Tony Hanna's Musings

Ten Men, Noble, My Tin Hat and a Knees Up!

So far this season we have huffed and we have puffed in our two wins against Swansea and Huddersfield, although the latter was a pleasingly more dominant display. Arguably though, the best football we have played this season has been when we are down to ten men? Away to Southampton and again against Burnley on the weekend, elbows have reduced us to ten men for two thirds of both games. Yet, on each occasion not only did we show resilience and fight, we also knocked the ball about like a proper football team. All indications show that the players are right behind the manager but why it takes a reduction in playing personnel to bring the best out in us beats me!

Back on the 15th August I wrote in my Tuesday column that there was no need to panic after our poor start to the season. For many years it has been my view that the eight game mark is the earliest time where a real and proper assessment can be made. In my opinion anything earlier can be simply driven by panic or often misguided on the back of emotions – good or bad. So, here we are then, the eight game mark. This season has thrown up more variables than usual though – we have only played three games at home instead of the usual four and in a quarter of our games we have played with ten men for over an hour. Personal judgements on whether we have been lucky or unlucky will differ but for me we have dropped three points due to our sending offs and gained two points with a fortunate win against Swansea. I could argue that we should have got two more points at West Brom but I will let that one slide through to the keeper. So in essence I agree with David Gold’s comments the other day that a fairer assessment of “where we are” should be considered after the Brighton game? Eight points from eight games is where we are now though and taking into account the five away fixtures it looks like we are in for a season sliding up and down between a very congested 10th and 15th?

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Two things that Slav has done recently have impressed me. I think his preseason plan was to play a back four and for some matches that is the right thing to do. However, there are also matches that demand a back three with wing backs and he is now showing that adaptability in his team selections. Slav is showing some versatility at last and we do have the players to play both systems. The other thing which has happened, and whilst we have all been aware of it, it has had little air time probably due to Andy grabbing most of the spotlight. He has been prepared to drop his captain Mark Noble. I am sure Mark will be back for the Spurs Cup game but it took courage to make this decision. In no way am I writing Mark off, but if the likes of Lanzini, Obiang and Kouyate remain fit and healthy then Noble will have a job getting back into the side. Personally, I think he will be up for the challenge and it may bring the best out of him? Whilst Kouyate has been slow to gain anywhere near his best form this season his work rate to cover against Burnley was excellent. Obiang’s second half performance gave all the indicators that he may be in for another fine season and Lanzini just brings the X factor that the team needs to play at a higher level.

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With Noble being dropped back to the bench Winston Reid has taken over as skipper. My perception by reading this blog over the years has been that most think Reid is too quiet for the job. Perhaps Zabaleta should be the man? However, quite a few on here are getting fed up with the over reactions displayed by Reid towards the referee’s on any big calls made against us? It is interesting to compare the make ups of several of our players because they are quite a mixed bunch. If Andy Carroll gets the free kick for the elbow into his face a minute before his first booking would things have turned out differently? Andy rarely goes down easily and for this he does cop a fair amount of “ extra treatment” from opposition defenders. The same thing happened with Arnautovic’s dismissal at Southampton? At the other end of the scale though Arnie will go down as though shot by a sniper and will get the sulks or seek retribution as a response. In both instances the players showed frustration and ill-discipline and the team paid the price. At the other end of the spectrum we have Chico who can make the most out of any situation with floor exercises that any Olympic gymnast would be proud of. I know he is a fan favourite and he is our top scorer so I will just grab my tin hat, but I just can’t warm to some of his antics. I will take all the goals he will score for us and accept he is a terrific player but his theatrics just frustrate me. The constant arm waving and gesturing together with the poor body language when being subbed does not warm my cockles. I get the “it’s good – he just wants to play” argument, but it is also a team sport. In contrast we have Michael Antonio. Wholehearted and almost innocent, a product of non-league football he plays with a smile on his face. Despite the difference in physique he does remind me of Alan Devonshire. Perhaps because both of them can be attributed to living the dream of all non-league footballers and playing without the shackles that often come with an over coached academy footballer.

