The Iron Liddy Column

This week I’ve been leafing through some 1972 back copies of Shoot that I bought for Mr Lids on his 40th birthday three years ago. I was looking for some inspiration for an article to give you a bit of light relief from our current anxiety but I couldn’t help smiling wryly when I read Bobby Moore’s column in the 1st July issue. Forty-three years may have passed since he penned this article but Bobby could just as easily have been writing from his sun lounger in Spain this summer:

Bobby Moore writes for you:

Season 1971-72 is over. The Cups and trophies have been won. And while West Ham didn’t collect any of the honours, we didn’t have too bad a time. At least there weren’t any of the relegation fears we suffered the previous term, when we escaped the drop to Division Two by only one place. We ended up in a comfortable mid-table spot this time.

But don’t get the idea that we’re complacent, that we’re not setting our sights high enough. Our main aim is still to collect the Championship, and that’s not beyond us next season if we can eliminate our major fault …. inconsistency, the inability to maintain a level of good form.

Last season we’d play well in one game, and then slump in the next for no apparent reason, and that’s been a feature of West Ham performances for too many years now.

I don’t know why we have this weakness, but obviously we must rectify it.

After our match against Leeds at Upton Park last Easter, Manager Ron Greenwood said to us: “Why can’t we play like that all the time?”

In the opening-half of that match we played really well and established a two goal lead. The Yorkshire team, who had previously been carrying all before them with a string of impressive displays, looked to be well beaten. And even though we allowed them to come back and get two bad goals – from our point of view – there’s no doubt that we were the better team on the day and worth more than the one point we picked up.

In that match, and the League Cup Semi-Final games against Stoke, we gave our best performances of the season – against two of the most successful teams in the country you’ll note. And yet on several occasions we were disappointing when facing lesser opposition.

As I’ve said, we all wish we could find the reason. It’s a mystery to us that we’re so unpredictable. But West Ham supporters can rest assured that we’re working on the problem.

Our troubles began early last season – right at the beginning in fact. We lost our first three games without netting a goal, and we still didn’t manage to score in our fourth match – against Ipswich at Upton Park – although we collected our first point with a 0-0 draw.

At that stage we had the uneasy feeling that our bad luck was going to go on and on, continuing from the previous season, because quite honestly we had been a bit unfortunate. 0-1 defeats by West Brom and Nottingham Forest could easily have gone the other way.

Mind you the 2-0 beating Derby dished out to us at the Baseball Ground was fair enough. No arguments, they deserved to win.

Anyway, after those first four games the breaks started to go our way, I’m happy to say, and we lost only once in the next 11 League games – against Manchester United at Old Trafford – picking up 16 points in the process. And by then we’d climbed up to ninth place in the table, only six points behind United, the leaders.

But along came another of those inexplicable slumps, and we didn’t win any of our next seven League matches.

Things had gone better for us in the League Cup, though. We’d knocked out Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield United, and at that time were all square after two Semi-Final matches – at home and away – with Stoke City.

And although we eventually lost to Stoke – in that dramatic second-replay at Old Trafford – we felt we were unlucky not to reach Wembley.

Nevertheless, the League Cup run did us a lot of good. Take another look at the list of teams we beat and you’ll see that we overcame some formidable opposition. Leeds 1-0 on their own ground in a replay; powerful Liverpool; and Sheffield United, who had made a great start to the season and were in fourth place in the table when we met them. We beat Liverpool 2-1 and walloped United 5-0.

Yet for all that our League Cup-tie with Second Division Cardiff was even more encouraging. After drawing 1-1 against them at Upton Park, we were 0-1 down in the replay with only about 10 to 15 minutes left, and if the match had been played the previous season we’d have probably been beaten 3-0.

Having hit the woodwork, had several near misses and been thwarted by some good saves, we might have decided that it wasn’t our day and given up.

But not this time. We felt sure a goal would come, kept plugging away and in the end it all came out right with two late goals from Geoff Hurst.

In other words, we’d learned to believe in ourselves and our methods, the hallmark of all really good teams. We’d proved we have the resolution and determination to succeed.

I think a lot of my team-mates can feel pleased with their overall performances last season. Goalkeeper Bobby Ferguson, who struggled to find his best form for some time after joining us in 1967, finally proved his true worth. He consistently handled the ball well.

Our two young full-backs, Johnny McDowell and Frank Lampard, gained a lot of valuable experience, with Frank also winning England Under-23 caps.

And centre-half Tommy Taylor, in his first full season in the First Division, showed that he can develop into a really fine player. He’s strong, fast and good in the air – he has everything a player in his position needs.

In midfield Trevor Brooking, Pop Robson and Billy Bonds did exceptionally well.

Trevor is an accomplished midfield man. He doesn’t look to be very fast, but that’s deceptive. He glides past opponents easily enough. He had a wonderful season and fully deserved to be voted “Hammer of the Year” by our supporters.

Robson was a striker when West Ham bought him from Newcastle. He used to hover on the edge of the penalty-area, waiting for big Wyn Davies – now with Manchester City, of course – to set up openings with headed flicks.

But we play a different style to Newcastle and Pop operates deeper, running through from behind. He’s a great professional, the sort of player who does anything well, and seems to be enjoying his new role.

