Talking Point

Football Mad: The story of mental illness and suicide in the beautiful game

When I look back at the past two seasons as a West Ham fan in years to come sadly the word that will define them for me will be ‘abuse.’ I feel as though my senses have been battered by an incessant stream of vitriol aimed at our owners; our manager; some of our players, one in particular; and at fellow fans.

I looked at Carlton Cole’s face as he sat on the sofa on Goals on Sunday last weekend and I saw a very unhappy man. His mouth was smiling but his eyes weren’t; his time at West Ham has extinguished some of the spark in of one of the sweetest, funniest men in the game. Football’s Mr Nice Guy was forced to sit there and admit that he has been fined £40,000 for losing his temper and retaliating in kind to an abusive tweet from an opposition fan. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although he is a favourite among many West Ham fans he has also had to endure constant criticism and abuse from other factions of our fan base and beyond. You really hope that the love that he receives from his supporters helps to cushion the pain of the virtual blows that he’s subjected to on social media; a subject which brings me on to our most vilified player in the past couple of years, Kevin Nolan.

In his recent interview with Dave Evans in the Newham Recorder Kevin said:

“It has been a tough couple of months ….. people talking about me and saying things about me, it has been hard, I am not going to deny it, but the only thing I have ever known is playing football. That is the only thing I can do now. I have got nothing to prove to anyone. I have done a lot in my career and a lot of what has been said has been unfair, but that’s life I suppose.”

Anybody who regularly follows West Ham’s fortunes will know that Kevin Nolan’s response to the vicious and personal abuse he has been subjected to for months on end is an understatement. For somebody not in the public eye it’s difficult to comprehend what it must be like to be exposed to a daily barrage of abusive and crass criticism. As a woman I also feel for his wife and try to imagine how upset I would be at having to watch my husband endure such hatred and venom simply for trying to do his job; not to mention the stress of trying to ensure that it didn’t reach the ears and eyes of my children.

Nolan went on to say:

“I’ve come to the stage in my career with all the negativity surrounding me and I have just taken it on the chin. It’s water off a duck’s back for me. Sometimes it hurts of course, but I’ve got a fantastic family, fantastic support system and not just with family and friends but also within the club.”

So Kevin is still smiling and still coping, at least he seems to be. Anyway, isn’t he fair game for all the critics and abusers given his dream job and huge salary? Maybe, maybe not. A popular consensus seems to be that professional footballers, as well as other people in the public eye, are exempt from the consideration afforded to ‘regular’ people. It’s as if a proportion of society considers that their wealth and celebrity makes them somehow immune from the frailties of the human condition and that they can either just absorb or repel any abuse without it affecting their mental and physical wellbeing.

As the cruelty and contempt that they have had to tolerate reaches its height both Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan have also arrived at a stage in their careers as professional footballers where they need to take stock and ask themselves the question “what next?” It sounds like a lovely problem to have doesn’t it? All that money in the bank, not too many medals granted, but scrapbooks filled with memories of a job that most people can only dream of, what have they got to worry about? In fact they are probably at a very vulnerable stage of their lives and you can only hope that they have the mental strength and support networks that will enable them to navigate it successfully as they continue to deflect the scorn and bile that is heaped upon them every day.

For the majority of these relatively still young men football has been the only way of life that they’ve known since they were children; it defines them as human beings and shapes their self-worth and self-identity. When they come to the end of their footballing career they are in danger of losing so much more than a big income and the chance to play football in front of thousands of people. Unfortunately no amount of money, fame or privilege can protect mentally vulnerable people from the irrationality and despair of depression and mental illness; conditions which are exacerbated by external circumstances and the stresses of abuse and criticism.

A few weeks ago Clarke Carlisle, the former Burnley and QPR defender and one-time Chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, left hospital following his second suicide attempt.

He told The Sun newspaper that he had been left severely depressed by the end of his football career, financial problems and the loss of a TV punditry role. Seeing death as the only escape from his despair Carlisle stepped in front of a lorry on the A64 on the 22nd of December and hoped for oblivion. As it turned out he survived the impact and was airlifted to Leeds General Infirmary suffering from cuts, bruises, internal bleeding, a broken rib and shattered left knee. On Christmas Day 2014 he was admitted as an in-patient to a psychiatric unit in Harrogate before his release in January this year.

