Dan Coker's Match Preview

Welcome to the seventh in a series of articles designed for international matches – a look back at former Hammers players who wore the Three Lions of England.

Today, as England prepare to face Tunisia in their opening match of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, we look back at a true legend of West Ham United Football Club – Alvin Martin. Alvin was born in Liverpool on 29th July 1958 and played schools football for Bootle and Lancashire and was attached to Everton as a schoolboy but left in 1974 after the Goodison Park club only offered him an apprenticeship on a part-time basis. An unsuccessful trial later that summer with Queens Park Rangers was followed by one for West Ham United, where he was awarded a contract as an apprentice on 19th August 1974, the year after Bobby Moore had left for Fulham. He appeared in the 1975 FA Youth Cup Final alongside Paul Brush, Alan Curbishley and Geoff Pike but the Hammers lost 5-1 over two legs to Ipswich. Alvin signed as a professional on 29th July 1976, his 18th birthday and made his first team debut at the age of 19 on 18th March 1978 as a substitute in a 4-1 defeat at Aston Villa. He scored on his first start for the club in a 2-1 win at Leeds on 8th April 1978 and made seven appearances towards the end of the 1977/78 season as the Hammers were relegated to the Second Division.

Strong in the air and a classy performer on the deck, Alvin made 23 appearances in 1978/79, scoring one goal in a 3-0 home win over Oldham on 24th February 1979. He became a firm fixture in the side the following season, making 55 appearances in a campaign which saw the Second Division Hammers win the FA Cup after victory in the Final against Arsenal at Wembley in 1980. Establishing himself at the heart of defence alongside skipper Billy Bonds, Alvin would be voted Hammer of the Year for the first time in 1979/80 and scored three goals that season, in a 2-1 win at Leicester in October 1979, a 2-1 home win over Sunderland in a League Cup fourth round replay on 5th November 1979 and a 2-1 home defeat to Birmingham on 22nd April 1980.

The Hammers would reach the League Cup Final the following season, Alvin’s header being handled on the line by Liverpool’s Terry McDermott with Ray Stewart scoring from the resultant penalty to force a replay, which the Irons lost at Villa Park. More happily though, the Hammers won promotion back to the First Division as second tier champions – Alvin scored twice in 60 appearances that season, in a 2-1 home win over Barnsley in the League Cup fourth round in October 1980 and in a 5-0 victory over Bristol City the following month. He would also taste European football for the only time in his career, playing all six of the Hammers’ matches in their run to the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. The 22-year-old was also given his first England cap by Ron Greenwood in a 1-0 defeat to Brazil at Wembley on 12th May 1981, with Zico scoring the winning goal. Alvin seemed a prime candidate to replace 34-year-old Southampton centre-back Dave Watson in the England team and received his second cap 11 days later as a half-time substitute in a 1-0 home defeat to Scotland.

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Alvin made 35 appearances in 1981/82 as the Hammers returned to top flight football and finished ninth. He scored four goals, all at the Boleyn Ground – one in a 1-1 draw with Everton in October 1981, a double in a 5-2 win over Coventry the following month and another in a 3-1 victory over Wolves in April 1982. He was also voted Hammer of the Year for the second time. Brighton centre-back Steve Foster and Ipswich pair Terry Butcher and Russell Osman were all getting nods for Greenwood’s England but Alvin played in a critical World Cup qualifier against Hungary at Wembley in November 1981, marshalling the defence superbly alongside Liverpool’s Phil Thompson as England won 1-0 to qualify for their first World Cup in 12 years. Alvin played in a 4-1 win over Finland in Helsinki in June 1982 but, alongside Osman and Watson, was left out of Greenwood’s squad for the World Cup in Spain with Foster getting the nod as reserve behind the established duo of Butcher and Thompson.

An eighth-placed finish followed in 1982/83 with Alvin scoring three goals in 45 matches and retaining his Hammer of the Year title, winning the award for the third time in four seasons – his three goals came in the space of six matches, in a 5-0 home win over Birmingham in September 1982, followed the following month by strikes in a 3-2 win at Arsenal and 3-1 home win over Liverpool, which took the Irons into the top two. He was sent off for the first time in his career in a 2-0 home win over Everton in November 1982. Bobby Robson had taken over as England manager and started Alvin in five consecutive matches between November 1982 and April 1983, four of them European Championship qualifiers.

1983/84 saw Martin record the exact same statistics as two seasons previously – four goals in 35 appearances – with the Hammers ironically again finishing ninth, as they had in 1981/82. Again, he scored all four at Upton Park in a 4-0 win over Birmingham in August 1983, the famous 10-0 League Cup second round second leg victory over Bury two months later, a 4-1 New Year’s Eve win over Tottenham and 3-1 triumph against Luton in April 1984. Alvin also won a further three England caps that season. The Hammers would dip the following season, finishing 16th in 1984/85 with Alvin scoring one goal in 49 appearances, in a 2-2 draw at Luton in November 1984. With Robson testing out Tottenham’s Graham Roberts, Norwich’s Dave Watson and Southampton’s Mark Wright, Alvin only played once for England that season, in a 1-0 win at Windsor Park as the Three Lions beat Northern Ireland in a World Cup qualifier.