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Finally, another player who joins the mixed bunch of emotions group at West Ham is Diafra Sakho. He scores when he wants but he also gets booked every time he takes his shirt off when doing so. Two points to be made here. Why is it a bookable offence when so many other goal celebration rituals aren’t? Why can you roll around the ground after performing a conga dance and a baby rocking routine and not get booked but you will if you remove your shirt? Inciting the crowd? The change to Law 12 quoted “A player who removes his jersey after scoring a goal will be cautioned for unsporting behaviour”. The reasons quoted for the change also said “Removing one’s shirt after scoring is unnecessary and players should avoid such excessive displays of joy.” You would think that the sanitisation of our game has already gone far enough but it makes no sense when a player can run to a corner flag and punch it several times, followed by 38 cart wheels and that not be deemed an excessive display of joy? Jumping into the crowd after scoring is arguably correctly seen as excessive and we saw Frederic Piquionne get sent off at Everton back in 2011 after racking up a second yellow for that celebration. The second point is if the rule is in place why do players still do it? Running up extra cards is detrimental to the team and the player himself. Surely our players can choreograph a proper goal celebration with an Irons salute followed by a Knees Up Mother Brown and reduce the card tally this season at the same time?

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Tony Hanna's Musings

Match days in the late sixties and the seventies

This week I look back 40-50 years using a few of my previous articles as my inspiration

Going to West Ham in the late sixties and the seventies was quite a different experience compared to today. Many of the older fans who read this article will remember fondly some of the memories and hopefully remind us on some of the things I may have forgotten. It may be some of their experiences might be slightly different? For the younger readers it will hopefully give an insight on what the experience of a game at Upton Park was like forty to fifty years ago.

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Foreign players were rare in our domestic league at this time and players wages were not extravagantly higher than a good standard wage. Players would often stay at their clubs for ten years or more and if they reached this milestone, testimonial games would be played so as to give them the proceeds of the gate takings to help them start their new careers after football. Many ex-players from those days would use the money to buy a pub or start up a small business. In 1966 the average weekly wage was just under 20 quid and a top flight footballer was averaging 44 quid with an expected playing career of about ten years. Pubs were often a popular post career option for them. They served as an immediate draw card with the prospect for punters to be served down at their local by a former professional footballer and they also provided an easy continuation of the drinking culture that was rife in the game at that time. I doubt many provided long term financial success however.

The seventies was the era of the skinhead. Originating among working class youths in London in the 60’s, the movement soon spread all over the UK. In the mid to late 60’s hooliganism was starting to become a culture at football grounds. What was later to become known as “firms” became an outlet for many that wanted something much more tribal. No club in England had more tribal fans than West Ham’s. There were a lot of young men and boys around at that time. It was baby boomer time, an era of large families, a product of the end of World War two. Rejecting the austerity of the 50’s and the peace loving hippies of the 60’s, instead seeking their own identity, the skinhead evolved from the hard core mod. The street culture was different then too, in working class areas. Mums and dads didn’t want six or seven kids in their tiny homes when it was light. “Go out and play and make sure you are home by dark”. So the kids piled onto the streets or playing fields if you were lucky enough to have any close by. Gangs formed in many places and kids had to become street wise. Perhaps it was this nous that enabled most of us to tread relatively safely through those football days that were considered dangerous.

