Book Review

Nearly Reach the Sky by Brian Williams: A Valediction to The Boleyn

When Iain emailed me a few weeks ago to ask if I would like to review Brian Williams’ new book Nearly Reach the Sky: A Farewell to Upton Park I was both flattered and nervous. I haven’t been asked to write a book review since I was in my Headmistress’s Good Readers Club when I was 8. I said yes straight away as I’m already a fan of Brian’s writing and I anticipated a funny, clever and interesting read. I wasn’t disappointed, it was such a good read that I finished it in a day; my only hope now is that I can do it justice.

I suppose the first thing that a prospective reader might want to know is which literary genre this book falls under. To be honest it could easily be categorised as a tragicomedy, a memoir or even a history of sport. The one category I wasn’t expecting was romance.

Nearly Reach the Sky is more than just a collection of one West Ham fan’s musings on his life as a football supporter; it is a billet doux, a letter to his love of more than 50 years. It’s an explanation of his feelings for his club, which moves through the widest range of emotions – devotion, disappointment, hope and ambition, joy and elation, grief and anger, humour, impatience, self-reproach and resignation. They’re all there.

It is also a valediction. A claret and blue thread has been a part of the fabric of Brian’s life since 1964 and as he weaves and embroiders his personal love story of West Ham United it becomes apparent that a snag has appeared in the cloth. Throughout the book there is the stark realisation that the club is on the verge of leaving the ground that has been its physical and spiritual home for more than 100 years. Very soon that small tear will become a gaping hole and it’s clear that a part of the author’s heart will be ripped away forever.

Ultimately this is a paean to West Ham United but the other love of Brian’s life, his wife Di, also appears regularly in the book, together with her East End family. He has obviously enjoyed a harmonious, if polygamous, relationship with his two amours. Even so, I can’t pretend that I wasn’t shocked and a little horrified to read of Brian’s first ménage à trois. In fact it wasn’t a ménage à trois at all but a foursome! West Ham may have easily seen off other women in Brian’s life, including the girl who distracted him from Tonka’s performance on the penalty spot in the 80s and the lissome 17 year old Sharon and her hotpants; but the admission that I read in chapter 9 is nothing short of scandalous. Brian is now full of contrition and guilt for playing away and fortunately for him Di is obviously a very forgiving woman. I’m not sure that fellow West Ham fans will let him off quite so lightly and if I were Di I’d keep him on a very short leash. Despite his repentance he’s still singing love songs to other ‘birds’ to this day, and right under the nose of his true love too!

Not being born within the sound of Bow Bells has obviously caused our hero some consternation in life and he makes no secret of his delight that Cupid’s arrow landed smack bang in the middle of Beverley Road in East Ham. Here we meet Brian’s future in-laws, including the inimitable Sid, who is possibly the man originally responsible for the term ‘the elephant in the room.’ Fortunately for Brian he’d already lost his heart many years before to the aptly nicknamed ‘Ticker’ when he scored twice in the 1964 FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United, so his claret and blue credentials stood up to Sid’s suspicious scrutiny. Having passed the test with flying West Ham colours he was welcomed into the bosom of Di’s family as an honorary East Ender. He had found his dream woman who not only shared his love for West Ham but also lived just streets away from his beloved Boleyn. Love blossomed and it was clear that it was going to be a match made in heaven when their marriage was given the personal blessing of John Lyall.

If you are beginning to worry that Brian has written some kind of Mills & Boon novel or worse, Sixty-Four Shades of Claret and Blue, fear not! As a member of the fairer sex I’m perhaps more inclined to focus on the more human elements of this story but there are more than enough match reports and reminiscences of seminal goals, games, fouls and finals to dissuade the average woman from reading it. Equally, if you are one of our more youthful West Ham fans and you think that this is a tome that would appeal only to the more decrepit members of our fan base who like to bang on about how much better it all was in their day, you would be wrong. Whilst this is a very nostalgic collection of anecdotes the author has seamlessly woven stories of past glories and defeats with accounts of recent players and games to create a narrative that every West Ham fan will be able to place themselves in at some point and say “I was there.”

