Tribute

Hammer of the Year 1964: Johnny 'Budgie' Byrne

Continuing my look back to some Hammer of the Year winners who I’ve previously written about in the ‘Club Connections’ section of my match previews, today we take a look at the 1964 winner of the coveted prize as voted for by the supporters…

Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne was born in West Horsley, Surrey, on 13th May 1939 to Irish immigrants. He played youth football for Epsom Town and Guildford City while working as an apprentice toolmaker before his schoolteacher and ex-Crystal Palace and West Ham goalkeeper Vincent Blore alerted Palace manager Cyril Spiers to the teenage Byrne’s talents.

Byrne signed a professional contract on his 17th birthday in 1956 and made his debut against Swindon while still on National Service – he played in the same Army XI as Alan Hodgkinson (Sheffield United), Bill Foulkes and Duncan Edwards (both Manchester United). Byrne went on to score seven times in 28 matches in the 1957/58 season as Palace finished in 14th place in the Third Division South. He scored 17 goals in 45 matches in the 1958/59 season as the club became founder members of the Fourth Division, new manager George Smith leading the ‘Glaziers’, as they were known, to a seventh-place finish. In 1959/60 Byrne scored 16 times in 42 matches as Palace finished eighth in Division Four. Byrne became a first team regular, and was popular with the Palace fans. A new breed of striker, standing only 5’8 but weighing 11.5 stone, Byrne was adept at dropping off his marker and finding space before either assisting a team-mate with an inspired pass or using his own skill, speed and powerful right foot to create opportunities for himself. In the 1960/61 season, Byrne scored 30 of Palace’s 110 goals as the club reached the Third Division. He left Crystal Palace in 1962 for West Ham United having scored 85 league goals in 203 appearances.

Ron Greenwood paid a fee of £65,000 to take the 22-year-old ‘Budgie’ to West Ham United, a record fee between two British clubs – a jovial character, the nickname ‘Budgie’ was the result of Byrne’s incessant, cheerful chattering. The fee was made up of £58,000 plus ex-Palace striker Ron Brett who was valued at £7,000. Brett was tragically killed five months after the move at the age of 24, when his car hit a lorry. Greenwood would later compare Byrne with Argentine footballer Alfredo Di Stefano. Byrne’s Hammers debut came on 17th March 1962 in a 0-0 draw at Sheffield Wednesday. He played 11 games in his first season, scoring a single goal, in a 4–1 home win against Cardiff in April 1962.

The 1962/63 season saw him score a hat-trick in a 6-0 League Cup win over Plymouth and end the season with 14 goals in all competitions, only one behind leading scorer Geoff Hurst. Byrne beat runner-up Bobby Moore in the Hammer of the Year voting in 1963/64 as the Hammers won the FA Cup. Byrne had amassed 33 goals from 45 games in all competitions for this season, overtaking Hurst as top goalscorer. This included a league hat-trick in a 4-3 win over Sheffield Wednesday and FA Cup goals in the fourth round against Leyton Orient, the fifth round against Swindon and two in the quarter-final against Burnley.

The 1964/65 season opened with Byrne scoring as West Ham and champions Liverpool shared the Charity Shield having drawn the game 2–2. He also scored a hat-trick as the Hammers beat Tottenham 3-2 at Upton Park (his treble can be viewed in my video below). Byrne scored in the first round of the European Cup Winners’ Cup against La Gantoise, the third round against Lausanne and in the semi-final against Real Zaragoza. In the 1965/66 season West Ham were again involved in Europe as holders of the Cup Winners’ Cup and also reached the 1966 League Cup Final. Byrne was on the scoresheet in the Cup Winners’ Cup, in the second round against Olympiakos, the third round against Magedeburg and in the semi-final against Borussia Dortmund as the Hammers exited the competition. He scored five goals in six games in the League Cup including one in the first-leg of the final against West Brom which West Ham won 2–1. Albion won the second leg 4-1 at The Hawthorns though to take the trophy with a 5-3 aggregate win. Byrne finished the season with 17 goals in all competitions behind Geoff Hurst who, on the verge of his 1966 World Cup success, scored 40 goals in 59 games.