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My match day journey as a youngster would start in Loughton and a change at Mile End on the tube would have you at Upton Park in around 40 minutes. The walk down Green Street was an experience in itself. Everywhere you looked there were stalls selling old and new programs, scarves, bobble hats, badges and rosettes etc. The smell that drifted from the hot dog stalls was quite over powering. If you wanted to go to Upton Park on a Saturday it was likely you would have to start queuing from about 1pm for a 3pm kick off. However, if you were a young ‘un that needed to get down the front it was a must to be there by 11.30am. What seemed normal then but strikes me now, is how many young kids used to go to games on their own. I was just eleven when I first started going and there were plenty of other loners of similar age in the North Bank with me! With so many kids going, you can take the “official” attendances from those days with a pinch of salt. So many of us were pushed through as pairs in a single turnstile by the operators looking for a few extra quid in their pockets. Occasioanally, if you were lucky, you might get the two and six back yourself. Along with all the other kids I knew that went to West Ham or other football grounds back then, the costs were all paid by paper rounds, washing windows or other odd jobs. Most mums and dads just couldn’t afford pocket money with such large families so you had to work for the football money or miss out. It wasn’t long before I had mates to go with but the scenario was still the same. In those days it was all standing except the Upper West. If you did decide to get to the game around 2pm you would find queues on the western side of the ground right down to Green Street. Apart from the season ticket holders in the seated Upper West, it was cash to get in and if the ground was full you missed out. My own first experience at Upton Park was delayed a few weeks as my dad thought it ok to arrive at the ground at 2.30pm for a game v Liverpool. Sorry, all doors locked – Full House! I still remember how gutted I felt. I had waited months to get to my first match and I was entranced by what seemed a huge ground at the time and having to listen to the crowd singing from inside the stadium before having to make our way home and waiting for another day.

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Bobby Moore had his own sports shop across the road from the ground and the Hammers official merchandise store was located in a caravan parked to the side of the Western entrance. Prior to the game the “monkey nut” sellers would circle the exterior of the pitch as buyers would send their money down via other fans and the bags of peanuts passed up the same way or thrown to them if the vendor had a good arm!

In the early part of this era some may remember “Monty”? Affectionately named after Field Marshal Montgomery he was believed to embark at Barking (perhaps there is a clue there) train station? He would dress in full army uniform and march along the South Bank blowing his bugle to much fun and laughter. It certainly did get everyone in a good mood! By 2pm the crowd would always be in good voice and Bubbles was only one of many songs and chants that would echo around the ground for an hour or more. The North Bank was the main area for the vocals but the old Chicken Run (East Stand) was often a sway with our favourite song. Traditionally the South Bank was the area for the away fans and for an hour or more before the game the taunting chants would to and fro incessantly between the rival fans. Into the seventies and West Ham fans made a presence in the South Bank as well, stemming mainly from the catalyst that was soccer hooliganism. Prior to this it was not uncommon for the South Bank to be completely filled by away support when playing the bigger clubs. Many of the chants were accompanied by the raucous kicking and banging of the Dr Martens clattering into the corrugated iron that formed the back of the North Bank….”we are the famous, the famous West Ham.” Of course the “Knees Up Mother Brown” has died completely since seats replaced standing areas and the chant “United” has all but disappeared apart from the obligatory two that follow Bubbles.

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Around 2.30pm the Leyton County Silver band would come out and play near the players entrance, central to the West Stand. The only time most fans were paying attention to the band was when they started to play Bubbles as this was the signal that the teams were on their way out onto the pitch. It was around this time that the newspaper reporters and photographers would file around to their normal positions of behind and to the side of the goals. In those days the pitches would deteriorate after October and by January very little grass existed in the penalty areas or centre circle. Then at around 2.50pm Bobby Moore would lead the team out, ball resting on his hip and secured by his arm before flicking it in the air as he entered the pitch and kicking it towards the North Bank –what an inspirational captain he was! The Hammers always liked to have their pre-match kick around at the North Bank end and it was that end they wanted to defend in the first half if we won the coin toss – mainly to have that support upping the volume when attacking that goal in the second half.

In those days there were no mobile phones – heck, we didn’t even have a home phone. Nearest phone booth was half a mile away, if it worked. So, no looking at your mobile for score updates. Best we could manage was a small scoreboard at either end of the ground with letters A-L. The match program would show what letters corresponded to the games being played elsewhere and at half time numbers indicating the score would be placed next to the letters.The biggest cheers came of course if any of the other London clubs were losing, and Manchester United.

