Talking Point

Nyle Becomes a Hammer

*Blind Hammer will have a new companion at the LS next season.

My Guide Dog Nyle has finally been allocated space at the London Stadium. Nyle is a beautiful and remarkable dog who has transformed my life over the last 4 years. There are occasions in which he has quite literally saved my life. For example see
https://dgriffithblog.com/2017/03/21/today-a-guide-dog-saved-my-life-seriously-again/

The sad thing was that at Upton Park, and this last season at the London Stadium, there was simply no room in which I could take Nyle. I am a big unit- over 6ft 3inches tall even in my stooped older state. Nyle is an equivalent big dog needed to drag me around, he is over 6 stones himself and when stretched out he covers the whole of the back seat of our car. I could only just squeeze myself into my seat at the London Stadium. There was no practical room for Nyle to come.

Now West Ham has allocated an area which extra space where Nyle can rest on his rug.

This should transform my experience of match days. We will still have a seat for a sighted human carer as Nyle and I need help to manage amongst the crowds at the Stadium itself. However the extra space for Nyle will transform the way I can travel.

It will now be possible for me to take more logical routes to the Stadium and back home. These routes were, until now, difficult, stressful if not downright impossible for a completely blind person using a white stick. For example, navigating around the Olympic Park itself is extremely challenging for someone blind. There are few walls to safely tap along to guide you, no simple streets with kerbs to follow, no portable GPS information, to reassure you that you are on a correct street. My specialised CPS will simply announce I am in an “Open area” which is not very helpful. The potential to spend hours wandering blindly lost around a vast park are high. Even my sighted guides sometimes struggle to work out where they are in the park.

Now Nyle should simply be able to walk me out of the Park to the Bus Stop I need, help me get on the Bus and last but not least get me home from where the Bus drops me off again. It sounds odd but a Guide dog is often better than a human at guiding.

Much of these logical journeys were impossible, at least worrying and trying simply using a white cane. In reality I spent a lot of money on taxis and adopting different longer routes home depending on which sighted help I had and what way they were travelling.

Another aspect is that Nyle and I will not be regularly separated. People rarely understand the depth of the bond which develops between a guide Dog and his owner. A guide Dog is by some order of magnitude, more integrated into your life than a normal pet dog would be. People rightly get very fond of their pets but the mutual reliance a Guide Dog and their owner develop is special. You normally need a Guide Dog to go everywhere with you. Nyle believes it is his job to be with me at all times. Nyle will guide me to my fortnightly hospital visits at Bart’s, and also Doctors’ appointments. In addition on the Health theme he guides me to a Clinic for blood tests, at Whips Cross Hospital he guide some variously to the Eye Treatment Centre, Chest Clinic, Audiology clinic, and Orthopaedic Clinics. He does all this for me without the need for any human help. Although as you might guess I have some health issues this is thankfully not all that he does. He guides me to lectures, to local shops, and a variety of social events including his favourite local cafes and pubs which he is very fond of. Even at the allotment he guides me to the water trough so that we can collect water to refresh the potatoes. In between times he will happily lay quietly at my back for hours whilst I do the weeding. He lies at my feet whilst I type my Blind Hammer Posts.

This means he cannot understand why every fortnight or so I abandon him for 6 hours. It also feels a bit weird for me personally to go out without him. According to my wife, he pines and worries whilst I am away. He actually starts getting anxious as soon as I put on my West Ham scarf.

So this is set to change next season. Another Guide Dog user has told me that his Dogs reportedly watches the game, or at least allegedly tracks the ball with their eyes. I guess they also get interested with the Referee’s whistle. Whether Nyle will turn his undoubted intelligence to making observations for Bilic’s tactics we will have to see. I suspect that he may just be more interested in gnawing his Antler toy.

So thanks, to West Ham Accessibility Team, for finally making arrangements to allow Nyle to become a Hammer.

COYI

David Griffith


Talking Point

Fred Corbett – Our first Black Footballing Trailblazer.