Brian is obviously not a fan of the linear approach, this is not one long hoof from 1964 to the present day. Instead he weaves nimbly in and out of the decades, moving from one story to another and back again with a clever little one-two and some nifty back passes to yesteryear without ever losing his reader along the way. His story is inevitably populated with all the West Ham icons, heroes and villains that we all know and love … or hate; but we are also introduced to some of the people who make up the true heart of West Ham United ….. the fans. It’s these people that elevate this tale from being ‘just another West Ham book.’ Of course you’ll be expecting to read of Brian’s adulation of Billy Bonds and even the emotional moment when a Wolves fan broke ranks during the wreath laying ceremony for the late, great Bobby Moore. But the real pleasure of this book is being able to identify with the joy and pain of Brian’s West Ham supporting family, friends, colleagues and passing acquaintances. Their stories are as much a part of our club’s history as yours are and they all deserve to be recorded alongside the oft told tales of the people on the pitch.

This is essentially a very funny book but, like all West Ham fans, Brian also has a talent for pathos and there is an ever present poignancy between the lines of humour. His anecdotes evoke the whole gamut of emotions and I laughed out loud and shed some tears several times before I turned the final page. As I wiped away the last tear and the final smile faded from my lips I was left feeling proud and grateful. Proud because I was born a Hammer and grateful that all the wonderful characters in Brian’s book are my kith and kin. I realised that I am also a part of the same story, we all are. That sense of belonging is priceless and I can’t help but feel that something will be lost when the doors of The Boleyn are finally closed for the last time. No matter how positive any West Ham fan feels about our impending move, I challenge them to read this witty but poignant book without feeling wistful and nostalgic for a time that will never come again.

For the benefit of any newcomers to the site Brian Williams has supported West Ham United for the past 50 years and for the last 25 of those years he has been a journalist for The Guardian newspaper. He also writes a regular Tuesday column for West Ham Till I Die. This is his first book.

You can order a copy of Brian’s book NEARLY REACH THE SKY from…

Biteback Publishing for £8.99 in paperback (Use promotional code WESTHAMBW)

Biteback Publishing for £9.99 as an eBook

Amazon for £12.99 in paperback

Amazon Kindle for £10 as an eBook


Parish Notice

Were you at the Burnley game? You may be able to help a fellow West Ham fan.

CALLING FOR HELP FROM THE WEST HAM COMMUNITY

I had a call from a friend last night to ask me to reach out for help from our fellow West Ham fans. He and his daughter were at the Burnley game on Saturday and unfortunately when they were celebrating our first goal his daughter’s white iPhone 6 flew out of her pocket. They only realised that it had been lost at the end of the game and subsequently found out that a young lad had picked it up and was waving it at the crowd trying to find out who the owner was. It wasn’t handed in to the stewards so they’re hoping that whoever found it will hand it in to the club but if you could share this with anybody that you know who went to the game on Saturday it would be very helpful.

They were sitting centrally 3 rows from the front. As we all know it’s not just the price of a replacement phone at stake but all the photos, contacts and other bits and pieces of our life that we entrust to our mobile devices. If you could share this on any other West Ham forum that you frequent and let me know if you have any information we’d be very grateful.

Lids x


Talking Point

Crime and Punishment: Should a convicted rapist be allowed to resume his career as a professional footballer?

Convicted rapist and former Sheffield United and Wales international striker Ched Evans was released from prison at 5:00 am today after serving just half of his 5 year prison sentence. The case has sparked a media furore and furious public debate on whether Evans should be allowed to return to his privileged position as a professional footballer.

Evans was jailed in 2012 for raping a 19 year old woman. The woman had gone back to a north Wales hotel with Clayton McDonald, a friend of Evans and fellow footballer. At the time she was drunk, so drunk that she could barely stand. McDonald texted Evans to tell him that he had ‘got a bird’ and Evans joined them at the hotel. After McDonald had sex with the incapacitated teenager Evans also took advantage of her vulnerable state and had non-consensual sex with her while other friends of Evans attempted to film the act through the window of the ground floor hotel room. The footballers left hours before she regained consciousness; Evans via the fire exit.

Both men were subsequently charged with rape. McDonald was acquitted, presumably the jury reasoned that agreeing to go to his hotel room was some form of consent, despite the fact that she was not in control of her faculties. Evans was convicted of rape and sentenced to a 5 year prison sentence. During his trial the jury heard that Evans told police:

“We could have had any girl we wanted in that nightclub. We were drinking, having fun there. It’s not uncommon we pick up girls ….. Clayton’s an attractive guy. We are footballers, that’s how it is. Footballers are rich, they have got money, that’s what the girls like.”