Byrne played for England at both youth and Under-23 levels, becoming the first Fourth Division player to win an Under-23 cap while with Crystal Palace. Byrne, however, might be described as a talented nearly man, missing out as he did on places in both the 1962 and 1966 England World Cup squads. First capped for the senior England team in 1961, for a game against Northern Ireland and while still at Crystal Palace, Byrne seemed likely to figure in the 1962 World Cup in Chile having been transferred across London for a sizeable fee in the months before the tournament. However, Byrne was involved in a post-match fracas with West Brom and former England right-back Don Howe in the tunnel at The Hawthorns on 31st March 1962. The story goes that influential figures at the Football Association – where a selection committee still carried great influence when picking the team – were unimpressed by this and consequently excluded him. Byrne notched his first England goals in June 1963 in an 8-1 away win over Switzerland but perhaps his finest Three Lions moment arrived in May 1964 when he scored three goals in Lisbon as England beat Eusebio’s Portugal 4-3, Byrne clinching his hat-trick with an 88th-minute winner.

Byrne helped England beat Wales at Wembley the following season while playing at inside-left and started in the same position at Wembley again in April 1965 for a 2-2 draw against Scotland, in a season he comfortably ended as West Ham’s top goalscorer with 25 goals. For Byrne, a man with the world at his feet, one of the First Division’s top forwards, on the verge of a European final and now having the chance to re-establish himself in the England team a year before the World Cup finals, this proved to be the last of his 11 international caps. England were reduced to ten men against the Scots when Ray Wilson was forced off by injury. With no substitutes allowed, Byrne slotted in as emergency full back – however, Byrne himself then suffered an injury to his knee but gamely battled on with the Three Lions effectively down to nine men. Byrne’s injury, however, was serious with ligament damage to the knee and he had done himself no favours by playing on. He not only had to sit out the rest of the Hammers’ triumphant European campaign, but he was still not fit come the start of the following season. Byrne returned but could only show glimpses of his previous form and was hindered by injury throughout the 1965/66 campaign. His exceptional talents were never in doubt but, although he scored eight goals for England in his 11 appearances, he never fully established himself at international level.

Byrne’s last appearance for the Irons came against Sunderland on 11th February 1967 – in a fitting farewell, he scored alongside Hurst in a 2-2 draw. The 27-year-old Budgie returned to Crystal Palace, by now in the Second Division, in February 1967 in a deal worth £45,000 – his five years of service to the Hammers, consisting of 206 appearances and 108 goals, had ended up costing the club just £13,000. He scored one goal from 14 appearances in his first season back at Palace and four goals in 22 appearances in 1967/68. Byrne was proving to be past his peak as a player and, only a year after rejoining the club, he was transferred to Fulham for £25,000 in March 1968. Byrne would eventually go to play in South Africa, where he also went into management at Durban City, who he led to South African League and Cup titles in the 1970s. Byrne would go on to manage Greek side Hellenic and was voted Coach of the Year in 1993, winning a trip back to England to watch Arsenal play Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup Final that year.

Bobby Moore was a close friend of Byrne’s – according to acclaimed sports writer Brian Glanville, the two men once sat together on a warm South African night when Moore said, envisaging a partnership in management: “You and me, Budgie, you and me!” It was never to be. Moore passed away in February 1993 and Byrne died, aged 60, of a heart attack in Cape Town, South Africa on 27th October 1999. A minute’s silence was held for Byrne and his former team-mate Dave Bickles, who had died five days after ‘Budgie’, at the 0-0 UEFA Cup draw against Steaua Bucharest at Upton Park.

My video below contains six of Byrne’s 108 goals for West Ham United – his hat-trick against Tottenham on 12th September 1964, an FA Cup strike against Birmingham on 9th January 1965, a match-winning penalty against Arsenal on 27th March 1965 and a goal from the European Cup Winners’ Cup Semi-Final second leg against Borussia Dortmund on 13th April 1966.


Tribute

Hammer of the Year 2009, 2010 & 2011: Scott Parker

Continuing my look back to some Hammer of the Year winners who I’ve previously written about in the ‘Club Connections’ section of my match previews, today we take a look at one of only two players to have won the coveted prize in three consecutive seasons…

Scott Parker was born in Lambeth on 13th October 1980; a Lilleshall graduate, Parker was the 13-year-old keepie-uppie star of a McDonalds advert during the 1994 World Cup. He began his professional career at Charlton, making his debut in 1997; he also had a brief loan spell with Norwich in 2000.