Carlisle’s battle with depression has been well documented in the media and in 2013 he made a poignant semi-autobiographical documentary for BBC3 called ‘Football’s Suicide Secret’; which told the story of his final season before retirement – a season which, like much of his playing career, was marked by periodic bouts of depression. His first suicide attempt came at the age of 21, just as his team Queens Park Rangers had been promoted to the Premier League. Here was a young professional footballer apparently approaching the zenith of his career and about to enjoy the prestige, accolades and wealth that entails, when he decided to take his own life with a handful of pills on a shabby park bench. In an article that Carlisle wrote for the BBC in 2013 he said:

“Everyone else thought I’d made it, that I had the dream life. And I did. I was a 21-year-old professional footballer for QPR and the England Under-21s. I had a nice flat, a nice car and a loving family. My irrational mind had made me think suicide was a rational action though. So I went to a park near my home in Acton armed with lots of painkillers and thought “I’m going to take all these pills and kill myself, because I’m no use to anyone”. I’d just suffered a severe knee injury and had convinced myself that without football people would see me for what I really was, which was nothing. I sat on a bench in that park, washed the pills down with a can of beer, and waited for it to happen. In the end I was incredibly lucky, because my girlfriend found me and I was rushed to hospital in time to have my stomach pumped. I survived and didn’t tell another soul about the incident for years and didn’t ask for any help. I just locked this suicide attempt away in Pandora’s Box.”

The film also highlighted the tragic and shocking death of former Premier League and Welsh international player Gary Speed. Despite his glittering playing career and his recent appointment as Manager of the Wales team Speed’s wife Louise found his lifeless body hanging in the garage of their luxury home in November 2011. At the inquest into his death the coroner reached a narrative verdict but stated that cause of death was by “self suspension.”

On the morning of his death he had appeared full of smiles as a guest on the BBC One TV programme Football Focus, with presenter Dan Walker later describing 42 year old Speed as being in "fine form.” After the programme finished Speed joined former Newcastle United team-mate and friend Alan Shearer to watch their old club play against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Although he never discussed any possible mental health issues with anyone, he had told Shearer that the pressure of management had put some strain on his marriage and that he and Louise had argued the night before his death. Four days before he hanged himself he had also texted Louise about the possibility of suicide, but he dismissed such an action because of the importance of his wife and two children. At the inquest his mother Carole Speed described him as a “glass half-empty person.”

During his documentary Clarke Carlisle spoke to Speed’s sister Lesley and she said that if somebody had asked her whether Gary was suffering from depression before that, she would have said absolutely not. She went on to say:

“He hid it from us and it stopped him asking for help ….. we were just so sad that we couldn’t help him through….. that’s a huge regret that I didn’t get him to one side and say ‘is everything alright?’”

Carlisle commented:

“I know only too well that most depressives are great actors who can put on a different persona, a facade. What you need to be able to do is open up, yet the cruelty of the illness is that it won’t let you.”

Speed’s sister Lesley also made the telling point that now that she knows more about the condition she knows that people suffering from depression are not just fighting an illness but also dealing with the stigma that comes with it. During a short interview for the film, Aidy Boothroyd, Carlisle’s manager at Northampton, reinforced the view that depression and mental illness are not something that you admit to in professional football. He said that he had tried to protect his player by telling the team and the press that Carlisle was suffering from flu when depression had forced him to miss work.

Carlisle spoke to other young footballers about their experiences with depression, including Simon Jordan, Lee Hendrie and Leon McKenzie and he tried to show that depression, just like a physical illness, can strike even those who have found their dream jobs and adulation. While it may not always be helpful to view depression as something triggered by circumstances, there is no doubt that a footballer’s career cycle contains plenty of triggers. Carlisle investigated the effect of that first rejection with a visit to an academy full of young players who hadn’t begun to consider that they might not hit the big time; and also looked at how injuries and defeats can drag a player down and what awaits them after retirement.

As my research continued I was shocked at the prevalence of suicide and attempted suicide within the professional game. No doubt most football fans are aware of the tragic case of Justin Fashanu, Britain’s first million pound black footballer and the first professional footballer in Britain to openly ‘come out’ and admit he was gay. His courage drew many admirers among the wider audience, but some observers said it was less appreciated in parts of the football world. He suffered both homophobic and racist abuse during his time as a player, with even his own manager, Brian Clough, labelling him “a bloody poof” His personal torment took its toll professionally and his promising football career had already nose-dived by the time he came out in 1990. Fashanu embarked on a new career coaching the US football team Maryland Mania but in 1998 he fled back to England amid allegations of sexual abuse by a 17 year old youth. On the morning of 3rd May he was found hanged in a deserted lock-up garage he had broken into in Shoreditch, London, he was 37. Fashanu’s suicide note denied the charges, claiming that the act was consensual and that he was being blackmailed by his accuser.