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From my many visits back to watch West Ham there is no doubt that the singing and atmosphere created at both grounds (UP & LS) has fallen many decibels below the old days. With notable exceptions including Manchester United in the final game at UP and the Spurs game last season, most games deliver a pretty sterile experience in comparison. The all-seater stadiums have certainly created a safer and more comfortable experience but to be honest I think today’s fans are missing out on what a truly incredible fever pitch a football game can deliver consistently. The upside is that attending a football game nowadays is relatively safe and the facilities are a World apart, unlike in the days of skin heads and soccer hooliganism. The truth is that following West Ham home and away in the seventies, you would be watching football shrouded in a threatening atmosphere that tended to hang over games like a dark cloud, ready to burst.

Fashion? A typical “uniform” in the early seventies would be a grandad vest with a Ben Sherman shirt and braces. Docker trousers or Levi jeans would be accompanied with Dr Marten boots or “monkey boots” if you could not afford the real thing. There were many other clothes that were fashionable though. These included brogues, loafers, Crombie’s, Harrington jackets, sheepskin coats, Prince of Wales trousers, tonics and brutus shirts. Must admit, I “slummed” it in a donkey jacket, dockers and monkeys! The scarves tied to the belts or wrists of fans have now been replaced by replica shirts. The hard men of football have been replaced by diving cheats. Mud bath pitches have been replaced by pristine oversized bowling rinks. The crowd surges and swaying has been replaced by mass exoduses at half time for refreshments and before full time for quick getaways. That anxious wait for 6pm and the Evening Standard late edition to hit the newsagents to find out the other scores and updated tables has been replaced by instant results on our phones. Were they the good old days or the bad old days? Or a bit of both?

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Tony Hanna's Musings

Can we have our ball back please? - and Quicker!

Well I think that was actually a harder watch than the West Brom game? At least at the Baggies we took control of the game and our passing was pretty good. The direness of that game was manifested by the spoiling tactics of the opposition and our inability to break them down. The game against Swansea was a home match where again the away team looked in control of the ball but, like us at West Brom, never really looked like breaking the home team down? If you are on the side of the argument wanting Slav gone then the ammunition has been resupplied with another display of misplaced passes, a lack of cohesion and a team put out that hardly seemed to know each other. If you are in the camp wanting Slav to stay for at least the rest of the season then you can point to three points and another clean sheet with the hope that a now fit again Lanzini will make a big difference? I must say though, if Sakho had not scored that winner at the end, after that performance I would have been surprised if our owners had not called time on Slaven Bilic’s reign. That very thing was going through my mind for most of the second half until the goal. I doubt a draw alone would have tipped the scales for the owners to push the button on Slav’s time but the amount of booing probably would have, together with the very audible dissatisfaction from the crowd. There would have been plenty more boos had it finished 0-0 and for me, hypothetically, it could have been the last straw.

As for the booing I can put my hands up and say I have never booed a West Ham team in my life. Never have and never will. If others want to that is their business. However, for Slav to get booed for taking Chico off was an overstretch. Chico had a very poor game despite being played in a two up top with Carroll, a position many have been crying out for Slav to play. His contribution was average at best and if his running to press defenders matched his arm movement in gestures we all might be in a better place. Slav was right to sub him and Sakho duly proved him right.

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One of the current problems is that although I feel we do have a really decent squad of players the team has just not gelled. Whilst we should be happy that all our forwards are fit and healthy does Slav really know what ones to play and in what formation? Does he really know how he is going to play Lanzini now fit? Will he drop the captain? What does he do with Masuaku now he has shown he deserves another chance? I just get the feeling that once the glue is set and our manager finds the right combinations this side is capable of much greater than what we are seeing now. Will that manager be Slav though? For too long now there have been huge gaps between the players, width wise and between the front and the back. It is no wonder we are being forced to play the long ball so often. There is little compression on the pitch which makes it impossible to keep possession for too long and impossible for the players to press and hunt in packs when the opposition has the ball. It is no wonder there is little cohesion in our play.