Blind Hammer examines a little known Player from West Ham History.

Until recently if anybody had asked me who the first black forward to play for West Ham was, I would have instantly replied Clyde Best. However reading Mitchell’s “Colouring across the White Line” – a history of black footballers I discovered, to my surprise, that the third ever black professional footballer to emerge in the 19th Century actually played for West Ham in our inaugural season. . Let me introduce you to Fred Corbett.

Details of Corbett’s life in Mitchell’s book are scarce but I have tried to pull together some details from other sources elsewhere which make for an interesting story.

Corbett was an East Ender, born in 1881 in West Ham. He developed his footballing skills by playing for the Old St Luke’s Youth Football Team. Mitchell seems to suggest he may have been mixed race, others simply describe him as black.

Now the Old St Luke’s Team forms an important part of West Ham History. Many believe that our formation was simply due to the Thames Ironworks Works team. Many also believe that industrial works teams formed the basis for the creation of modern professional football. However, this is an over simplification.

There was another driver for the formation of Football teams in the 19th century and this was the “muscular Christianity” movement. The idea of muscular Christianity was very much that of “healthy body – healthy mind and morals”. Football was seen as a moral healthy alternative to spending Saturday afternoons in the Pub getting drunk. Tottenham Hotspur’s formation for example had nothing to do with a workplace team and came out of a “Bible Study Group”.

Old St Luke’s was in this tradition of Christian football at the time. The importance for our story of Corbett is to realise that even before the Thames Ironworks team was established as a professional side there were precursor clubs. The first was the Castle Swifts, a workplace team based on the Castle Line repair Shipyard situated by Bow Creek on the Thames. The Castle Swifts, formed in 1892, were the first professional football team in what was then Essex. The second team was Old St Luke’s, a Church based team. The Castle Swifts were merged with Old St Luke’s Football Team in 1893 to become rebranded as the “Old Castle Swifts”. There are some who claim that the lineage of our Club’s Castle emblem comes not from the association with the Boleyn Castle but this lesser known connection with the Old Castle Swifts.

As part of the merger the Castle Swifts now Old Castle Swifts moved into the Old St Luke’s Hermit Road Football ground in Canning Town. Apparently Old St Luke’s for anybody interested stopped being a Church in 1895 and as far as I can tell is now a Community Centre.

The Old Castle Swifts enjoyed brief success in their new home but folded in 1895. For our story though they crucially enjoyed the attention and friendship of Arnold Hill, then the Director of Thames Ironworks. Hill was incidentally another Victorian committed to Christian temperance and saw Football as a healthy past time for working men. Hill not only took over the tenancy of the Swift’s Hermit Road ground but recruited 8 of the Old Castle Swift’s players to form the nucleus of his new Thames Ironworks side.

Thames Ironworks were then the Phoenix arising out of the ashes of the Old Castle Swifts project. The importance for our story of Corbett is that he was, one of the Youth Players, amongst others, for Old St Luke’s who were eventually promoted into playing for Thames Ironworks. Old St Luke’s Youth team, who oddly did not formally merge with Castle Swifts, unlike their adult fellow congregationists, instead formed a famous and impressive team of 12-13 year olds. This team, including Corbett in its ranks, had an extraordinary record. After their formation in 1893 the old St Luke’s Youth team played, over 4 years, 114 matches with 104 wins, 3 draws and only seven defeats. This record was matched by the goals performance with 558 goals for and only 49 against. This seems to suggest that this extraordinary team of West Ham based Victorian teenagers were on average winning games 11-1!

Given this, it was no surprise that some of the Old St Luke’s Youth Team performances at Hermit Road came to the attention of Arnold Hill. It seems likely that Old St Luke’s were in effect an early Youth Team for the Ironworks. .

A pathway was formed for Old St Luke’s players like Corbett to aspire for a professional football career. Corbett alongside James Bigden graduated to play for the Thames Ironworks and eventually West Ham.