Parker, who had been consistently linked with moves away from Charlton for several years, finally left the Valley just before the January transfer deadline in 2004 to join Chelsea on a four-and-a-half-year contract for a fee of £10 million after a protracted and acrimonious transfer saga. Parker was initially signed to compete with Claude Makelele and Frank Lampard but did not get too many opportunities to play in his preferred position. He scored his only goal for Chelsea in a 2–0 win against Portsmouth at Fratton Park on 11th February 2004. Parker was named as the PFA Young Player of the Year at the end of the 2003/04 season.

Following the summer signings of Arjen Robben and Tiago Mendes, Parker’s first team opportunities were extremely limited during the 2004/05 season, although he was a regular starter in Chelsea’s League Cup matches, a competition where he played in three consecutive victories against West Ham, Newcastle and Fulham. His difficulties were compounded when he broke a metatarsal in a game against Norwich. Parker consequently missed both legs of the League Cup semi-final against Manchester United and the final against Liverpool, although he was awarded a winner’s medal during the trophy presentation. Chelsea went on to won the title for the first time in 50 years –having made only four league appearances for Chelsea during the season, he did not receive a Premier League winner’s medal as he did not make the required ten appearances to be eligible, though Chelsea did have a replica medal made. After scoring one goal in 28 matches in all competitions for the Blues but having found first team opportunities hard to come by, Parker signed for Newcastle in July 2005 for £6.5m.

Scott became a regular in the Newcastle first team and was one of the few players at the club to show any consistency during an often difficult 2005/06 season in which the Magpies finished in seventh place, despite suffering a poor start under Graeme Souness. His first Newcastle goal came against his former club Charlton in a 3-1 defeat on 25th March 2006. Later that month he was diagnosed with glandular fever, putting an end to his season. The timing was especially unfortunate for Parker; he had been playing well but the illness ended any hopes he may have had of forcing his way into the England squad for the 2006 World Cup.

New manager Glenn Roeder named Parker as his captain In July 2006, succeeding the retired Alan Shearer. Despite Newcastle’s poor form, his performances earned him a recall to the England squad in September 2006 after an absence of more than two years. After six goals in 73 matches for Newcastle, Parker left for West Ham United to be reunited with his former Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, in a £7m deal in the summer of 2007.

Injury played a large part in Parker’s early career in east London, with the midfielder unable to make his debut until a League Cup win over Plymouth at the Boleyn Ground in late September. Three days later Parker was injured again during a home defeat to Arsenal and ruled out for a further two months. His first goal for the club came three days before Christmas, the last-minute winner in West Ham’s first ever victory at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.

Parker’s second goal for the club was over a year later, from close range in a 2-1 defeat at Bolton in February 2009, by which time Gianfranco Zola had taken over from Curbishley. His season was ended by injury the following month but he had still done enough to win the 2008/09 Hammer of the Year prize. The Irons struggled in 2009/10 and were second bottom of the Premier League when Parker was sent off for two yellow cards in the 2-2 home draw with Arsenal in October. His first goal of that season was a stunning, dipping half-volley from distance to bring the Hammers level at the home of his old club Chelsea in March, although the match would ultimately be lost 4-1. His only other goal that season was infinitely more significant, the winner in a tense 3-2 victory over Wigan on 24th April which secured the Hammers’ survival – Parker’s sensational 77th-minute strike from 25 yards was followed by an emotionally-charged celebration. Two weeks later, he would become the first player to retain the Hammer of the Year trophy since Julian Dicks in 1997.

A 17th-placed finish in 2009/10 resulted in Zola being replaced by Avram Grant and the Hammers would endure a turbulent 2010/11 campaign. Parker was the bright light shining in the east end gloom as he displayed the fight, determination and character sadly lacking in many of his team-mates – he was often mistaken as the club’s captain by an inattentive national media. This was epitomised by his best goalscoring season during his time with the club, Parker opening with three goals in his first six games (the injury-time winner against Oxford in the League Cup, a wonderfully-lofted volley in a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea and a scrambled effort in a 1-1 draw at Stoke). Another three-goals-in-six-games spell followed in October/November as he scored a late headed equaliser in a 3-1 extra-time win over the Potters in the League Cup, struck a thunderbolt in a 2-2 draw with West Brom and grabbed the clincher in a 3-1 win over Wigan.