Whatever the truth of those allegations, Justin’s suicide was a culmination of a lifetime of rejection. That rejection began when he was given up by his parents as a child and placed in a Barnardo’s Children’s Home. It was compounded by the racist jibes he suffered on the football pitch, and by the homophobic abuse inflicted on him at Nottingham Forest by his manager Brian Clough.

A more recent high profile case is that of the former national German goalkeeper Robert Enke. On 10th November 2009 32 year old Enke committed suicide when he stood in front of a regional express train at a level crossing. In this highly emotive video Robert’s widow Teresa Enke describes how the pressure of being a professional footballer contributed to Robert’s depression and death. She says:

“Sport will always be important but you should always see the human being behind the sports person, you shouldn’t just reduce them to a performance. It’s nice if he performs well but you should respect that people make mistakes. I wish there was more understanding of [being] a professional sports person.”

Sadly self-awareness is no guarantee of protection from the effects of mental illness. Another former German professional footballer committed suicide in July 2014 after a long battle with depression. Andreas Biermann, who started his career at Hertha Berlin, took his own life after struggling against the illness for five years. The 33-year-old last played for FSV Spandauer Kickers, based in Berlin and he had published a book called ‘Depression: Red Card’ where he discussed his struggle. Biermann had initially revealed that he was suffering from the illness after the death of Robert Enke and he had previously tried to take his own life on three occasions.

You might be forgiven for thinking that suicide within professional football is a relatively modern phenomenon due to media pressure and the added stress from the abuse inflicted by fans via social media. You may also think that suicide has never touched West Ham. Sadly neither is true.

This list of professional and ex-professional footballers and managers who felt driven to take their own lives makes very sad and shocking reading. Footballers who committed suicide

Among them you will find Syd King, Thames Ironworks’ and West Ham’s star full back from 1899 – 1903; who went on to become West Ham’s manager, a position he held for 30 years from 1902 until 1932.

Syd King was considered one of the best full backs in the Southern League and he recorded 16 appearances in Thames Ironworks’ first season in the Southern League Division One in 1899, also making seven appearances in the FA Cup that year, an impressive run that ended in a 1-2 home defeat against arch-rivals Millwall Athletic. In 1900 he was retained as a member of the squad after the club’s transition to West Ham United, and continued to play for them until 1903, recording 59 league and 7 FA Cup appearances in total.

At the start of his last season as a player he was appointed club secretary, although he was already considered to be a ‘manager’ of the club. His tenure at West Ham included our election to the football league in 1919 and in 1923 he took West Ham to the FA Cup Final for the first time, losing to Bolton Wanderers but also assuring our place in the top division finishing as Division Two runners up. An edition of the local newspaper East Ham Echo proclaimed in 1923 that:

“Syd King is West Ham and West Ham is Syd King.”

Following promotion King implemented a period of consolidation for West Ham in the First Division, the highlight of which was the 1926-1927 season when West Ham finished in 6th place in Division One. This performance was not equalled by the Hammers until the 1958-1959 season during Ted Fenton’s tenure. This consistency was partly made possible when King signed players who went on to become West Ham legends and record holders, as well as England internationals, including Jimmy Ruffell, Ted Hufton and Vic Watson.

Syd King was appointed a shareholder of West Ham United in 1931 but the team was relegated in the 1931-32 season back to Division Two. On 5th November 1932 West Ham lost their ninth game of the next season, against Bradford Park Avenue, and at the same day’s board meeting, according to one board member, during the discussion of the team King was “drunk and insubordinate.” It was no secret that King ‘liked a drink’ but he had already appeased the board many times over the issue. On the following day they announced that:

“It was unanimously decided that until further notice C. Paynter be given sole control of players and that E. S. King be notified accordingly.”

It was also suggested by the board, but never confirmed, that King had been syphoning off West Ham funds for himself. He was suspended for three months without pay and also banned from entering the Boleyn Ground. Following a board meeting on 3rd January 1933 his contract was terminated permanently, and he was given an ex-gratia payment of £3 a week.