1985/86 would go down as the finest league season in West Ham United’s history as the Irons recorded their highest ever finish of third. Captain of the side and having established a strong central defensive partnership with Tony Gale, Alvin made 50 appearances, scoring four goals, all at the Boleyn and all in the crucial, exciting run-in. He was sent off in a 1-0 defeat at Arsenal in March 1986 but scored an important winner in a 1-0 win over Southampton in April 1986. Later that month, on 21st April 1986, Alvin’s ‘quiz question’ moment arrived – he scored the only hat-trick of his career with each goal being scored against a different goalkeeper in a terrific 8-1 win over Newcastle. His first two goals were headers from set-pieces but his third was a penalty – not the assigned penalty-taker, the ball was handed to Alvin by Ray Stewart with the crowd chanting the skipper’s name to claim his rare and unusual hat-trick, scoring past England colleague Peter Beardsley.

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Alvin started two England matches in the run-up to the 1986 World Cup and was named in Robson’s squad for the tournament in Mexico. QPR’s Terry Fenwick was the man preferred alongside Butcher until Fenwick was suspended for the second round match against Paraguay. Alvin stepped in and helped England to a clean sheet and a quarter-final spot as the Three Lions defeated the South Americans 3-0. Robson dropped him for the clash with Argentina though, with Fenwick restored to the starting XI – Diego Maradona scored twice and England were knocked out.

The Hammers would drop dramatically in the league in 1986/87, finishing 15th in the First Division. Alvin scored twice in 20 matches – in a 2-2 draw at Sheffield Wednesday in September 1986 and 3-1 defeat at Manchester City in December. He was also sent off in a 2-0 home win over Luton in September and missed a total of six months of the campaign due to problems with his instep. With Arsenal’s Tony Adams emerging on the international scene, Alvin won his 17th and final England cap in a 1-0 defeat to Sweden in Stockholm in September 1986. The injury problems continued into 1987/88 with a series of operations and further setbacks limiting ‘Stretch’, as he was nicknamed, to making 18 appearances without scoring. Alvin has this to say about West Ham’s failure to build on the 1985/86 campaign:

“If you have a good team, we knew you needed maybe one or two players to strengthen it the following season, but I don’t really believe that John Lyall was given the brief or the funds to say, “Right, OK, go and get us the title next year.” I think West Ham’s mentality at that time was, “OK, we’ve had a good season, let’s settle for where we are, we’ll more or less stay in the top half of the table.” I think that was the way the club was run, on a firm financial footing where they didn’t want to take any risks. There was money spent the following year but I don’t think they went out with a view that said, “We have a title-winning side here, let’s push it on.” Maybe another board would have done it. I think the board was financially astute and was running a club that wasn’t going to lose money. If they wanted to push on, they’d have had to spent big on two or three positions. We had a generation of players who all totally trusted the manager, John Lyall, who was a father figure. John’s word was taken and never opposed because we all had so much respect for him. We always just left all the football stuff to John and then he’d deal with the board and do the contracts and spend the money. But John spent money as if it was his own. He felt a real responsibility to the club and to the fans, which is admirable. I wish he was still around now because a lot of people think spending will save their job, whereas John always made every decision in West Ham’s interest and in the fans’ interest."

Disaster struck in 1988/89 as the Irons were relegated from the top flight and John Lyall, who Alvin had worked with for more than a decade, was sacked. The season began with Alvin’s first testimonial with the club, a 2-0 win over Tottenham in August 1988. Alvin returned to the side more regularly, making 38 appearances and scoring three goals – two in a 5-0 League Cup third round win over Derby in November 1988 at Upton Park and one in a 4-1 defeat at Luton later the same month.

Life under Lou Macari was short-lived, with Alvin’s former defensive partner Bonds taking over the top job in February 1990. Alvin scored twice in 43 appearances as the Hammers returned to the second tier, with both strikes coming in cup competitions and both at the Boleyn – his first goal of 1989/90 came in a 5-2 win over Plymouth in the Full Members Cup in November 1989 with his other strike arriving in the second leg of the League Cup semi-final against Oldham in March 1990, a match the Hammers won 3-0, but a tie they lost 6-3 on aggregate after the ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’ at Boundary Park in the first leg. The Hammers would win promotion under Bonds in 1990/91, with ‘Stretch’ making 23 appearances and scoring one goal, in a 1-1 home draw with Wolves in September 1990.

Alvin was to suffer a significant spell out of the side through injury though, not playing for 16 months between December 1990 and April 1992 due to an Achilles injury. The Hammers were adrift at the bottom of the First Division and well on their way to relegation by the time of his comeback game, a 4-0 win over Norwich which was the Hammers’ biggest win of the season. He played seven games in 1991/92 including the full 90 minutes of a 1-0 win over Manchester United too, a result which dealt a massive blow to the Red Devils’ title dreams.