Since his conviction Evans has continued to protest his innocence, claiming that the act was consensual. Consequently he has never expressed any remorse or regret for the young woman’s ordeal. His girlfriend has stood by him, claiming that the only thing he is guilty of is cheating on her. Her millionaire father has bank rolled a website proclaiming Evans’ innocence, as well as a legal team including a specialist appeals barrister and a firm of private investigators. Despite their efforts judges have refused to give leave to appeal and Evans is now taking his case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

In the meantime his victim has suffered a two and a half year internet hate campaign which has reached a new crescendo in the weeks leading up to his release from prison. She has been illegally named on social media, with a number of people being prosecuted for the crime. As a result she has been forced to leave her home town and to change her identity. So as Evans returns to the security of his family his victim has been forced into exile.

At the time of his conviction in April 2012 Sheffield United did not sack Evans but one month later they said that they would not be renewing his contract. However, it has been reported that they continued to pay Evans £20,000 week following his conviction and imprisonment until his contract expired, including the one month’s salary players are contractually entitled to if they have not secured a contract with another club.

Since then the club have maintained contact with him and the Blades’ Manager, Nigel Clough, and the club’s co-chairman, Kevin McCabe, have recently been to see him in prison, fuelling rumours that he will be allowed to return to his former position as striker. Saudi Arabian Prince Abdullah bin Mossad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, one of the world’s richest men and co-owner of Sheffield United, is said to have given a nod of approval for Evans’ return.

Clough was not the Manager of Sheffield United when Evans was imprisoned, so he played no part in the decision not to sack him. It seems that he will also play a very minor role in deciding whether Evans should return to the club:

“We have had one or two discussions, we are awaiting a decision and the owners will make that in good time.”

Clough said at his pre-match press conference previewing his side’s League One trip to Bradford on Saturday:

“I have been involved in decisions, but it is very much a decision for the owners and when the time is right to say something as a club we will do that. It is that sort of decision – it’s above football level. It’s my decision whether to put him in the team if he comes back, it’s not my decision whether he comes back in the first place – that’s theirs. Until the decision is made there is no point talking about it.”

Evans signed for Sheffield United in a £3 million deal in 2009. Prior to his imprisonment he scored 48 goals in 113 games for the Blades, including 35 in 42 games during the 2011/12 campaign which was cut short due to his trial and conviction. Many Blades fans have called for him to be rehabilitated, but almost 150,000 people have signed an online petition urging the Bramall Lane club not to welcome him back.

It is a situation that continues to divide opinion. While Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor insists Evans should be allowed to return to his former position, Sheffield United came under yet more pressure to reject Evans when deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, joined the debate yesterday.

In an interview with LBC Radio Mr Clegg, who is a Sheffield MP, said:

“I think the owners need to think really long and hard about the fact that when you take a footballer on, you are not taking just a footballer these days, you are also taking on a role model.

“You are taking on a role model, particularly for a lot of young boys who look up to their heroes on a football pitch in a team like that, and he has committed a very serious crime.

“It is for the football club to decide, but I really do think that footballers these days, they are major public figures who have a public responsibility to set an example for other people.

“I’m sure that will weigh heavily in the decisions made by the owners of Sheffield United. Rape is an incredibly serious offence, an unbelievably serious offence.

“He has done his time but I just don’t believe that the owners of a football club can somehow wish away the fact that that has happened.”

Ex Sports Minister and Sheffield MP Richard Caborn said the convicted rapist needs to show remorse if he is to resume his career. Blades fan Mr Caborn said:

“If he publicly apologises, or if his appeal is successful, he should be given a second chance.”

Former Blades boss Neil Warnock added:

“When you have served your time you are allowed to get on with your life – that is the law.”

But Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre is outraged. Manager Meera Kulkarni said:

“A convicted rapist who has shown no remorse should not be reinstated to his club.”

Labour sports spokesman Clive Efford said it was “not appropriate” for Evans to return to professional football after his release. Mr Efford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

“I think there are many areas of employment where, when you’ve committed a crime like that, you are not allowed to be employed in that form of employment, and I think football is one of them, because you are a role model within a community.