Although comparatively rich for an ex-player working in football, King’s reputation and career were in tatters. Within a month of the sacking he sadly committed suicide by drinking alcohol mixed with a corrosive liquid. The inquest into his death declared that he had taken his life ‘while of unsound mind’, and had been suffering from persecution delusions. According to his son his depression had begun when West Ham were relegated in the summer of 1932, and that his paranoia had followed on from that.

In his book ‘At Home With The Hammers’ (1960) Ted Fenton, West Ham United player (1932-46) and manager (1950-61) wrote:

“The boss at West Ham was Syd King, an outsize, larger-than-life character with close-cropped grey hair and a flowing moustache. He was a personality plus man, a man with flair. Awe struck, I would tip-toe past his office but invariably he would spot me. “Boy,” he would shout. “Get me two bottles of Bass.” Down to the Boleyn pub on the corner I would go on my errand and when I got back to the office Syd King would flip me a two-shilling piece for my trouble."

Isn’t it sad and unthinkable that a man with such a big personality and who had achieved so much at West Ham felt compelled to take his own life when he lost the support of the board and consequently his position? It really highlights the fact that nobody is immune from depression, even those with long and successful careers.

Given the stigma that often comes with mental illness, it’s perhaps no surprise that footballers and managers who suffer from depression often do their utmost to hide it instead of asking for help; and there are undoubtedly current and former professional players and managers still suffering in silence today.

In 2013 Football Association chairman David Bernstein admitted that the issue of mental illness in the sport has been “badly neglected in the past.” He said:

“This is not something that’s been high on my agenda – maybe it should have been higher.”

A spokesman insisted that the FA regards the issue as "vitally important” and Scott Field, the FA’s head of media relations, said:

“The mental well-being of players, managers and indeed all participants in football is vitally important to the FA, from grassroots to the professional game.”

He said that the FA had helped to produce a handbook for professional players tackling the subject of mental illness, as well as organising awareness workshops for coaches in 2011. The FA has also provided financial backing to the Sporting Chance Clinic, which treats sportsmen with behavioural problems.

Let’s hope that they’re taking it as seriously as they say. The latest suicide statistics reveal a disproportionate rise in the number of male suicides. In the UK, the male suicide rate is approximately three and a half times higher than the female suicide rate and the highest rate of male suicide in the UK is in the 40-44 age group.

The circumstances behind the depression and suicides of these professional footballers and managers are as varied as their careers but the one thing they all have in common is that their status within the professional game didn’t protect them from their mental torment; they were just human beings with the same vulnerabilities as the man on the street. In fact they may be more vulnerable than the average man on the street. FIFPro, the World Footballers’ Association, conducted an international study into the extent of Mental Illness in Professional Football More than 300 current and former professional players and six national unions participated. The first paragraph of the report’s conclusion states:

“The results of our study show that mental illness seems to occur among former professional footballers more often than in current players and more often than in other populations. Consequently, mental illness among former professional footballers cannot be underestimated and should be a subject of interest for all stakeholders in football. Attention to career planning in an early stage of a football career might significantly help to prepare the post-sport life period and to avoid potential problems after retirement (Alfermann 2007).”

If you’ve reached the end of this article then you’re obviously a thinking West Ham fan and probably not prone to outbursts of personal abuse where only professional criticism is required. You’re probably also already cognisant of the issues surrounding depression and mental illness and understand the fragilities of all human beings, including professional footballers, and how unwarranted and spiteful personal attacks on a player or manager could contribute into pushing a vulnerable person over the edge. The point I’m trying to make probably won’t reach those who could benefit from it the most. Those who won’t read have no advantage over those who can’t; so there’s little hope of educating either.

I’m not suggesting that professional footballers and managers should be wrapped in cotton wool and that they shouldn’t have to bear professional criticism but I wish all football fans would stop to think of the words of German goalkeeper Robert Enke’s widow the next time that they feel compelled to write an abusive comment and ask themselves if it’s really necessary or fair and to consider the impact it could have on a mentally vulnerable person struggling to cope with a barrage of abuse.

“Sport will always be important but you should always see the human being behind the sports person, you shouldn’t just reduce them to a performance. It’s nice if he performs well but you should respect that people make mistakes. I wish there was more understanding of [being] a professional sports person.”