Corbett made his debut during the 1888-1899 season as an 18 year old right wing forward for the Ironworks. I have no records of the games Corbett played apart from the fact that he made only 3 appearances. If anybody knows how to track this it would be interesting to know.

However after the Ironworks were transformed into West Ham during the 1899-1900 season, Corbett started to make his mark.

He made his debut as a West Ham player in the 0-1 away defeat to Reading on the 16th September 1899. . He did not play automatically and he had to wait until the 6th of October 1900 to score his first goal. He provided the winner in his fifth game for the club in a 0-1 away win at Swindon Town.
He swiftly followed this initial success up by scoring the following week with a goal in a home 2-0 win against Watford.

Corbett once more scored the following month. He struck on the 17th November to earn West Ham a FA Cup home replay in the 1-1 draw with New Brompton. He was again on the mark in the return leg in the 4-1 home victory.

Corbett then demonstrated his fondness for playing against Swindon when in January 1901 he grabbed his first brace for the club in a 3-1 win. His goals home and away ensured we had completed a double over them.

Into February 1901 and Corbett again proved his value by scoring in our 2-0 home win against Luton Town on the 9th.

Corbett then again had a comparative barren spell before scoring twice in 2 games in March. He netted in our 2-0 home win against Bristol Rovers Before ensuring popularity with local supporters by grabbing the winner in our 1-0 home win against Millwall.

Corbett then had to wait for September of the new 1901 season to find the net. Tellingly this was again against Bristol Rovers. His repeated success in scoring goals against rovers, , in this case in a 0 -2 away win probably prompted Bristol Rover’s eventual interest in signing him.

His finest moment in a West Ham shirt came on the 30th September 1901 when he scored a hat trick in in the 4-2 win against Wellingborough Town. To modern eyes this does not look a big game. But the gate exceeded that for recent games against Luton, Reading and Watford so we have to place the game in context.

In probably his richest vein of form for West Ham, Corbett then grabbed a further brace of goals in our 4-1 victory on the 12th October 1901 against Luton Town in front of 6,000 supporters at the Memorial ground. This equalled the highest attendance he had so far played in front up to this time, comfortably beating the 5,500 which had turned up for the match against Tottenham Hotspur the previous season.

However Corbett was playing in a dynamic period of transition. The extent to which the game was growing was demonstrated by the explosion in attendances which started to occur.
For example, whilst the home game against Millwall in March only attracted 2,500 supporters, this gate had increased to 9,000 only 6 months later in the equivalent home fixture in October 1901.

Similarly the fixture against Tottenham In November 1901 dramatically trebled the previous season’s attendance with a startling gate, for the time, of 17,000. The interest in this game was almost certainly boosted and fuelled by the fact that Tottenham had hit the headlines by winning the FA Cup a few months earlier. They remain the last non-league side to win the FA Cup.

Despite the growth in West Ham as a club and his important role in these crucial early days the goals against Luton marked the final goals Corbett scored for West Ham. Records from different web sites are inconsistent but Corbett either ended up playing 35 games for West Ham, scoring 15 goals, or 33 times with 13 goals.

After this latest barren spell he probably saw his future elsewhere. The West Ham official page on Corbett reports that the then manager Syd King
Often played George Radcliffe and
Fergus Huntahead of Corbett.

The silver lining for the young Corbett was that the dramatic growth in Football as an industry provided alternative opportunities. He signed for Bristol Rovers, as we have seen, a team which had previously suffered at first hand his scoring talents. Corbett was obviously a popular figure at Rovers, eventually ending up playing for Rovers during 3 separate spells, in between spells playing for Bristol City Gillingham and Brentford.

Corbett success did not diminish after his departure. For example he played 97 times for Brentford between 1905 and 1908 and had an impressive strike rate, scoring 39 goals from the right. He played 49 times for Bristol City, again contributing 14 goals. I cannot but wonder if Syd King ever regretted his decision to let Corbett go.

Whilst I have never seen Corbett I cannot but reflect that his description as a right sided goal scoring forward is hauntingly reminiscent of a modern day Antonio.

