Tony Hanna's Musings
I was asked the other day – why have West Ham never won the league – especially when you consider the Moore, Hurst and Peters era and the Golden generation of Lampard, Ferdinand, Cole and Carrick? Realistically, the mid to late 60’s, the late 90’s/ early 2000’s and 1986 were the only opportunities in my fifty plus years of watching West Ham. I can certainly put forward the case on why the sixties team didn’t become Champions as I saw that team play on many occasions. I emigrated to Australia in 1980 and because of the demands of a young man trying to make a better life for himself in a foreign country it was a decade before I returned to the UK on holiday. Those years were like a time warp with no internet and only a one hour goals TV program on each week so most of you will have more of a clue regarding the 1986 campaign. My interpretation is that we were a little unlucky that year but our side probably overachieved on the back of the Cottee and McAvennie goal scoring partnership which banged in goals for fun. A bit like Shearer and Sutton for Blackburn in their 1994/95 glory season. The time warp for me was based on two things. Meeting old friends after a decade was not too startling as they were instantly recognisable despite most of them being a few pounds heavier and the hair being either absent or a little greyer. But meeting their kids, who many had been about six years old when I left and now they were sixteen – it left me thinking I might as well have been on a different planet. The second thing was where was my North Bank – and South Bank? Gone forever and for me Upton Park was never the same.
After that initial drought I became a regular visitor back and most of the holidays since have been structured around the West Ham fixture list. My best friend in the UK was married to Eddie Bailey’s daughter and tickets were always fairly easy to obtain. But what was very informative for me were my conversations with Eddie about the Golden generation. Eddie had of course played for Spurs and England but he was chief scout at West Ham then. I remember one conversation I had with him when I was wax lyrical about Joe Cole.”Carrick will have a better future” said Eddie. “Joe is very flash and has loads of talent but he won’t put his head down and work hard – he thinks it will all come too easily for him”. Whilst Joe Cole had a great career he never really did fulfil his true potential in my opinion and looking at what Michael Carrick has achieved I guess Eddie was right? Joe for me, could have potentially been one of the best players this country has ever produced. His move to Chelsea was not as productive for him as Frank Lampard’s.
One thing that was told to me was that the quartet of Ferdinand, Cole, Carrick and Lampard had made a pact to stay at West Ham and try to bring the club the honours it had always craved. They had come up through the Academy and it was clearly evident to all that this was the Golden Generation for the Hammers. These four players wanted to do it together. Many a good plan can come unstuck though and in November 2000 West Ham succumbed to money bags Leeds who came in with an incredible 18m pound offer for Rio and the club pushed the move through with all their might. It was a new British transfer record and a World record for a defender. He was only 22 and at the age of 19 had won Hammer of the Year. The first domino had fallen. The previous three seasons, West Ham under Harry Redknapp had finished in the top half of the League each season but 2000/01 was a very different story. The club finished 15th and Redknapp, unable to obtain the funds he wanted for new players left the club. His assistant Frank Lampard Snr also left and young Frank Jnr put in a transfer request on the back of his dads departure. Two seasons later the club were relegated with 42 points! Carrick and Cole were both soon to leave and what should have been the most promising time in West Ham’s history had become a nightmare. All four players went on to have distinguished careers elsewhere and to think we let them all go for a combined fee total of 39m pounds is laughable, accept it isn’t funny. Carrick went for just 3.5m and Cole for 6.6m!
So bad luck and bad management stopped that era from any chance of becoming Champions. What about the World Cup generation? We had three outstanding players in the shape of Moore, Hurst and Peters and we had been good enough to win the FA Cup and the ECWC? Well, basically the truth of the matter is that the rest of the team were too often not good enough. And our style of play was far too generous to be successful over a 42 game season playing on mud pitches for much of the season. The team always had enough in it to be good for a Cup run but the League was a different matter. The League was certainly much more open in those days – between 1965/6 and 1970 when Peters left for Spurs, a different club had finished Champions every year but we only managed a top half finish (8th) once! With three WC winners in the team? Two of the big problems that were never resolved were finding a decent centre half to partner Bobby Moore and also a solid goal keeper. If you read my article on Ron Greenwood recently you would know he missed a golden opportunity in signing Gordon Banks? Instead he signed Bobby Ferguson and he never lived up to expectations. Centre halves were signed – Alan Stephenson and John Cushley – but neither of them were what was required either. Whilst we could play teams off the park on our day, our day was all too far between. The five different Champions of the mid to late sixties had all been Northern teams and it was no secret that back in those days Southern teams were considered too soft. Perhaps the London drinking culture was one reason, another was that the Northern teams played with more hunger week in week out. Whilst Greenwood was making sure our players were not hurting anyone, the Northern teams were knocking the living daylights out of us to stop us from playing our cultured style. If that’s what it took, they did it.
So, we had three opportunities in the past 50 years. The first one saw us have three great players but that does not make a great team. The second saw us have four great players that were all too young at the time of their departure from the club and the team of ’86 was a once off throw at the stumps that nearly paid off. The question that then has to be asked is what was our Cup winning side of 1980 doing in the old second division? Now, that is a question that is harder to answer!