“I know this is sad for Ched Evans, who’s been to prison and paid a price, but I think that in these circumstances it’s not appropriate to have someone with that record in a profession where you are idolised by young people.”

The ex-Manchester City player has been capped 13 times for Wales and inevitably Chris Coleman has also been drawn into the debate. Back in August Coleman revealed that he will have earnest discussions with his FA of Wales bosses before deciding whether to select a convicted rapist during the looming Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
Coleman, who needs to find a goal scoring centre forward as the final piece of the jigsaw in his young Welsh team, did not rule out the prospect of Evans appearing at some point during the 10-match campaign. However, he says he would need to sit down with the FAW hierarchy, as well as holding face to face talks with Evans himself, before giving the green light for the Sheffield United striker to return to international duty.

He went on to say:

“Someone from the FAW was quoted the other day as saying Ched is a goal scorer and that’s what we desperately need.

“But look, that’s more than a five minute conversation for me. It’s one we would need to look at in great detail because of the magnitude of the situation.

“I’ve not had the conversation with anyone yet, although yes I have thought about it myself.

“Normally the manager picks the squad. This one is different though and I would have to discuss it with officials at the FAW.

“If Ched were to return to a club and do well, then it’s a conversation for us to have. Once you mention someone’s name with the words ‘convicted rapist’, it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

“I don’t know Ched himself, but I would have to sit down and talk to him, too.”

Asked bluntly if he would be prepared to pick a convicted rapist in his team, Coleman answered:

“I’m aware there is already an online petition against him playing football again.

“I’m also aware that if you are a carpenter, say, or a plumber and you come out of jail you are permitted to get back on with your career.

“Because of the high profile nature of the sport, football is different. That’s why I would have to sit down with the FAW first before this could possibly happen anyway.

“Then I would have to sit down with Ched, too. I couldn’t discuss whether he thought was not guilty. He was found guilty of a horrible crime.

“Because of that, I’ve been put in a horrible position myself, if I’m honest.

“But what I must also say is that even if he were to return to a club, you can’t just expect him to pick up where he left off. He’s been away from the game for two and a half years and you can’t just find your form straight away.”

Former Wales football manager Terry Yorath has said that he would select rapist Evans if the player successfully resurrects his club career. Yorath said that if he was in Wales boss Chris Coleman’s shoes he would meet the player and, if convinced he was over his prison ordeal, urge the Football Association of Wales (FAW) to let him pick Evans. But Yorath, who called Evans’ crime “abhorrent” and an “affront”, said as the father of two daughters he would “150% accept it” if the request was turned down. He said:

“Probably at the back of my mind I would be thinking we need a Ched Evans in the side so I’m going to go in that committee and say ‘Listen we could do with him in the squad’.

“If they turn around to me and say ‘No’ I would absolutely 150% understand where they’re coming from.

“It’s going to be a very, very difficult time for the boy and I’m looking at it from a football point of view. But you have to look as well at the girl and her family. It’s been a difficult time for them as well.”

Yorath said it would be difficult for a Wales squad short of striking talent to ignore an in-form Evans. He added:

“We’re not endowed at the moment with strikers that score lots of goals. When Ched was playing he looked as if he was going to become a good centre forward.

“Obviously he has been convicted for a crime, which is a horrible crime, but he’s always maintained his innocence. Now he’s served his time for that do the FAW, or does Chris himself, say ‘We think he’s served his time’ as Sheffield United seem to be saying and let him get on with the rest of his life?

“Or do you go down the road where obviously people will think the crime is abhorrent, which it is, and they say he should never ever play again?”

Yorath, the father of TV presenter Gabby Logan, 41, and former Las Vegas acrobat Louise Yorath, 40, said if Evans had any other job no-one would question his right to go back to work. Preventing him playing again would effectively punish him twice, he said.

“If that was a guy who was outside football, outside sport, he would be able to come back into life and get himself a job somewhere.

“That’s where people get divided. They get divided between sport and other employment. All his life all he’s done is play football. He’s been brought up to play football.”

