes was contracted to Sussex’s Cricket Academy and earmarked as a future professional star, just how tough was it to choose between the two sports for the 19-year-old?
“At the time, it wasn’t too difficult because I had a little injury, the ball hit me on the end of the thumb, as a wicketkeeper so that made my mind up really.
Growing up, I was playing football and cricket and I have some great childhood memories of playing cricket with my mates”.
One of the most overwhelming feelings oozing from the recent success of our Development Squad has been the camaraderie amongst the players, having shared the dressing room with many of the same starlets for years, who was Howes’ favourite teammate in Claret & Blue?
It would be, for me, Noha Sylvestre, I have known him for years and speak to him away from West Ham also, so, he is probably my best mate as well”.
The young keeper clearly has plenty of special memories of his time in East London from the mere age of ten, but all good things must come to an end and for Sam Howes that came last summer.
However, the young keeper clearly remains determined to make it to the top on his new adventure and with such kind and fantastic words, will have the blessing of every Hammer that he left behind.