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I have long been a fan of Masuaku. My very amicable run ins with Dan Coker on the subject, who is a man I rarely disagree with, are legendary in our own lunch boxes! Dan is a Cresswell fan but for me whilst I agree that he may be a better defender, especially in a back four, Masuaku offers a deal more on the ball and going forward as a wing back. Could it even be that Masuaku be given a chance in front of Cresswell in a 4-4-2 formation? That would mean dropping Arnautovic and would Slav do that? Or could it be that Slav has earmarked the left side of a 4-4-2 for Lanzini? After all, he played Payet there. In my opinion I think Lanzini should play centrally in a 3-5-2 for the majority of this season if he stays fit. That would then ask the question of how do you fit Zabaleta and Antonio into the same side? However, it is all very complicated and we will all have our own opinions on player combinations and formations. Perhaps another plethora of injuries will make the decisions a lot easier but I am sure none of us want that! Talking of injuries and this was the second game running where Antonio has played but was clearly not running freely? We have already seen James Collins kept on at West Brom for the start of the second half when clearly struggling before the break with an injury. From my observations I am sure Andy Carroll was not right in the Huddersfield game as well. My understanding is that he had to pass a fitness test prior to that game? I am not sure who is making the final call on these players taking the field but when we have the competition for places we have at present it makes little sense risking further injury to players whose impacts on the game are clearly being harnessed by carrying injuries?

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Finally, one thing that does pain me watching West Ham play at our new stadium is the lack of ball boys and their positioning. Watching the games from home I have time to go make a cuppa when the ball goes out of play for a throw. When the first ball went out of play against Swansea the nearest player went to fetch the ball himself for around a twenty yard round trip as it was going to be quicker than waiting for the ball boy. Why are there so few of them? Why are they sitting down? Why are they sitting down so far away from the pitch? Why do some of them look far from being athletic types that can actually speed the retrieval up? Answers on a post card please!

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Tony Hanna's Musings

Offside: To interfere or not to interfere?

Lots has been read and said about Saturday’s game against Spurs but the main topic of my Tuesday article this week is going to focus on the rules of the game that led to the first goal of the match and also influenced the two other goals we conceded. I am sure that I am not alone in wanting changes to the game that would improve it as a spectacle and also to make it a fairer and less cynical sport. I doubt anyone likes the diving, time wasting and feigning injury tactics that we see so often, and those are just at the tip of the iceberg of the sports problems. The professional foul can be blatant and it can also be mischievously deceptive. The small tug of the shirt or an arm can often be as critically important as the crude trip without any intention of playing the ball.

However, one of the most controversial aspects of the game is the offside rule. For all the years I played the game it was fairly simple. A very basic analysis was if you or any of your team mates are in an offside position when the ball is played forward inside the opposition half then the ref blows his whistle and awards a free kick to your opponents. Linesmen didn’t always get it right but I doubt the reinvented assistant referees would either? However, the rule was black and white and had very little scope for an officials “interpretation”. Always a good thing that – in my opinion! The continued changes made in the Premier League era to the old law have certainly seen more goals scored but in my view it has also been detrimental to the essence of the game. Playing the offside trap under the old rules in the 70’s could actually be practised to an art form. I remember watching a local amateur team one day and they had it down pat using a sweeper. It left such an impression on me that I can write about it now some 45 years later! I never thought that something so technical could be so polished from a team playing at an amateur level. The famous Arsenal back line movement playing the offside trap inspired the writers of the Full Monty movie to use it to simplify their dance routines! However, we now have players wandering back from offside positions and providing they don’t make an immediate move for the ball, play continues. Sometimes the ball is played to a team mate in an onside position and they can score despite other members of the team being offside? How can a defence realistically play the trap in those circumstances? How is a rule that allows a player to stand in an offside position whilst his side score a goal not offering an advantage to that team? As Bill Shankly famously said “if a player’s not interfering with play he shouldn’t be on the bloody pitch?” Brian Clough went further by adding that if any of his players weren’t interfering with play at all times they shouldn’t be paid.