Corbett died in Brentford, at a comparatively early age of 43 in 1924 and he has largely slipped away from West Ham history.

However my personal view is that we should reclaim his memory and celebrate his achievements. Mitchell’s book Colouring across the White Lines reveals the despicable levels of official, institutionalised as well as casual racism and prejudice that all these early black pioneers had to surmount. The psychological pressure exerted on black sportsman trying to succeed in front of thousands of potentially hostile supporters, in an age even more savage in attitudes than that shown in the 70s and 80s is rarely recognised.

Corbett was one of us. He was literally a son of West Ham, growing up and developed as a footballer in the heart of the East End. Despite his local heritage his ethnicity would have also made him an outcast in many “polite” and not so polite circles even in his home of the East End. He succeeded against the odds in reaching the heights of the professional game.

He is somebody we should remember and celebrate more. He is one of ours.

COYI

David Griffith


Talking Point

Beware of the Arsenal Cast Off

Blind Hammer looks at the history of aged and injured West Ham Signings from Arsenal

The signing of Olivier Giroud to West Ham appears to be becoming an ever more likely prospect. Arsenal’s apparent willingness to offload this 30 year old striker for £20 million has caused some prickles to arise on my neck. I have had discussions with Arsenal supporters who cannot wait to receive the transfer money and see Giroud off. Phrases like paying for the Taxi are often heard. I can’t help feeling I have been here before. The signing of John Harston is the only transfer I can remember from Arsenal during my life that I have welcomed and which has helped develop the club. Tellingly Hartson was only 22 and injury free when he arrived at Upton Park for a then record transfer fee. This is not the normal state of affairs. Players tend to arrive either at the end of their careers or with unsustainable injury records.

We have a dismal list of Arsenal cast off who have drifted across from North to East London in the twilight of their careers. Arsenal has consistently trumped us in achieving unwarranted transfer value. In none of them would Arsenal ever have regretted their decision to cash in at West Ham’s expense, sending their players to the local “retirement home”.

A few examples.

John Radford

John Radford was a centre forward who was at times prolific for Arsenal. . He actually made his debut against West Ham in 1964. He also became Arsenal’s youngest ever hat-trick scorer when he bagged 3 against Wolves in 1965 when only 17 years old.

There followed a distinguished Arsenal career with Radford leading the line, scoring 149 goals in 481 games.

He moved in 1976 to West Ham for the then not inconsiderable transfer fee of £80,000,
In contrast to his form at Arsenal Radford proved that he was no longer up to the task of being a centre forward for West Ham. Despite his record at Arsenal he never managed to score a single goal, and after 28 appearances we cut our losses by releasing him to second division Blackburn Rovers.

Ian Wright

Ian Wright had a famous and glittering successful Arsenal career. He scored 185 goals for Arsenal in 279 starts. He had an impressive ratio of a goal average of more than 1 in every 2 games.

He scored his final goal for arsenal against West Ham in a League cup Quarter Final in January 1998.

However Wright’s later career at Arsenal was increasingly dominated by injury and his failure to force his way back into the team. Wenger decided to offload Wright to West Ham in 1998 for £500,000.

Wright was never in the Radford league of West Ham calamity but whether his signing represented value for the £500,000 is certainly questionable. This was not a small transfer then. Wright only played 22 times for the Hammers, representing poor return for the investment. It reminded me of the acceptance of another faded genius, Jimmy Greaves a generation earlier. Both players briefly excited before the reality of their age and physical limitations set in.

Against that Wright did score a respectable 9 goals in his 22 appearances. He was clearly in the wind down retirement phase of his career. In the end he offered nothing to West Ham’s squad development. It was one of those series of ill-advised speculative investments into aged players, which would eventually drain the club and make them vulnerable to relegation.

Davor Suker

Talking of ill-advised speculative investments into aged players, which would eventually drain the club and make them vulnerable to relegation, we cannot forget to mention Davor Suker.