Evans wouldn’t be the first footballer to re-build his career after spending time inside for a serious offence – there are plenty of other examples. Blackpool striker Nile Ranger, 23, has convictions for robbery and assault while Marlon King, 34, is serving the latest of several stints behind bars. Now inside for dangerous driving he also has convictions for violence against women. King has always found a club after being released for his previous offences. Former West Brom striker Lee Hughes signed for Oldham Athletic in 2007 after being sentenced to six years for causing death by dangerous driving. Forest Green Rovers forward Hughes, 38, was also convicted of assaulting a woman in May 2012.

Yorath said the decision on Evans’ Wales future should not be left to Coleman but sorted by the FAW behind closed doors. He added:

“There’s going to be lots of people outraged if he does go back to Sheffield United and if he does play for Wales. But what I don’t want to see happen is for the FAW to turn round to Chris Coleman and say ‘You make that decision’ because that would be unfair on Chris.

“Chris behind closed doors might say ‘I need him’. All through history we’ve never had a big squad anyway. So any player who is good enough to play for Wales you have to consider them being in the squad.

“So if he’s not considered to be in the squad that’s another way of hitting him. They (the FAW) should go behind closed doors and talk it over with Chris – but the FAW are the ones who have got to make that decision. It’s up to them.”

Rape Crisis England and Wales responded by saying that they are concerned about reports of Evans’ possible return to football. The organisation does not usually comment on specific cases, but has made a rare exception in his case.

Director of communications Katie Russell said:

“It is of course any convicted criminal’s right to serve their sentence and then go back into employment. We absolutely stand by that.

“But at the same time we would urge Sheffield United to think very carefully about the message that they send when they immediately re-employ someone who’s been convicted of such a very major crime.

“If they choose to do that, which is their right, we urge them to strongly consider the impact that will have on huge numbers of their supporters and we urge them to make a very strong statement condemning sexual violence, condemning violence against women and making it clear that misogyny, sexism, violence and sexual violence in particular won’t be tolerated within football.”

Footballers themselves are divided on whether they should be perceived as role models for society. In 2011 Blackpool boss Ian Holloway cited Paul Scholes as the epitome of a good role model in professional football when he said:

“People within football need to be good role models and, in fairness, most of them are. You won’t find a better one than Paul Scholes, who went through his whole career without even a whiff of an off-the-field issue. Wherever footballers go, they need to act in a proper manner and send out a message to young people: “That’s how you behave.”

“I accept it is more difficult in this ridiculous era when the world has been taken over by social networking sites. Blimey, everyone has a camera in their hand, because even phones can take pictures.

“So what these players have got to realise is that they are in the limelight 24/7, and they have to behave in the right way all the time. People look up to players. We hold the dreams of so many in our hands so we have to lead and set an example. But we haven’t been doing so for years and it is driving me crazy.

“At the end of the day, though, it comes down to individuals taking responsibility. That’s how my mum and dad brought me up and if I had ever done wrong, they’d have dragged me down to the police station themselves.

“No one should disrespect the law because without the law there is nothing. Without discipline there is nothing. I try to do my bit at Blackpool. I demand my players behave. After we had been away to Portugal in pre-season, the hotel sent a letter thanking us for the behaviour of my players. That’s pleasing, but it shouldn’t even be in question. My lads know that if they don’t behave, they won’t be here. I don’t care what sort of footballer they are, or how good they are, they’ll be gone.”

Holloway’s view is shared by former Hammer’s striker Jermain Defoe who has previously said that:

“Footballers have a duty to behave decently – on and off the field. Footballers have to be aware they are role models for kids. We’re all human beings and people make mistakes.”

Teetotal Defoe says a strict upbringing on a tough council estate in Beckton, East London, helped to point him in the right direction. His dad Jimmy, an alcoholic, left when he was just a toddler. So, Jermain, his mum Sandra and sister Chante, 22, had to move in with his grandparents. And his mum encouraged his football skills to steer him away from crime. He went on to say:

“I don’t drink or smoke and I’ve never touched drugs. All I wanted to do was be a footballer, but I had to be disciplined. My mum drove me to football and watched me every weekend – she was brilliant.”

Friends he grew up with were less lucky. He says:

“A lot I used to play with have ended up in prison. It’s very sad.”

Conversely, when he was writing about the riots in England in 2011, former West Ham goalkeeper David James said that the idea that professional footballers should be role models for society was a misnomer. He went on to say:

“I still believe that parents should be the main role models for their children. I’m not sure that the youth of today relate to footballers. While it is true that most of us have had a council estate upbringing, most now live away from those communities, enjoying a lifestyle that is light years from the kids we are talking about.”