On 9th February 2011, he became the first England player to receive his first four full caps whilst playing for four different teams, coming on as a second-half substitute for Frank Lampard in a friendly against Denmark. Parker was to score once more for the Hammers that season, a beautifully-executed effort with the outside of his right foot from the edge of the area in a 3-1 home victory over Liverpool in late February. The following month, he played in a 0-0 draw at Tottenham hours after the death of his father. He also started in England’s victory over Wales at the Millennium Stadium. Parker would again be crowned Hammer of the Year, the only player other than Sir Trevor Brooking to claim the award three seasons in a row. He was also named as the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year, an incredible feat considering his club were relegated in bottom place. In doing so, he became the second Hammer to win the award, following in the footsteps of the great Bobby Moore.

Parker started West Ham’s 2011/12 Championship campaign, notching one goal in four league appearances, this coming in a 4-0 win at Watford. At the age of 30, Parker knew he may only have one opportunity left to play in an international tournament and, with Euro 2012 on the horizon, was aware that he would have to be playing Premier League football. With his children in school in the local area, Parker opted to remain in London and signed for close rivals Tottenham for a fee of £5.5m. Parker made 129 appearances for West Ham in all competitions, scoring 12 goals.

Parker was named Tottenham’s Player of the Year in his first season with the club, playing in 29 league matches as the club finished fourth but were denied Champions League qualification as Chelsea won that competition and would compete as holders despite finishing sixth in the Premier League. Parker’s move to Spurs paid off in that he cemented his England place, being named Man of the Match in a friendly against European and World champions Spain in November 2011 and appearing as captain of his country against the Netherlands in February 2012. Parker started all four matches at Euro 2012 as England made the quarter-finals. However, an Achilles injury picked up during the tournament would keep him out of the first four months of 2012/13. After 63 matches without scoring for Tottenham, he was on the move to Fulham in August 2013, with whom he stayed until retiring from football earlier this summer.

Scott Parker, disappointingly, received a mixed reception when he returned to Upton Park as a Tottenham player in February 2013. I was one of the many, however, who gave him a standing ovation when he left the field that night, remembering his four years of exceptional service rather than focusing on the club he left us for. For me, Parker was a perfect picture of passion, perseverance and pirouettes and I am sure he will be long remembered as a West Ham United great. I wish Super Scotty all the very best in his retirement.


Tribute

Hammer of the Year 2004: Matthew Etherington

Continuing my look back to some Hammer of the Year winners who I’ve previously written about in the ‘Club Connections’ section of my match previews, today we take a look at the 2004 winner of the coveted prize as voted for by the supporters…

Matthew Etherington began his career at Peterborough, making his debut in May 1997 at 15 years and 262 days. He played 58 games for the Posh before joining Tottenham in December 1999. After three and a half years at White Hart Lane, which included a loan spell at Bradford, Etherington signed for Glenn Roeder’s West Ham in August 2003 – he was valued at £500,000 in the deal which took Frederic Kanoute to north London in the aftermath of the Hammers’ relegation. Peterborough made a formal complaint to the FA regarding the valuation placed on Etherington as they would have benefited from a sell-on clause had it been greater than the £500,000 they had sold Etherington to Tottenham for in 1999.

The 21-year-old Etherington made his debut in claret and blue in a 2–1 opening-day win at Preston in August 2003 and, after Trevor Brooking took caretaker control, he scored his first goal for the Hammers in a 3-0 win at Crewe the following month. With Alan Pardew now at the helm, he was sent off in a 1-1 draw at Norwich in February 2004 but scored a hat-trick in a 5-0 home win against Wimbledon the following month. The left-winger also scored in a 2-1 home victory against Gillingham and was voted the Hammer of the Year for the 2003/04 season. Etherington scored with a stunning strike in the 2-0 play-off semi-final second leg win against Ipswich at Upton Park, played out in front of a raucous midweek atmosphere under the lights – one of my favourite Boleyn Ground memories. The Hammers would be defeated in the Final by Crystal Palace and miss out on promotion.

