Dan Coker's Match Preview
With England’s upcoming match against Belgium on Thursday, here’s a look back at the Hammers’ Belgian contingent.
Francois van der Elst
Francois Van der Elst was born in Opwijk, Belgium on the 1st December 1954 and joined Anderlecht at the age of 15, winning two national titles and four cups between 1971 and 1980. He also won the European Cup Winners’ Cup twice, in 1976 and 1978. The first of these finals was against West Ham United with the 21-year-old ‘Swat’, as he was known in his home country, scoring twice. Van der Elst scored 20 goals in 43 European games for Anderlecht and was widely regarded as the best forward in the Belgian league.
At the age of 25, Van der Elst left Anderlecht to sign for New York Cosmos where he played with the likes of Dutch midfielder Johan Neeskens and German legend Franz Beckenbauer. He also helped Belgium to second place in the 1980 European Championships and was part of the World Cup squad at Spain ’82. He scored 14 goals in 44 appearances for the Belgian national side having made his debut on 31st October 1973 in a 2-0 win over Norway played on his home ground at Anderlecht. Eight of his caps were won during his time at West Ham, with his final appearance for his country coming as a Lokeren player on 9th November 1983.
After a year in the States, the 27-year-old Van der Elst moved to England and to West Ham United for a fee of £400,000. He made his debut on 16th January 1982 as a substitute in a 1-0 defeat at Brighton in the First Division and scored his first goal for the club in his sixth appearance, in a 2-1 loss at Stoke on the 6th February 1982. That was the first of a spell that saw the Belgian score five goals in ten matches before the end of March 1982.
His only full campaign in claret and blue was a memorable one – he played 47 games, scored 12 goals and the Hammers finished eighth in the First Division. He notched four goals in as many games between 11th September and 2nd October as the Hammers thrashed Birmingham 5-0 at home, won 2-1 at West Brom, beat Man City 4-1 and won 3-2 at Arsenal. ‘Frankie’ also scored a hat-trick in the 3-3 League Cup fourth round draw at Notts County on 7th December 1982.
Frankie scored in each of his last two matches at the Boleyn Ground, in a 2-0 triumph over Notts County on 7th May 1983 and in a 3-1 defeat to Arsenal three days later. His final Hammers appearance came at the age of 28 in a 4-2 win at Coventry on the 14th May 1983. After 70 appearances and 17 goals in all competitions for West Ham United, Van der Elst returned to his homeland, signing for Lokeren, with whom he stayed until his retirement from playing at the age of 30 in 1985 due to a fractured leg.
My video below shows two of van der Elst’s 17 goals for the Hammers, scored against Tottenham (November 1982) and Watford (April 1983), as well as his two goals for Anderlecht against the Irons in the 1976 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final.
After his career, Van der Elst owned a snooker and billiards bar in his hometown of Opwijk. He still attended Hammers matches on occasion and had close ties with the Belgian Hammers supporters group. On New Year’s Day 2017 he collapsed and was resuscitated by a medical emergency team before being placed in an induced coma. After a period in intensive care, Francois van der Elst eventually passed away from the sustained heart damage on 11th January 2017 at the age of 62.
Ruud Boffin was born on 5th November 1987 in Sint-Truiden and began his career with Racing Genk’s youth team before moving to Dutch club PSV in 2005. He never made a senior appearance for PSV and instead began his professional career on loan at FC Eindhoven, making 20 appearances during the 2007/08 season. Boffin moved to MVV Maastricht in 2008, making 64 appearances, before spending the second half of the 2009/10 season on loan at VVV-Venlo, with whom he played five matches.
The 22-year-old Boffin signed for Avram Grant’s West Ham on 1st September 2010 on a two-year deal for an undisclosed nominal fee following a trial at the club. He would act as cover for England goalkeeper Robert Green. Boffin made his Hammers debut on 18th December 2010 in a 1-1 draw at Blackburn – his point-blank save to keep out Ryan Nelsen’s 51st-minute shot deserved better than for the ball to find its way past him via the knee of the Blackburn defender as he swung his leg at the loose ball. Junior Stanislas would equalise for the Irons with 12 minutes left but a point would not lift the Hammers off the bottom of the table, a position in which they would ultimately end the 2010/11 season.
Boffin’s two appearances under Sam Allardyce in the 2011/12 season would both end in cup exits at the first hurdle. He played in a 2-1 home defeat to Aldershot in the first round of the League Cup on 24th August 2011 – the Hammers led 1-0, again through a Stanislas goal, but Aldershot’s equaliser would come via a rebound after a Boffin save, by which time the Irons were down to ten men after Callum McNaughton’s red card. The Shots won the tie in the 89th minute. Boffin’s final appearance for the Hammers would be a 1-0 FA Cup third round defeat at Sheffield Wednesday on 8th January 2012, the Owls scoring their winner with only three minutes remaining. After just three appearances in his two years at West Ham United, and having found his playing opportunities infrequent due to the form of Green and the signing of Stephen Henderson in March, Boffin’s contract was cancelled by mutual consent in April 2012.
Boffin signed for Turkish side Eskisehirspor in May 2012 and made 175 appearances for the club. He scored from a free-kick inside his own half on 25th September 2016 in a 2-0 win against Umraniyespor (see video below). Boffin signed for another Turkish club, Antalyaspor, in 2017. Now aged 30, he has made 17 appearances for the club to date.