Suker’s wages at West Ham were reported to be enormous, allegedly equivalent to all the income of the then East Stand for a season. Suker was already a fading force at Arsenal before joining West Ham, appearing only 22 times but scoring 8 goals. A performance strikingly similar to Wright’s during his time at West Ham. However this modest performance at Arsenal seemed Stella when compared to Suker’s return at West Ham. With us he managed only 11 games and contributed only 2 goals. This was in the days before Blind Accessibility support at West Ham and after I had lost my sight so I never saw Suker in the Flesh. I hope the fans in the East Stand appreciated the 2 goals he did score given what they had paid for them.

Freddie Ljungberg

Ljungberg was signed by Arsenal in 1998 for £3 million. He was an influential and successful player for Arsenal. He starred particularly in Arsenal’s 2001-2002 double winning side.
However towards the end of his Arsenal career he became increasingly plagued by injury. Arsenal started to look to off load him. He signed for West Ham in 2007, again for £3 million. . West Ham rapidly realised that they had signed an injury prone player who could not perform at the highest level, a fact already obvious to Arsenal. Rumours emerged that West Ham were desperate to try and withdraw from their expensive contract with Ljungberg. Although this was initially denied, Ljungberg eventually agreed to tear up his 4 year contract after only one year for a payoff reported to be £6 million. He must rate as one of our most expensive players ever when considered against the game time provided.

Stewart Robson

Stewart Robson shared and odd symmetry with John Radford’s in that he made his Arsenal debut against West Ham as a 17 year old teenager. In Robson’s case this was in 1981. Robson showed glittering promise for Arsenal and in 1984 he won their Player of the Year Award, whilst only 19. Robson advanced into the England team and seemed a player for a generation. Equally adept in either midfield or defence he was a bit like a reincarnated Billy Bonds with his spirit, skill, and tenacity.

By 1985 though Robson’s physical fragilities, particularly in relation to groin strains and hamstring injuries were obvious. In 1986 George Graham looked to offload him.

In 1987 West Ham paid Arsenal £700,000 for Robson. Arsenal probably could not believe their luck.
Robson’s talents were obvious but so were his physical limitations. He did manage to become West Ham’s Player of the Year for 1988, the one standout season relatively free of injury but the abiding memory of Robson’s stay at West Ham was his continuing injury problems, particularly to his pelvis. He played only 8 times between 1989 and 1991.
Lyall later confessed that West ham signed him off the treatment table at Arsenal and he was never really fit for playing at the top level for West Ham. In effect the club gambled on his fitness, a gamble that ultimately failed and re-enforced Arsenal’s assessment of the player.

So over the years we have been stung pretty royally in our transfer dealings with Arsenal. I cannot recall a single transfer where we have eventually achieved value to the extent Arsenal would have regretted their decision to sell. Too often over the years they have seen us coming. We have to ask ourselves the most relevant question – what on earth would be the motive for Arsenal to transfer quality out of their squad to London rivals West Ham? We cannot compete economically with Arsenal so each transfer will generally be a gamble that our assessment of a player is more accurate than theirs. Too often over the years they have won this gamble at our expense. So I am most definitely on my guard.

COYI

David Griffith


Nostalgia

My West Ham Scottish Eleven

With this weekend’s England Scotland fixture in mind Blind Hammer compiles a nostalgic West Ham Scottish 11.

When we consider various “Fantasy” sides or “nostalgia” West Ham’s Scottish connections are rarely mentioned. Nevertheless, over the years, some crucial Scottish performers have starred in the Claret and Blue. I decided to see if I could make an entire side up. There were three rules. They must have played for West Ham, they must be Scottish, and I must have “seen” them play, though in later years this is a metaphorical term in my case.

The task was not straightforward. The resulting side is uneven, sprinkled with brilliant performers, cheek by jowl with average, even poor players. I guess it resembles many of the real West Ham sides over the years. However, whilst perhaps a little short on quality, this side would certainly provide tough tackling, gritty opposition and in most cases give their all for the cause.