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In 1990 for the “good of the game” and to promote attacking football the offside law underwent its first radical change in over 60 years. The advantage was now given to the attacking team. If the attacker was in line with the penultimate defender, he was now onside. This was one of the best rule changes FIFA have ever made in my opinion. It kept the old rule in place except for the small tweak which did seem to make a difference. It was easy for the match officials to rule on and I think everyone was happy? The tinkering since has ebbed and flowed and I do believe the authorities have tried to do the right thing by the fans, but in my opinion they have just created more problems and more room for controversy with the inconsistencies around players not interfering in play or gaining an advantage from being offside.

I have been mulling over writing an article on this subject for a while now but Harry Kane’s first goal on the weekend was the perfect trigger for today’s piece. Under the current rules (Law 11) it was a fair goal. But the circumstances surrounding this goal show why the new ruling is an ass. Erickson receives the ball and plays a pass out to Alli who is in an onside position, however when the ball is played, Kane who is more central, is around two to three yards offside. Kane is not ruled offside because he is not interfering with play? However, Kane keeps running towards goal and because of his original “non-interference” offside position has a three yard start on his marker Fonte. Ogbonna chases Alli who’s lost Cresswell but the Tottenham player crosses the ball to Kane who is steaming into the box. Kane scores because he is unmarked and that was because Fonte had no chance of making up the three yards on a player that had been deemed not interfering with play? Apparently. Now if anyone thinks that the law is not flawed if that is allowed to happen then I give up.

To go further, a look at the second goal and when the Spurs attack starts Kane is six yards offside, again not interfering (or gaining an advantage)…..and scores 6 seconds later? With Spurs third goal two players are in offside positions when Erickson shoots and scores from just inside the box. Yet despite both being in around the six yard box at a set piece they are not interfering with play either? I have no doubt we have scored many goals in similar circumstances but this rule has become an absolute farce, especially when you look at Kane’s first goal which was completely irretrievable once he gained his head start advantage on Fonte from the ruling. All three goals we conceded highlight the laziness we now accept from players to get back onside under the current rules but the last two were at least scored under the ethical reasoning of why the laws were changed. In fact, all three goals awarded against us were correctly given by the officials under the current Law 11 of the game providing you allow for the referees interpretation. The current rules deciding an offside position seem to have moved away from “interfering” a little and now the key words are “gaining an advantage” and perhaps this may be more relevant to why I think Spurs first goal should have been disallowed?

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Now, the offside rule is for all to exploit and not just Spurs. We have scored goals in similar fashion as have all teams, well except Crystal Palace this season in the PL of course – sorry, I couldn’t help myself. However, the continued tampering of the pre-1990 rule has led to more confusion than anything else, but my main beef is whether the current rules are fair or not and whether they are open to too much interpretation from the officials? For instance in the 9th minute of the game Reid played a ball forward and Antonio and Chico were in offside positions. They both showed no interest in the pass realising they were off but Noble ran onto the ball from an onside position and the flag went up immediately? When you compare this decision to the Kane debacles it made no sense. As fans all we want is consistency from the officials and unfortunately we are not getting it whilst this rule still opens up too many grey areas. We certainly weren’t the beneficiaries of it on the weekend and I am firmly in the Shankly / Clough camp regarding players interfering with play (or gaining an advantage by not interfering).

One of the great exponents of taking advantage of the earlier changes to the offside rule was Ruud Van Nistelrooy. He continually breached the defensive line and had the uncanny knack of just putting himself onside when it mattered. No wonder he scored so many goals and I am sure his nous in reading the play around the offside rule contributed to many of them. You can only play to what the current rules are and you can’t blame the players for taking advantage of them. Indeed, credit has to be given where they do take advantage of them. In my opinion though, I find it a shame that this is one rule FIFA have interfered with too much. I am sure there will be differing opinions on this subject but enjoy the debate.

my apologies for not being able to attach a youtube video clip of the goals to support my article. I did have one yesterday but it has since been pulled down as I guess it may not have been legal

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Nostalgia

League Cup memories of 1972

I wrote last week that I really feel for the younger generation of West Ham fans that have seen us win – nothing. I guess the Play Off final of 2012 somewhat duplicates the emotions of a big Cup Final win but it would be nice if we could win some proper silverware again. Perhaps Tuesdays game against Bolton will be the second stepping stone to something special this season? However, today I look back at the 1972 League Cup and the amazing run it took us all on. It was a ride filled with all manner of footballing emotions from exhilarating to despair and everything in between. Amazing to think these events occurred over 45 years ago!