News

I'm Bored

I hate international breaks. There’s nothing to write about and who’s interested in an England game when the result is a foregone conclusion. They really need to change the system for Euro qualifiers to make them more challenging. Have a filter round, or something, where Gibraltar, San Marion, Andorra and the like can have a pre-qualifier group with the top one going forward. In England’s group there is only really one challenging game. Anyway, there are a few rather bizarre rumours in the papers at the moment, so for lack of anything else to discuss, and my fellow writers seemingly drying up, see what you make of these…

  • JustArsenal.com? speculate on the likelihood of Carl Jenkinson joining West Ham permanently. They think we will. Good.
  • Karren Brady has had a right old go at Sky Sports presenter David Jones in her Sun Column
  • The new on Twitter Carl Jenkinson exchanges some Bants? with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
  • Elliott Lee is staying with Luton until the end of the season according to Here Is The City? which isn’t surprising when he has scored 3 goals in 4 games.
  • West Ham are monitoring Austrian Mainz midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger as an alternative to buying Alex Song according to the Mirror
  • Sam Allardyce may be looking over his shoulder at Rafa Benitez according to London24

Talking Point

Who is your HOTY?

With all due respect to Scott Parker and Mark Noble, in recent seasons the Hammer of the Year award has been an almost foregone conclusion with little to no competition to the eventual winner. Between them they have won five of the last six awards and their never say die attitude has gone a long way to them being unopposed in their respective seasons. With eight games still to go this season it may be a little early to try and pick this seasons winner but what the heck, it is an International break isn’t it?

What a reflection on this season though? We can look at least six players this season who have a very decent shout of being this seasons HOTY. Whilst we have Sam lovers and Sam haters, it is refreshing to have so many worthy candidates. Perhaps this season has not been so bad after all? Let’s have a look at the players I think most would agree to being the contenders this season.

Aaron Cresswell has been a revelation at left back this season and is proving to be one of the buys of the season. It is no wonder Ipswich fans were so full of praise for him and so sorry to lose him. Ever present this season, his attacking raids from full back have earned rave reviews and he has adorned himself to the fans. He has been most consistent although he can be vulnerable in defence especially in the air. For mine he has not been used to full effect at set pieces but he has to be one of the favourites to win the award this season.

Diafra Sakho our leading goal scorer this season got off to a cracking start. His record equalling six goals in successive games earned him the Premier League player of the month in October. His trademark crossed arms Hammer salute goal celebration and the fact he cried when he thought he had missed his chance to join the club have made him a crowd favourite. For a forward his work rate is outstanding although his decision making at times shows he still has a lot to learn in the top flight. What a find though and to think he was playing in the French second tier last season? Another outstanding chance to win the HOTY.

Cheikhou Kouyate was a more high profile player arriving at Upton Park this season. Signed from Anderlecht he has been most adaptable, playing in different midfield roles and at centre back when required. The player is total class and his work rate is outstanding. When he plays in his preferred midfield role he glues the side together. A couple of knocks, the African Cup and the need to help out at centre back has unfortunately made it a bit of a stop start season for him, but his class is always there to see.

Adrian has really grown in stature this season and has probably become the fans favourite for the passion he shows. He has had a fine season and who could forget his gloves off approach to the winning penalty against Everton? Still a bit suspect at coming for a cross, his rapport with the fans could just get him over the line.

Other contenders would include Enner Valencia, Alex Song and Stewart Downing if all their form had not tailed off in recent months. However, with eight games still to go it is not too late for any of them to come into contention again. Song in particular was head and shoulders above any other player prior to Xmas and a return to form could put him back in with a shout. Downing’s early season form got him an England call up only to be played out of position. The wait for Andy Carroll to return was well worth it with a flurry of goals and top performances. Alas, you have to play more games than Andy does to be in with a chance.

The best roughie for me would be James Collins just for his die hard attitude on the pitch. Forever putting everything on the line he is not always Sam’s pick at centre half. He would be mine every time. Carl Jenkinson and James Tomkins have also had excellent seasons. Last but not least we have the players who have won the award the past two seasons. Mark Noble and Winston Reid. It has not been a bad season has it when these two past winners are probably outsiders at best?