Some positions I struggled with, in particular left back, but see what you think. Any other suggestions gratefully received.

*Bobby Ferguson
Ferguson was the goalkeeper in my first ever 1968 visit to Upton Park. He was forever tainted by Brooking’s revelation that Greenwood could have signed Gordon Banks but stuck, much to Bobby Moore’s annoyance, to his “Gentleman’s agreement to sign Ferguson. Ferguson had starred for Kilmarnock who had remarkably won the Scottish League in 1966. He was a British record high transfer for a goalkeeper.

My memories of Ferguson were not uniformly bad at all. He was like Randolph a good shot stopper but also like Randolph rarely dominated his box to the extent Banks would certainly have done.

Ferguson was probably unlucky as his deficiencies with crosses was probably highlighted and compounded by our failure to recruit a dominant Centre Back to play alongside Moore. With more commanding support in the centre of defence he may have been a more confident performer. He eventually lost his place to a young Mervyn Day.

*2. Ray Stewart
One of my favourite all time West Ham Scottish players. Although he could play at right back and this is where I have placed him, he was actually far more effective in centre defence or midfield. He ends up at right back because frankly I cannot remember any other Scottish player who could fit in at right defence. I thought of using Robbie Stockdale, but his brief loan was pushing matters.

I loved the certainty of “Tonka’s” penalty kicks. His powerful pile drivers seem to burst the net. In the 1981 League Cup Final against Liverpool I was standing at the end at Wembley where he took his late equalising spot kick. With anybody else, even Mark Noble nowadays, I think, I would have been nervous. Not with Ray. With Stewart his reliability in big games was awesome and I was celebrating the goal even before the ball hit the net.

*3. Stephen Hendrie.
I was startled to read on Wikipedia that Hendrie is apparently still on the books at West Ham, despite failing to impress at loan spells at both Southend and Blackburn. His squad number is apparently 33. His path to our first team was and continues to be blocked by first Cresswell and latterly Masuaku. Hendrie breaks my rules in that I have never seen him play, as far as I am aware, he has never played for the West Ham first team at all. I believe John Lyall was Scottish and a left back but I certainly never saw him play. Consequentially this is a bit of a fudge. I would have to give Hendrie his debut. Any other left back candidates gratefully received.

*4. Neil Orr
Neil Orr started from unpromising and limited performances to become, if only for a brief time, one of the most consistent and important performers in the side. Orr was a bit of a utility player but I always thought he was best in defensive midfield. Orr was one of the unsung heroes of Lyall’s famous 1985-6 side which finished a record 3rd in the First Division. The importance he held in the side was indicated by the fact that he played 33 times during this record breaking season. He added steel and toughness to our team, was a reliable if unspectacular distributor of the ball and made us tough to beat.

*5. Christian Dailly
Christian Dailly was a bit of a slow burner for me. Rarely an outstanding performer he, nevertheless was solid and provided hard work in the centre of defence for both Roeder and Pardew. I grew increasingly fond of his performance. Roeder promoted him to club captain in 2003. Whilst he was rarely exceptional he rarely let us down. Pardew did not start him in the 2006 FA Cup final, but turned to him in the 77th minute in an attempt to protect our lead. The failure to hold on was not down to him. He tried to lead our club during difficult times and for that I am grateful to him.

*6. John Cushley
From a solid centre back to, I am afraid, one of our weakest ever performers at centre back. I remember being baffled as a young West ham fan, as to how we could pair a world class player like Bobby Moore with a moderate, at best, performer like John Cushley. Cushley was allegedly purchased to add steel to our defence in the late 60s. He was the second Scottish defensive option alongside Ferguson, purchased by Greenwood. Whatever Greenwood’s other qualities his Scottish experiments did not stand him in good stead here. Cushley could not make it in the Celtic first team so it is strange as to why Greenwood believed he could make the step up at West Ham. To my then young eyes Cushley never has the athleticism or physicality to dominate opposing forwards and he was at fault for many of the “soft goals” we conceded. I rarely remember Cushley ever beating a forward in an aerial duel. If I had an alternative Scottish right back, Ray Stewart would replace him in a heartbeat. However Cushley did occupy the centre half position for two seasons between 1968 and 1970 so is the best qualified out of a poor pool of options.