West Ham’s League Cup run started with a draw at home to Cardiff before winning the replay 2-1 in Wales. Never like to do things the easy way do we? Next up was Don Revie’s mighty Leeds. Again a draw at home followed by a totally unexpected 1-0 win in the replay at Elland Road after extra time! What did I say about the easy way? Two games down and both had gone to replays with one going to extra time. Just to ensure things did not get easier our next game was to be against Liverpool at home. More than 40,000 packed Upton Park that night as Pop Robson scored a late winner in a 2-1 victory. So to the quarter final and Pop scored a hat trick in a 5-0 win against Sheffield United. These two games had been the typical vintage type Hammers games under the lights. Cracking atmospheres and proper football played in the cool mist of an East End autumns night. As the steam rose off of the players the chants and singing from both North and South banks was relentless. But more was to come. What was promised was a two legged home and away semi- final against Stoke City, but what was delivered was quite extraordinary.

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The first leg was at Stoke and we came home with a 2-1 win and the Hammers were just 90 minutes away from Wembley. The second leg at Upton Park saw Stoke take the lead in the 73rd minute after a Tommy Taylor and John McDowell mix up. In the final minutes there came a memory I have never forgotten. I was right behind the North Bank goal to witness Harry Redknapp brought down in the box and Geoff Hurst stepped up to take the penalty that would have sent us to Wembley. Hurst was a brilliant penalty taker in his day. He always put the ball in the same spot but the power he hit the ball made it almost impossible for a goal keeper to stop. Well, history tells that Gordon Banks was to save Geoff’s spot kick and take us to extra time yet again. We huffed and we puffed that final 30 minutes but to no avail. So a third game was necessary and that was played at Hillsborough where the kick off was to be delayed by traffic congestion. Yet again it went to extra time but with no score it was to go to a fourth match to finally decide our fate. Ron Greenwood had lost the toss after the match for choice of venue and then found out that the team coach had been sabotaged. During the game someone had taken the petrol cap off and filled the tank with sand!

So on to the 26th January, nearly two months after the two teams first met, we trudged off to Old Trafford on the wettest and windiest night you could imagine. The stadium was under renovation at the time and Hammers fans that were there that night would remember there was no shelter for us against the elements. The match was packed with incident, starting with Stokes Terry Conroy kicking our keeper Bobby Ferguson “accidentally” in the head. Ferguson had to go off and Bobby Moore volunteered to go in goal. There was not the luxury of three subs back in those days and Ron Greenwood was hoping Ferguson would come good with a small spell off the pitch before considering our only substitute, Peter Eustace. Within minutes Stoke had a penalty and incredibly Bobby Moore saved Mike Bernard’s shot only for the rebound to be drilled back for the opening goal. Still playing with ten men and with Moore in goal, Billy Bonds fired us level and back in with a chance. A sublime Trevor Brooking volley put us 2-1 ahead before Dobing made it 2-2. Ferguson was to return in the second half but Stoke were to try and take every opportunity to exploit Ferguson’s now dodgy vision and Conroy struck the winner as we continually back pedalled to try and provide extra cover for him.

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It was finally all over! That Cup run saw us play ten games with three going to extra time and the four matches against Stoke saw 420 minutes played in front of a total attendance exceeding 170,000. In days of muddy pitches and no penalty shoot outs, this tie will never be forgotten by fans who witnessed the incredible marathon. Stoke went on to beat Chelsea 2-1 in the final. It is their only major trophy in the clubs history. They were to go on to finish 17th in the “old” first division that season whilst we finished 14th. Two of the teams we beat on our run, Leeds and Liverpool came 2nd and 3rd to Champions Derby County in a season where just one point separated the top four.


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