My personal view is that Ched Evans should not be allowed to resume the privileged life of a professional footballer. He was soundly convicted of the crime of rape and his request for appeal has been rejected. However, he continues to protest his innocence and has shown no regret or remorse for his crime. He has allowed his friends and family to use their wealth to mount a high profile campaign to try to clear his name, riding rough-shod over the emotional well-being of his victim. His supporters have also hounded his victim with an internet hate campaign, forcing her to change her identity and effectively lose the life she had before Evans decided to use her body without her consent for a glorified form of masturbation. Therefore he has proven that he is a very poor candidate for rehabilitation.

Whether footballers should or shouldn’t be expected to be role models for young people in our society is a moot point. The crux of this matter is the message it gives regarding the crime of rape. Ched Evans will now be on the Sex Offenders Register for the rest of his life. He will be on that Register for a reason; because he has committed a serious sexual assault against a woman. Whether we like it or not, professional footballers are revered and idolised by our society. If you were a Sheffield United supporter with young sons and daughters would you expect and encourage them to cheer and celebrate the goals of a convicted rapist who had shown no regret for his crime? Neither would I. If Evans does return to his former role as a highly paid striker in the face of all these facts, then professional football has degenerated to a whole new level of moral corruption.


Book Review

West Ham Fans' Dream Team

With my thoughts turned to Dream Teams this week, I suddenly remembered that I had a copy of ‘The Official West Ham United Dream Team’ sitting in my bookcase.

Written in 2003 by Adam Ward and Dave Smith, this book is a consensus on the greatest West Ham United XI based on a survey of West Ham United supporters. Adverts appeared in match day programmes and on the Club’s website asking fans to select their dream team in a 4-4-2 formation, with voting restricted to players from the modern era. The authors felt that it would be difficult to include stars from bygone days, such as Vic Watson, Syd Puddefoot and Jimmy Ruffell, as they were in the living memory of so few people; which would mean that their selection would probably be based on reputation and second-hand opinion.

Hundreds of fans responded, maybe you were in that number, and the results were compiled into this volume of facts and figures on West Ham’s greatest XI players in modern football. The book also includes interviews with some of the chosen players and their colleagues.

In his introduction to the book Ward said:

“One particularly interesting feature of the voting was that, unlike several of the other big clubs who have recently carried out similar polls to find their greatest XI, Hammers fans were not preoccupied with current stars. Several players who played in the 1957-58 promotion season received a significant number of votes, which proves that West Ham United supporters are rather more knowledgeable than rival supporters are about their favoured team.”

Billy Bonds was invited to write the foreword to the book and his words from 2003 make it clear that he holds West Ham supporters in the highest regard:

“….. I have the greatest respect for Hammers supporters. The Upton Park crowd has always been fair … even if the Chicken Run rarely gave a player a second chance. But, above all else, Hammers fans know their football. They know how they like the game to be played and they know a good player when they see one, as has been shown by the results of the poll for this book.”

His contribution also includes his personal opinion on each of the players chosen by the fans for this particular Dream Team and he had this to say on their choices:

“I would be lying if I said I agreed with every one of the selections, but they are all great players … though, of course, I can’t really give a fair judgement on the number 4!”

As I’ll be attending the Hammers Heroes Dream Team event on Thursday this week I thought it would be interesting to compare the West Ham fans’ choices of 2003 with the selection made by an expert panel of West Ham stars in 2014. Let’s see whether Billy Bonds, Sir Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Julian Dicks, Tony Cottee, Phil Parkes, Brian Dear and Tony Gale agree with the fans’ Dream Team and also whether any players from the intervening decade have made their selection grade. Watch this space for the outcome of their deliberations.

And what about you? Do you agree with the players chosen by West Ham supporters just over ten years ago and would you replace any of them with players who have graced the pitch at Upton Park since then?