The former England Under-21 man would score three goals the following season – against Derby in a 1-1 away draw, Nottingham Forest in a 3-2 Boxing Day home win and at Ipswich in a 2-0 triumph on New Year’s Day – Alan Pardew’s Irons achieved promotion at the second time of asking, with Etherington supplying the cross for Bobby Zamora’s winning goal in the Play-Off Final against Preston. Etherington would again score three goals in the following campaign, with Premier League strikes in the curtain-raising 3-1 home win against Blackburn and 3-2 victory at Highbury supplemented by an FA Cup goal as Blackburn were knocked out 4-2 in the fourth round at the Boleyn Ground – the Hammers would go on to make the Final against Liverpool, with Etherington recovering from injury to play a significant part in a memorable Irons performance.

A disappointing, and goalless, 2006/07 season followed as the Hammers narrowly avoided relegation in a turbulent campaign but Etherington returned to his three-goals-in-a-season routine in 2007/08, scoring twice in a 3-0 win at Reading before notching once in the 5-0 rout at Derby. He made a promising start to life under Gianfranco Zola in 2008/09, scoring in successive September league wins against Newcastle (3-1) and at Fulham (2-1) but departed in January 2009 after personal problems necessitated a move away. He had made 195 appearances for the Hammers in all competitions, scoring 18 goals.

The 27-year-old Etherington signed for Tony Pulis’ Stoke for £3m. He was named Stoke’s Player of the Year for 2009/10, his first full campaign with the club. The following season saw him score a last-minute equaliser at Manchester City and the first goal in the 5-0 Wembley win over Bolton in the FA Cup semi-final – just as in 2006, Etherington would face a fitness race for the 2011 Final. He did play but would again receive a runners-up medal as Stoke lost 1-0 to Manchester City. Etherington also saw a penalty saved by Robert Green in the quarter-final as his Stoke side knocked out the Hammers on a controversial afternoon at the Britannia – Etherington’s own fall under Scott Parker’s ‘challenge’ to win the penalty was dubious in itself!

Etherington’s form started to dip and starting appearances became more sporadic before he left Stoke at the end of his contract in the summer of 2014 – he had made 176 appearances for the Potters, scoring 16 goals. On 3rd December 2014, after turning down an offer from Millwall, Etherington admitted a back injury had got the better of him and announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 33.

My video below contains all 18 of Etherington’s goals for West Ham United, including his hat-trick against Wimbledon and double against Reading, as well as his Play-Off Semi-Final stunner against Ipswich. Speaking personally, I always looked forward to watching Matty’s pace and trickery down the left wing, regularly giving his full-back a hard time – Etherington, now 35, remains one of my favourite Hammers of the last 15 years.


Development Squad

To Loan Or Not To Loan?

I’ll lay my cards on the table from the outset – I personally am a big believer in the loan system. Our big successes from youth to first team level have all benefited from time in the lower leagues. Frank Lampard Junior spent a month at Swansea, while Rio Ferdinand went to Bournemouth. Joe Cole was the exception to the rule as he was fast-tracked to the first team but Michael Carrick had short spells at Swindon and Birmingham. Jermain Defoe had a highly successful stint at Bournemouth and Glen Johnson played a handful of games for Millwall. Mark Noble spent time at Hull and Ipswich while, more recently, James Tomkins had a spell at Derby before becoming a Hammers regular.

Of course, along the way, there are loan spells that didn’t work out. Freddie Sears showed at Crystal Palace that he would find it difficult to replicate his excellent youth team form at full league level and he subsequently struggled with the Hammers in the Premier League. Martin Samuelsen and Marcus Browne had disappointing, disrupted spells at Championship level last season while Reece Burke’s encouraging development was hampered by a hip injury at Wigan. Conversely, Josh Cullen had an excellent spell at Bradford, following in the footsteps of Burke the season before.

Another factor to throw in of course is that West Ham United’s Under-23s recently secured promotion to the top flight of PL2, ensuring their place amongst the best players in their age group. It is of the utmost importance that this elite position is not relinquished. This brings with it a precarious balancing act of sending young players out on loan to gain experience in the Football League, while simultaneously leaving enough quality players to ensure the Under-23 side can adequately compete.

