West Ham star James Tomkins reminds teammates a place in the Champions League is at stake this season

UEFA Champions League Trophy

West Ham United defender James Tomkins has urged his teammates to take the Europa League seriously, because they could end up in the Champions League.

The Hammers favourite was speaking to the club's official website in the wake of the draw for the Europa League first qualifying round on Monday.

With the first game just 10 days away, the Hammers have had to return to pre-season training earlier than any other Premier League side.

The East Londoners will take on Andorran minnows FC Lusitans in a two-legged match and face another three two-legged qualifiers if they are to make the group stage proper where they will be joined by fellow Premier League sides Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton and Liverpool.

Despite being overwhelming favourites in the qualifiers - the Hammers were the top seeds from 104 teams in the draw - Tomkins has warned his teammates their path will not be easy and reminded them that a place in the Champions League awaits the winners of the competition.

"People seem to forget really (that the winners get a place in the Champions League), we had a meeting this morning and that's what we were shown, that is the end goal and that's what we're aiming for which is right you know," Tomkins told West Ham's official site.

"That's the end goal, trying to win, but you've got to get through the early stages first and that's never easy against teams that are in different countries and different cultures.

"That's going to be a massive experience for everyone and all the players involved."

A fitting send off to the Boleyn Ground

If Tomkins and his teammates were to go all the way in the Europa League on their return to the competition for the first time in nearly a decade, it would add a staggering 23 games to their calendar.

Playing some big European nights at the Boleyn Ground in what will be the club's last season there after 112 years will be a fitting send off for the historic stadium.

Securing the Europa League trophy would also see West Ham start life at their new 54,000 stellar Olympic Stadium in an equally fitting manner with Champions League football gracing East London.

The European effect: Help or hinder?

The gauntlet has already been laid down to new boss Slaven Bilic with co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan insisting they are 'in it to win it'.

The manager, owners and fans are under no illusions though that a squad which struggled to cope when injuries hit last season needs considerable strengthening in a number of areas.

While everyone associated with West Ham would dearly love a long European adventure which would obviously benefit the club on and off the pitch, there are concerns too.

Many pundits feel the burden of Thursday-Sunday fixtures for large parts of the season and the fatigue as a result could impact on Bilic's chances of success.

The likes of Everton and Liverpool are examples of clubs who have struggled to combine those demands with results domestically and last season it was not until the Toffees were knocked out of the Europa League that their league form improved.

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