One of the things that I’m looking forward to on Thursday night is hearing first-hand the views and anecdotes of the panel on their West Ham Dream Team. Listening to players recount their experiences of their heydays brings memories to life in a way that the written word simply can’t. For those of you who don’t have a ticket (cough) I’ll leave you with Billy Bond’s personal thoughts on each of the players chosen by the fans a decade ago:

1. Phil Parkes
‘One of the all time greats for me. I’ve always said I’d put him in the top five goalkeepers I’ve ever seen play. He’s up there with the likes of Shilton, Banks, Clemence and Schmeichel. He was also a smashing fella, a really likeable man who didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Ernie Gregory would call one or two of us over after training to give Phil a bit of extra practice – shooting or crossing – and, when he was trying, you just couldn’t beat him. I don’t know how he’d have handled the back-pass rule with his dodgy knees but there’s no doubt he was a tremendous keeper.’

2. Ray Stewart
‘Ray was a terrific player and of course everybody remembers him for his penalties. But he was also a really solid defender; he was agile and quick, good on the ball with a ferocious shot and he was tough. Ray was everything you’d want in a right-back; he got forward well and he was strong defensively. He could also play at centre-back and made his debut in midfield, so he was versatile too.’

3. Julian Dicks
‘Julian was a player with whom I didn’t always see eye-to-eye when I was a manager, and we had our run-ins. He could be ill disciplined at times, but the crowd loved him because he always gave 100 per cent. He also had a fantastic left foot. It would be a close one between him and Frank Lampard, although Julian would probably shade it. Dicksy had the ability to get England caps but it’s probably fair to say that his reputation went before him a little bit.’

4. Billy Bonds
‘I didn’t really care where I played … midfield or right-back. Centre-half was probably my least favourite position, because you were a little bit out of the action there and you have to be more disciplined. I went on for so long that a lot of people do still remember me as an old centre-half, an old war-horse if you like. But I think my best days were in midfield. It was my sort of role, I could roll my sleeves up and get stuck in and get forward, scoring my few goals as well. Of course I got tagged a bit, as a hard man, a ball winner, captain fantastic, and all that, but John Lyall must have thought I could play a bit too, otherwise I wouldn’t have been in West Ham’s midfield alongside Brooking and Devonshire.’

5. Alvin Martin
‘I remember Alvin when he came into the side; a cocky little Liverpudlian with his long legs like Bambi. When I say cocky, I mean cocky on the ball; he’d want to dribble past people all the time. Sometimes he would take liberties and get caught out, and he got quite a few ruckings in the early days. But he took the lessons on board and listened to the advice; I shook my fist at him a few times too, but the penny dropped and he became a great centre-half. He and Moore were both very comfortable on the ball. One thing about Alvin, though, is that I never played with or against a better header of the ball. When I had him as a manager he was in his mid-30s, but there’s no substitute for quality and experience, and that’s what he gave us. He was a terrific reader of the game and still excellent in the air.’

6. Bobby Moore
‘They use the word superstar too easily nowadays, but he was the genuine article. Bobby Moore was definitely a superstar both on and off the pitch. He was somebody you just looked up to: he wasn’t a great talker on the pitch, that wasn’t his way. Everybody simply respected him, and there was an aura about him, no doubt about it. Everything he did on the pitch was quality and he was a really nice, down-to-earth bloke off the pitch. For me, personally, as I say, I was always in awe of him, and when he left I took over as captain and his boots were big ones to fill. It’s a pleasure to be able to say that I played alongside him.’

7. Martin Peters
‘I remember speaking to Ronnie Boyce about the three World Cup winners and Ronnie – who of course grew up alongside them – said that Martin was the most gifted of the three when they were kids. He obviously made his name as an attacking midfielder, ghosting into the box, and he scored a phenomenal number of goals. He was superb in the air, a great passer of the ball and a great taker of chances. He had fantastic ability and he could play anywhere.’

8. Trevor Brooking
‘The first thing you have to say about Trevor is that he’s a gentleman. He was my roommate and my best mate at the club and somebody I could always trust implicitly. He’d help anybody and he’s been a smashing ambassador for the game. He’s also one of the greatest midfield player’s this country’s ever had. He was a great crosser of the ball, he had two good feet, but his greatest skill was that he could beat people. They talk about his lack of pace, but when you could beat people as easily as he could, you don’t always need it.’

9. Geoff Hurst
‘I wasn’t at the club at the time, but I understand that Geoff had been a midfielder and hadn’t been anything special in his early days. But Ron Greenwood put him up front and the rest is history. He was a big strong targetman who was good at holding the ball up and who had a great touch but he was also an excellent goalscorer. He had a powerful shot and was a fine header of the ball. I’d liken him a bit to Mark Hughes, who was another player who was extremely good with his back to goal.’