*7. Robert Snodgrass.
I hope that the best is yet to come from Snodgrass but it appears, if we are to believe the rumours, that he will be considered surplus to our midfield requirements and transferred out of the club this summer. It does seem odd to me that Snodgrass should be a high quality performer for nearly all the clubs he has played for, both in creating and scoring goals, before grinding to a halt at West Ham. His character and commitment cannot be faulted however. There is a feeling we have not seen the best of him and the reasons for this remain mysterious. It may just be that his style of play does not integrate with Bilic’s needs. It would not surprise me if he resumed a successful career away from West Ham.

*8. Jimmy Lindsay
Jimmy Lindsey was another lightweight performer in the West Ham side between 1968 and 1971. At the time it was common for Scottish Footballers to make the transition from Scotland to England to add toughness and grit to sides. However Lindsay was again uncharacteristically lacking in the athleticism and strength needed to cope with the at times savage tackling of the period. Recruited from Scottish youth football at Possilpark He did occasionally have a nice skilful touch and could find the occasional insightful pass but despite playing 38 times for the Hammers he never really made it. He seemed a boy amongst men to me. He found his level in subsequent years with spells at Watford, then a lower league side, Colchester and Hereford.

*9. Sandy Clark

I personally have fond memories of Sandy Clark although he flickered only briefly for us. He played 26 times during the 1982-3 season scoring 7 goals.
Whilst playing for Airdrieonians in 1982 he won the prestigious Scottish PFA Player of the Year award. He joins Ferguson in having an outstanding career in Scotland without quite transferring this to West Ham. Nevertheless Clark was a rumbustious typical combative Centre Forward who did not stint on effort for the cause.

The odd symmetry for West Ham is that when in 1982, Sandy Clark won the Scottish PFA Players award, the award for Young Player of the Year went to St Mirren’s Frank McAvennie.

*10. Frank McAvennie
The undoubted star in the Scottish Stable for us. McAvennie signed in 1985 for £345,000. The investment was to be fully repaid as we suddenly discovered we had a match winning goal scorer on our hands. Originally a midfielder he converted to striker due to an injury to Paul Goddard.

I remember the thrill of the excitement I felt whilst watching McAvennie that first season. I loved watching Pop Robson and of course Tony Cottee and Geoff Hurst, all of whom had longer and over time much more distinguished careers with West Ham. However McAvennie just for a short while outperformed all of them for me. At this brilliant prime he was the most lethal and natural finisher whilst one on one with a goalkeeper that I have ever seen play for us. Cottee was a mercurial threat, Hurst had lung busting runs and an awesome shot, Pop Robson combined the power of Hurst’s shots and Cottee’s poaching in his short frame, but |McAvennie bearing down on goal after breaking the offside trap was poetry in motion. For just a short while McAvennie was unplayable and lethal in and around the box and especially bearing down on the goalkeeper. During 1985-6 McAvennie rocketed to the top of the First Division Scoring Charts and finished the season with 26 goals, forming an incredible partnership with Cottee who contributed 20 goals. The odd thing was that although McAvennie was top of the goal scoring charts in the early months of that season a Television blackout of football meant that only West Ham fans were able to witness the finest football of his career. McAvennie, like Robson, was to spend 2 spells at West Ham but never for me quite recaptured the brilliance of that first season. The reality was that we could be playing badly as a team but his match winning abilities mint that we kept on pulling wins out of the bag when in previous seasons we would probably have lost or drawn. For the first time I realised why the clubs with mega resources will pay so much for a proven match winning goal scorer. They are worth literally their weight in gold.

*11. Don Hutchison
Don Hutchinson was another combative player, whose undoubted talents were allegedly diminished by incidents involving alcohol, including an incident, according to Wikipedia where he on one chaotic night ended up hiding his genitals with a Budweiser beer mat. He was nicknamed Budweiser by West Ham players after this.