When people talk about Billy Bonds, people usually refer first to his enthusiasm, fitness and stamina, but take my word for it he also has a lot of skill. No-one at Upton Park underrates Billy’s vital contribution to our team.

We’ve had our successes up front too, especially Clyde Best. He made a great start, and although things didn’t go quite so well in the middle of the season – perhaps it was the effects of the heavy grounds – he regained his form as the pitches became firmer. His total of well over 20 goals for the season is an indication of his ability.

So as we wait for the new season we’re feeling pretty optimistic. If we continue our rate of improvement we could well be up among the front-runners.

At our best we know we’re a match for any team in the country – and we’re determined to be at our very best a lot more often in 1972-73!

But right now I’m determined to forget all about football. Much as I love the game, it’s great to have a break from it, and at the moment I’m enjoying a nice long holiday in Spain with my wife, two children and some friends.

Just relaxing, trying to build up a sun-tan, enjoying myself in the swimming pool and playing some golf.

It’s the best way I know of shrugging off all the pressures of a hard season, and I’m pleased that this year I have the opportunity of a fairly lengthy rest.

I know I’ll feel the benefit when next season begins.

So at present the only real work I’m doing is writing this column. That’s a job I enjoy and I hope you like reading it.

Until next week …

As I sit here quietly reflecting on our hero’s words as they echo down the years a few salutary thoughts come to mind.

Firstly, Bobby confirms something that all true Hammers know in their heart, that we are frustratingly, and sometimes mystifyingly, inconsistent. He didn’t know why we were then and I don’t know why we still are today, we just are. It’s an interesting and perplexing notion that it’s a trait that’s simply a part of the fabric of West Ham as much as our colours are claret and blue. How can a characteristic like inconsistency persist through different generations of players, managers and fans? I don’t know the answer but it’s the one thing that most West Ham fans agree on with a resigned shrug.

The second thought that came to mind is how many of those teams that Bobby wrote about are still in the top tier of English football today? Oh I know we’ve had our yo-yo years but we’re still contenders, we’re still in with a shout. Would you rather be a Derby fan or a Leeds fan today? I think a top 6 finish or a top 4 place and Champions League football are much smaller dots on their horizon than ours, don’t you? We still have something that Bobby had then, the comfort of a mid-table finish despite some unpredictable performances and the optimism that we can build upon that to achieve something better. At least some of us do.

As Bobby said, that doesn’t mean that we should be complacent, of course we shouldn’t, our current team should have the same ambition as he had back then; to play at our very best this season and to finish as high as possible. As it happens West Ham had a good start to our 1972/73 season but six games in we’d suffered three losses in a row and slipped back down to mid-table mediocrity again. Do you suppose that West Ham fans were booing Bobby, Billy, Trevor et al as soon as a few results didn’t go our way in 1972? I doubt it.

My overriding thoughts, however, were these. The day before Bobby’s article was published, on 30th June 1972 my husband came into this world; a tiny, squalling new-born, oblivious to the fact that his fate as a West Ham fan was already sealed and that he was in for a lifetime of highs and lows that he would share with his parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends and wife.

Conversely, a few stops up the District Line my dad’s last days as a Hammer had sadly also been sealed as, unbeknown to him, he was already suffering from the same awful disease that killed Bobby Moore.

For all I know my dad may have read that article in Shoot and shared Bobby’s optimism for the coming season. He was probably still dreaming of our glory days in the mid-60s and hoping that they would soon come again. I never got the chance to ask him because he passed away on the 1st February 1973 at the age of 33 without ever knowing that West Ham would once again equal their highest ever league finish to date of 6th place that season or that FA Cup victory was just a couple of years away.

As one Hammer came into the world, another was just leaving. And so it goes.

What I’m trying to say is that I know how frustrating and disappointing it is when results don’t go our way and we don’t seem to be signing the right kind of players to progress as quickly as we might like. I also sit over Upton Park dumbfounded and pained when we stylishly and confidently beat Arsenal away one week and then look like the Keystone Kops at home against Leicester and Bournemouth two weeks later. It’s all part of the rich tapestry of being a West Ham fan and if we’re as consistently inconsistent in the coming decades as we have been in the past then we’ve plenty of highs and lows still to come.

Surely the most important thing is that we’re all still here, still in this together, still part of the West Ham family; dreaming dreams of glories past and those still to come. Imagine if you found out today that you only had six months left on this mortal coil. Would you look back on your time as a West Ham fan and think that the only times that mattered and that the only times you were happy were when we won something; or would you remember all the wonderful times you spent with your friends and families making memories through the ups and downs of supporting the Hammers together?

Of course results matter but there’s so much more to being a West Ham fan than that; it’s about that sense of belonging, knowing that you’re part of something bigger, something special with a rich and wonderful history that you will hopefully pass on to future generations if you’re lucky enough to be blessed with children. Try not to spend your days as a Hammer focused on the negative. Have a moan if you must but then celebrate the kinship that you share with your friends, family and even strangers; it’s one of the few authentic things left in our society today.

Whatever the outcome at the end of this season and however happy, disappointed or frustrated you might feel at our performance in the league and in the cups, please take a moment to reflect on it all with a little perspective. Try to remember that, no matter where we finish and whatever we have or haven’t won, Bobby and my dad, and many of your loved ones too, would have given anything to be here to share it all with us.