Talking Point

The Men in Black

What do tennis, rugby union, rugby league and cricket have that we don’t? A video review of the most important decisions that affect a game of course, well apart from goal line technology which is in its infancy. The refereeing in the Premier League has been so bad this season that some are even alluding to the possibility of refs deliberately making a few hashes so as to heighten the need for video help. I find this assumption ridiculous at best but at least it highlights just how bad the referees have been. And it is getting worse. More than once this season the wrong player has been sent off in cases of misidentity.

Now, let’s have a look at the Premier League. Here we have a competition where the TV rights have escalated to over 5 billion pounds for the next three seasons and on average each game has a World viewing audience of over twelve million. We have matches comprising of twenty two of the finest and fastest athletes available and they play for an hour and a half with a fifteen minute break. These fit young men also practise falling over at the slightest of touches and if the ref does not give them what they want he and his team mates are allowed to surround him, point fingers and shout at him. He probably can’t hear much of what they are screaming as the 40,000 crowd that sit just a few yards away are hurling abuse at him and have started to chant “you don’t know what you are doing”! They are also questioning his parentage. The TV cameras have by now played twenty eight replays from 108 different angles and the whole place is going manic. Who is this ref, this man in black? Who is this balding, rotund 48 year old that has wires spouting from every orifice and carries around a can of foam? Often he was the young kid at school, you know the one, the one that loved to play football in the play ground but was never good enough to make the school team. He was the kid that decided “better become a referee if I can’t play”.

Now perhaps I am being a bit unfair? These men in black are remarkably fit for their age and know the rules of the game much better than the fans watching and indeed the pundits in the TV box. But come on! When are we going to realise that the speed of the game has passed these poor fellows by? Not to mention the so called professionalism of some of the tactics employed by shrewd coaches trying to con him. They need a hand. Every mistake they make is scrutinised by the video replays, the very replays that could help them make the right decisions!

One of the perceived downsides of allowing a referee or a 4th official the luxury of these replays is that it will slow the game down. My view is I would not care providing we get the right decision and it was only used for the major decisions where a referee requires assistance. My view is also that if we cut out the surrounding of referees by players waving imaginary cards at them, it might help speed the game up sufficiently to make up for any said video review. And don’t get me started on players rolling around on the ground, taking the ball into the corner post and all other forms of time wasting. The surrounding of the refs will stop, as will the need for a 4th official trying to contain an irate manager on the sideline if everyone knew “we were going upstairs” for clarification. If ever the video ref does come into play in our game it will still not be perfect. There will be the odd mistakes made as it will still be a human being that officiates them. But it will be a whole lot better than what we are enduring at the moment. Or will we miss our favourite post match pastime too much? You know, the right to moan after the game to everyone and anybody that will listen, that we were robbed again?


The Brian Williams Column

WHY DEFOE FAILED TO SCORE ON SATURDAY – EXCLUSIVE

Okay, hands up everyone who feared Jermaine Defoe would get the winner for Sunderland on Saturday.

When he got in behind our back four after 15 minutes no one who had seen Defoe in his prime expected him to miss the way he did. However, he’s clearly not lost the greed that once made him a formidable striker and the way our luck has been going lately you had to be a serious optimist to be truly confident he wouldn’t nick one. I for one was relieved when he finally got the hook in the 88th minute.

It wasn’t until we were enjoying a celebratory pint in the Denmark after the game that I discovered my son Geoff had taken serious preventative action by actually backing Defoe to score – working on the tried and tested premise that any wager placed by a member of the Williams family is guaranteed to put the mockers on the predicted outcome. I’d like you all to join me now in thanking the fruit of my loins for his selfless action in the name of West Ham United.

Didn’t it make a welcome change to keep a clean sheet for once? I always feel as if a dagger has been plunged into my heart when the opposition puts the ball in our net. When the goalscorer is a former Iron the pain is worse. And if that ex-Hammer is a genuine turncoat it’s akin to being stabbed with a rusty breadknife.

I really don’t care for Jermaine Defoe. I know I should be grateful for the goals he scored on our behalf, not least the header that gave us a rare 1-0 win at Old Trafford win at the end of 2001.

However, the way he left us did lack a certain amount of class. Perhaps those three red cards he was shown after having his transfer request turned down were purely coincidental, but anyone with a suspicious nature could be forgiven for thinking there might have been something more to it than that. Was he trying to tell us something?