As an aside, I’m very much of the opinion that Reece Oxford has secured a fantastic temporary switch to a very good side in one of the best leagues in the world and I’d like to take this opportunity to wish him the very best of luck at Borussia Monchengladbach. As it currently stands, he will be facing the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Robert Lewandowski, Anthony Modeste, Timo Werner and Mario Gomez next season. It will be a great experience for young Reece and, in my opinion, will be a huge boost to his development and only serve to benefit West Ham United in the long run.

In this article, I give my opinions on which Hammers starlets should be retained and who else, alongside Oxford, would benefit from loan spells.

Reece Burke – LOAN

Burke had a fantastic 2015/16 campaign on loan in League One with Bradford but his spell at Wigan in the Championship last season was disrupted by injury. With Winston Reid, Angelo Ogbonna, James Collins and Jose Fonte ahead of him in the current pecking order, a further spell out on loan in the Championship may be best for the 20-year-old’s development. However, we should look to find him a bigger and better club than we did last season, ideally somewhere where he can play at a big stadium in front of expectant home fans.

Declan Rice – RETAIN

With Oxford and possibly Burke out on loan, the Under-23s will need a centre-half who can help them keep clean sheets. 18-year-old skipper Rice is the ideal man to stay and help his troops through the top-flight transition.

Josh Cullen – LOAN

Cullen (pictured above) had an excellent time at Bradford last season but the jump from League One football to the Premier League is a huge one. The next logical step for the 21-year-old is a similar stint in the Championship. As with Bradford in the league below, a club competing at the top end of the division would only help Cullen’s confidence levels.

Marcus Browne – RETAIN

Browne’s loan spell at Wigan was not far short of a disaster. The 19-year-old attacking midfielder will almost certainly need a serious boost to his confidence and staying with the Hammers as a top-flight Academy player will hopefully help do that for him.

Martin Samuelsen – RETAIN

Another who had a disastrous loan spell last season, this time at Blackburn. A very promising stint in League One the previous campaign with Peterborough was not built on at Ewood Park, again highlighting the concerns regarding sending players to clubs who struggle against relegation. The 20-year-old, already capped at full international level by Norway, was not the same player when he returned to The Posh in January. Samuelsen (pictured below) will benefit from being in and around the first team squad at West Ham next season and by getting regular game time with the Under-23s in the PL2 top tier.

Domingos Quina – LOAN

Quina spent a lot of time as an unused substitute in the Premier League last season and, at the age of 17, would do well to get regular football elsewhere. Any Championship team with a focus on creativity and attacking football would be a good choice for Quina.

Ashley Fletcher – LOAN

I’m personally not sure that 21-year-old Fletcher has what it takes to be a regular goalscorer at Premier League level but there’s no harm in loaning him out and seeing if he can use the Championship as a stepping stone to future top-flight success. There’s no doubt the lad has talent but his only regular game time to date has come in League One at Barnsley in 2015/16. A team chasing promotion would be ideal, maybe one of the sides relegated from the Premier League last season as he’d be playing and training alongside players with recent top-level experience.

Toni Martinez – LOAN

Martinez had a decent spell at Oxford, although seemingly performed better in the FA Cup than in League One. Half a season in the Championship would be good for his development, particularly if he had the opportunity to work with a manager who used to be a striker to help guide him through how to be a success against tough, uncompromising defenders. Martinez turns 20 on Friday.

My suggestions above would see the Hammers loan out six youngsters in Burke, Oxford, Cullen, Quina, Fletcher and Martinez. The Under-23 side would therefore consist mainly of:

Trott; Pike, Pask, Rice, Sylvestre; Dobson, Browne; Kemp, Samuelsen, Holland; Hector-Ingram.

That, to me, looks like a side which could have a good go at retaining the club’s position in the top tier of the Under-23 league, with players who had spells away from the club on loan last season (Pike, Pask, Dobson, Browne and Samuelsen) being retained to add their loan experiences to the added rigour and challenge of the coming PL2 campaign, as well as being available for the first team for League Cup ties and a place on the bench in the Premier League.