10. Paolo Di Canio
‘His ability on the ball is unquestionable but he’s not really an out-and-out centre-forward. In a team that’s already got Brooking and Devonshire in it – players who like to drop deep, pick up the ball and run at people, I would have preferred to have had a genuine striker like Bryan “Pop” Robson. In my ideal team Bryan would have been perfect to play off Geoff Hurst. My big question mark about Paolo is whether he’d let you down. I have to be honest, I don’t think he’s a team player. Having said that, he’s a smashing talent and I can see why the crowd love him. He’s an entertainer, he gets you out of your seat and does things that other players couldn’t even dream of.’

11. Alan Devonshire
‘Dev came from non-League football, and I remember him turning up for training and there was nothing of him, he never carried a lot of weight, and we thought “blimey, this kid needs a good dinner!”. We wondered if he’d get bullied and whether he’d withstand the physical side of things, but what a good player he was. Frank Lampard appreciated him too, he worked up and down the line and never went missing, always did his job defensively. But the real strength of Dev was his ability to go past people. He’d take the ball right up to defenders and just when you thought he was going to get it nicked off him, he had that yard of pace to take it away from them.’


Competition

Your chance to see Hammers Heroes select their West Ham Dream Team

So who would you pick to be in your West Ham Dream Team from players of the past 50 years?

On Thursday 11th September an expert panel comprising Billy Bonds, Sir Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Julian Dicks, Tony Cottee, Phil Parkes, Brian Dear and host Tony Gale (panel subject to availability) will gather on stage at the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend to deliberate over West Ham’s best line-up from the days when Bobby Moore led the team to FA Cup glory in 1964 until the present day.

When I saw this advertised and learned that it was going to be the final ‘Hammers Heroes’ show at the Cliffs I snapped up 4 front row tickets some time ago. Unfortunately, I’ve just found out that both Mr Lids and my friend aren’t going to be able to go on Thursday so I have two front row seats going begging.

I was sitting here feeling a bit dejected and making a note to change my deodorant when I had a brainwave, maybe I could turn my disappointment into something positive by using the tickets to raise some more funds for West Ham Ladies? Having had a quick look online it looks like there are still a few seats available but the front stalls have sold out and there are only a few restricted viewing seats left elsewhere.

So, here’s your chance to sit within spitting distance (that’s a turn of phrase, not a suggestion btw) of a panel of some of West Ham’s all-time greats as they discuss who they would select for their Hammers Dream Team of the last 50 years this Thursday. I will bear the face value cost of the tickets because that’s money that has already been spent but I am inviting WHTID readers to place bids starting at £24.50 for each ticket (the face value) for the opportunity to sit in the front row of this almost sold out event. The two winning bidders will have to pay all of their pledge to the West Ham Ladies fund raising page under their WHTID user names and I will meet them to hand over their tickets in the bar at the Cliffs before the show this Thursday 11th September. I anticipate that the two tickets will be won by separate bidders but if you’d like to win the pair then I suggest you wait until near the end of the auction and then bid more than the two highest bids combined.

Having been to about 8 or 9 of these shows in the past I can confirm that it’s a great night out and that Tony Gale is a very funny host. I’ve been lucky enough to see Sir Trev and Billy on stage together once before and because the format of the show is so relaxed it’s like listening to them have a chat about the good old days over a pint down the pub.

It really is a must for Hammers fans and is sure to be a great evening of nostalgia in the company of some of the greatest players to wear the claret & blue. As I mentioned above, this is scheduled to be the last ‘Hammers Heroes’ football show at The Cliff’s and therefore a final opportunity to see some of these true West Ham United legends on this stage.

To give everyone an opportunity to bid, the auction will close at 8:00pm on Wednesday 10th September. Even if I only manage to attract bids for the face value of the tickets that will still be another fifty quid in their bin and another claret and blue shirt on the back of a West Ham Ladies footballer.

The only downside to this is that you’ll have to sit next to me and Safehands; but we promise to stay ‘on topic’ and to not talk about cake for the whole evening! ;)

Please save me from looking like Billy No Mates and help to raise funds for a very good cause by placing your bid now!

Lids


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