As a Tottenham player he developed quite a knack of scoring against us after he got his ticket out of E13 – including a goal in his first game back at Upton Park. This was the lasagne-gate game which, happily, we won 2-1.

You will recall that Tottenham complained bitterly because several of their players had been laid low by the pre-match catering. It would appear Mr Defoe went for the vegetarian option that day, because he was fit to play. However the following season, at White Hart Lane, he felt he was entitled to try some Argentinian beef and sunk his teeth into Javier Mascherano’s shoulder – much to the South American’s annoyance. As with the lasagne and his team-mates, Mascherano clearly didn’t agree with him.

Never mind Jermaine. Much as we dislike you, there is no chance of you being anything more than Public Enemy No 2 at Upton Park. Securing a transfer by being repeatedly sent off is bad enough. Being photographed in another club’s shirt in an effort to accelerate your exit takes treachery to a whole new level.

Paul Ince really got the treatment every time he returned to Upton Park – and I’m not ashamed to say I was one of those who took the chance to make my feelings known about the way he had behaved.

On each occasion we played Man Utd after he’d joined them I prayed that long-suffering West Ham supporters wouldn’t have to put up with the indignity of seeing him score. It worked for several years. Then what little faith I had in God’s infinite wisdom and mercy was finally shattered one chilly afternoon in February 1994 when, with us leading 2-1 with only three minutes left, the little Red Devil popped up and grabbed the equaliser. It is fair to say he did not receive a sporting round of applause from those of us in claret and blue.

Ince actually managed to score against us for three different clubs. After he left Man Utd he scored for Liverpool in May 1998, when he got their fifth as we took a 5-0 hiding at Anfield. And then in 2005 – 16 years after his controversial departure from East London – he got Wolves’ third as we endured a 4-2 mauling at Molineux. However, the good news on this occasion is that we had the last laugh – securing promotion through the play-offs as Mr Ince was left to languish in the second tier. Perhaps there is a god after all.

If we were handing out medals to former players who have scaled the heights of unpopularity with the West Ham faithful, you would certainly have to reserve a place on the rostrum for Frank Lampard Jnr.

I wasn’t looking forward to 2006 with much enthusiasm, knowing it would be the year I turned 50. And just when I thought I couldn’t feel any more miserable Lampard scored for Chelsea as they won 3-1 at Upton Park on January 2. A new year doesn’t get off to a worse start than that.

He scored several more against us after that, of course – marked either by kissing the Chelsea badge or a skyward dedication to his late lamented Mum. I shall keep my thoughts about his goal celebrations to myself.

In our first season back in the Prem after the play-off final against Blackpool we were particularly prone to conceding goals scored by ex-Hammers. Defoe got two at White Hart Lane; Joe Cole scored for Liverpool at Upton Park – and Glen Johnson got a screamer in the same game. Curiously, young Glen had the decency not to score against us for Chelsea, but after moving on to Anfield he clearly developed the taste for it – that effort was the third time he left a West Ham keeper grasping at thin air.

It really does seem that anyone who’s played for West Ham feels entitled to score when they play us. Like Defoe after him (and Sir Geoff Hurst previously), Rio Ferdinand scored on his first game back at the Boleyn – that was in 2001. Yossi Benayoun notched up one for Liverpool at Anfield in 2009. Even full-back Paul Konchesky got in the act when he let fly from outside territorial waters to score for Fulham at Upton Park a few months beforehand.

Some former Irons get a better reception than others, of course. I remember Tony Cottee scoring twice for Leicester at Upton Park towards in the late Nineties and getting the biggest cheer of the afternoon at the end of it all. True, we had won 4-3 and it was the last game of the season – but you have to be a proper East End legend to hit two and still get a standing ovation.

And then there’s Carlos Tevez. Oh, how we loved that man. He didn’t use his first game back at Upton Park as a Man Utd player as an excuse to score. Not Carlos. He crossed his arms to replicate the crossed hammers on our badge and turned to all four corners of the ground to show everyone he still had West Ham in his heart. Now that’s style.

He scored for both Manchester clubs against us, but always refused to celebrate. In fact he looked positively crestfallen. To be honest, if I had been his manager I’d have subbed him after those goals. You got the feeling that Tevez felt so bad about scoring against us that he must have thought seriously about demanding the ball from the kick-off, dribbling around his bemused team-mates and smashing it into his own net just to level things up. Unlike some, he understood what we have always known: once an Iron, always an Iron.


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