So, what do readers think? Do you agree with the players selected for loan? Would you prefer to keep all our youngsters for the Under-23 campaign or, conversely, loan out even more for full league experience?


Tribute

Hammer of the Year 1973: Bryan 'Pop' Robson

As Tony Hanna re-visits his excellent nostalgia articles, I thought I’d go through some Hammer of the Year winners who I’ve previously written about in the ‘Club Connections’ section of my match previews. Today we take a look at the 1973 winner of the coveted prize as voted for by the supporters…

A Magpie from 1962 until 1971, Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson was signed from Clara Vale Juniors and went on to be a member of Joe Harvey’s Newcastle team who were crowned Second Division champions in 1965. Robson made his senior debut during that campaign, scoring seven goals in 20 appearances and playing mainly as a right-winger before his move to a more central position. The story of his famous nickname goes back to when Robson and two childhood friends named themselves after the Rice Krispies cereal characters ‘Snap’, ‘Crackle’ and ‘Pop’ – Robson’s moniker was to stay with him. Newcastle went on to win the European Fairs Cup, the last major trophy to arrive at St James’ Park, with Robson forming an effective partnership with Wyn Davies. Robson scored 30 goals in 1968/69 as Newcastle enjoyed European success before notching 25 the following season. Having been at the club for eight years, Robson requested a testimonial after ten years’ service during contract negotiations. Chairman Lord Westwood rejected the request, following a trend at the club, according to ‘Pop’ himself, whereby homegrown talent was not as recognised or appreciated as much as purchased players.

At the age of 25 and following 97 goals from 243 starts for Newcastle, Robson became West Ham United’s record signing in February 1971 when Ron Greenwood signed him for a fee of £120,000 – Robson is pictured above signing on the dotted line for the Hammers. He scored on his debut in a 2-0 home win against Nottingham Forest on 24th February 1971. Two more goals against Manchester United and West Brom, both in 2-1 home victories, helped the Hammers avoid the drop at the end of that season. ‘Pop’ scored 14 goals in 1971/72, including a hat-trick in a 5-0 League Cup quarter-final win over Sheffield United (see my video at the end of the article). His finest season came in 1972/73, however, when he led the First Division goalscoring charts with 28 goals as the Hammers finished in the top six. This impressive haul included eight doubles and one hat-trick in a 4-3 home win over Southampton and resulted in ‘Pop’ being crowned Hammer of the Year. This was followed by just eight goals the following season and, in July 1974, Robson was heading back to the north-east to join Sunderland for £145,000. He had scored 53 goals in 140 appearances for the Hammers.

After helping the Wearsiders to Second Division title glory in 1975/76, John Lyall brought the diminutive forward back to the Boleyn in October 1976 – while he had been away, West Ham had won the 1975 FA Cup and made the Final of the 1976 European Cup Winners’ Cup. His 14 goals in 1976/77, particularly a double in a final-day 4-2 home win over Manchester United, ensured the Hammers’ survival in the top flight. His 11 goals the following season, however, were not enough to save the Irons from suffering relegation. ‘Pop’ hit 26 goals in the Second Division in 1978/79, including a hat-trick in a 3-0 triumph over fierce rivals Millwall in October 1978. After being voted runner-up to Alan Devonshire in the Hammer of the Year poll, Robson rejoined Sunderland in the summer of 1979 for £45,000 – he again missed out on FA Cup glory with West Ham as the club went on to win the trophy again at the end of the following season. ‘Pop’ had scored 51 goals in 115 matches during his second spell at Upton Park, giving him overall statistics of 104 goals from 255 appearances in all competitions for the Hammers.

Robson helped Sunderland to another promotion in 1980 and went on to play for Chelsea and Carlisle, as well as having a third spell with Sunderland. He represented England at Under-23 level but never won a full cap. Since retiring from playing Robson, now 71, has coached and scouted at Hartlepool, Manchester United, Leeds and Sunderland.

My video below contains 20 of Robson’s goals for West Ham United, including his hat-trick against Sheffield United and doubles against Manchester United, Sheffield United, Everton and Derby. The Hammers – in the hunt for a new striker this summer – are currently crying out for a forward with Pop’s finishing ability. One wonders how much the Geordie goalscoring genius would be worth in today’s market…


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