Hutchinson was a rangy wide player who could also play in midfield or up front and always carried a goal threat. Sadly he played his best football away from West Ham. Like Robson and Cottee and McAvennie he had 2 spells with West Ham but the second spell was ruined by injury.
I remember the excitement his return to West ham evoked but the dreaded anterior ligament injury in his knee ruined his homecoming.

So this is my West Ham Scottish 11. It is just a bit of fun really. Post any disagreements or agreements.

COYI

David Griffith


Talking Point

Defensive Clarity?

Blind Hammer argues that the prime focus next season remains the defence.

Disturbing signals are emerging from West Ham that we may yet again have muddled thinking in our defensive strategies.

A few days ago David Gold responded to a query on Twitter about a potential loan for Reece Oxford. A West Ham fan wanted to know why we were not prepared to give Oxford a chance ourselves.

Gold responded that we already had 4 international centre backs so Oxford’s path to the first team was effectively blocked.

Now this apparently innocent observation by Gold raised all sorts of alarm bells for me.

First of all we need to have some context. Almost exactly a year ago this week I wrote an article entitled “The Case for the Defence” in which I criticised the attempt to sign a “20 goal a season striker” without providing a similar focus on our defence. I have no hesitation now in repeating yet again my belief that defensive fragilities remain more of an issue. When the season is taken as a whole weakness in defence caused more issues than our striking feebleness. During our worst passages this season we were conceding on average 3 goals a game. This is simply not viable for a top flight club to sustain and achieve any sort of success. Transferring even Ronaldo and Messy to West Ham would not have worked if they needed to score on average 4 goals to win a game.

Now thankfully Bilic eventually found a tactical formation which, at the tail end of last season, gave some basis for defensive security. We only really got a thumping in our last home game against Liverpool. Tellingly even in this game our worst phase of play came when we reverted to 4 at the back, after falling behind, with sadly predictable consequences.

The fact is that for nearly all of the season we rarely looked secure by playing 4 at the back. Using only 2 centre backs seems to result in their being exposed.

It is in this context that I find Gold’s remarks so worrying. Gold obviously believes that the squad only has need for 4 top quality centre backs. This statement only make sense if he believe that we will be playing only 2 centre backs on a regular basis. . Yet we have recent evidence that we can only effectively defend with not 2 but 3 centre backs. If we will be playing 3 centre backs regularly as at the end of last season we need at least 5 and arguably 6 options in central defence. Last season 2 of our most effective central defenders, Reid and Obonna, spent large periods of the season injured. We should not be gambling that this problem will not re-occur.

I thought that Bilic and the club had learnt from this and would plan a squad which could at least deliver a 3 at the back formation securely without having to squeeze square pegs into round holes. I will be disappointed in the extreme if we are again forced into wasting the talents of Cheikhou Kouyaté in central defence. I suspect that the player himself will feel similar disappointment. Planning to use Håvard Nordtveit in this role would, I believe, be irresponsible given the defensive weaknesses we have shown in the last 18 months.

Now Gold is obviously not Bilic and it is Bilic who is responsible for team tactics and formation, however the problems with our defensive performance over 18 months should be at the forefront of attention and understood by the club hierarchy from top to bottom.

The case for Oxford going to Germany could be supported if we believe both Rice and Burke are ahead of him in the pecking order for first team places. However this was not the message. The message was that apparently Fonte, Obonna, Collins and Reid are enough squad cover for the season. If this is really the thinking at West Ham I think it is muddled and learns nothing from last season.

It is from defensive security that we must build confidence in our team; the crowd at the London Stadium must not endure pessimism that we are inevitably going to concede goals as a matter of course particularly in the final minutes.

Whilst on yet another summer glamour hunt for a striker the club must learn the lessons of last season and also prioritise the need to have the clearest strategy for locking our defence.

COYI
David Griffith


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