1992/93 was a generally happier campaign all round, with Alvin making 32 appearances as the Hammers secured promotion to the Premier League but he would miss the final four months of the season with another Achilles injury. ‘Stretch’ scored one goal that season, in a 6-0 home win over Sunderland in October 1992. He made 11 top flight appearances in 1993/94, scoring two goals – one in a 2-0 win over Oldham in November 1993 and another in a 4-2 defeat to Newcastle in March 1994. The Hammers would finish 13th on their return to the top flight. With Alvin’s hairline having receded significantly over his time with the club, the Hammers supporters, who adored him, had a new ditty for their hero:

Alvin Martin, Alvin Martin
Alvin, Alvin Martin
He’s got no hair
But we don’t care
Alvin, Alvin Martin!

‘Stretch’ would make 28 appearances under new manager Harry Redknapp in 1994/95, being given a frankly ridiculous red card ten minutes into a game against Sheffield Wednesday in January 1995 when he stumbled inside the Owls half and inadvertently brought down Mark Bright – referee Paul Danson somehow viewed this as denying a goalscoring opportunity! The Irons would go on to lose 2-0 with the later dismissal of Tim Breacker sending the Hammers down to nine men. The Hammers finished 14th at the end of the season.

Alvin played 17 matches in 1995/96 as the Irons finished in the top ten – his final appearance for the club came on 5th May 1996 as an 88th-minute substitute for Iain Dowie but Jon Newsome would score an equaliser a minute later for Sheffield Wednesday in a 1-1 draw, a game which saw young pretender Rio Ferdinand make his senior debut. Earlier that season, Alvin had enjoyed his second testimonial with the club with a match against Chelsea – in the club’s history, only he and Bonds have been afforded two testimonials. Chris Waddle, Jamie Redknapp and Steve McManaman all turned out in claret and blue, while the lesser-spotted Marco Boogers netted in a 3-3 draw – Danny Williamson and Don Hutchison also scored for the Hammers. Looking back on his time at West Ham, Alvin had this to say:

“I had opportunities to leave and other clubs could have bought me. There were times when I could have joined the top clubs. Tottenham approached West Ham three times during my career. I could have gone to Arsenal. But once John said, ‘No, we’re building a team around you’ I was happy because it was where I wanted to be. Even now, I have no regrets. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at West Ham. Twenty-two years on, I have links and have stayed around the area and have a close bond with the supporters. These days, because players sometimes only stay for a year or two they don’t really gain a position of trust with the supporters. I was with a group of players who – seven or eight of them – stayed for 10 years or more. They’re synonymous with the name West Ham and some of the modern-day players don’t get that. They get better financial rewards, but they don’t get the link with the community or the supporters.”

Alvin Martin made 596 appearances for West Ham United in all competitions, scoring 34 goals. 15 of these goals can be seen in my video below, alongside footage from his second testimonial. Alvin is fifth on the all-time list of appearances for the Irons, behind only Bonds, Frank Lampard, Bobby Moore and Sir Trevor Brooking. He was also named Hammer of the Year three times – only Brooking, Moore, Bonds and Julian Dicks have won it on more occasions.

Alvin would move to Leyton Orient on a free transfer in 1996 at the age of 37, spending a season at Brisbane Road before being named manager of Southend in 1997. Since leaving the Shrimpers Martin, who turns 60 next month, has been a radio regular on TalkSport. His elder son, 32-year-old David Martin, is currently a goalkeeper at Millwall – he represented England from Under-16 to Under-19 levels and made over 200 appearances at MK Dons. David has also turned out for Wimbledon and had loan spells with Accrington, Leicester, Tranmere, Leeds and Derby while he was on Liverpool’s books. Alvin’s younger son, 29-year-old Joe Martin, is currently at Stevenage – he represented England at Under-16 and Under-17 levels and made over 150 appearances for Gillingham, as well as representing Blackpool and Millwall.

Tunisia v England

England face Tunisia this evening in their opening match of the 2018 World Cup – it will be the third meeting between the two nations. The pair have met once before in the World Cup, just over 20 years ago on 15th June 1998, ironically also in the Three Lions’ opening game in Group G. Baddiel & Skinner & The Lightning Seeds were number one with ‘Three Lions ‘98’, The Wedding Singer topped the UK box office and cartoonist Reg Smythe, who created the Andy Capp comic series, had died two days earlier at the age of 80.

Glenn Hoddle’s England took the lead three minutes before half-time courtesy of captain Alan Shearer. Chelsea left wing-back Graeme Le Saux’s free-kick found 27-year-old Newcastle striker Shearer rising at the back post and his header clipped the inside of the post on its way past the prematurely-diving Esperance and Tunisia goalkeeper Chokri El Ouaer. It was the 19th of his 30 England goals, in the 40th of his 63 caps.

Former Hammer Paul Ince was the creator of England’s second in this 2-0 win, the Liverpool midfielder setting up 23-year-old Manchester United man Paul Scholes to curl an exquisite effort beyond El Ouaer and into the corner of the net.

England: David Seaman (Arsenal), Gareth Southgate (Aston Villa), Tony Adams (Arsenal), Sol Campbell (Tottenham), Darren Anderton (Tottenham), Paul Ince (Liverpool), David Batty (Newcastle), Paul Scholes (Man Utd), Graeme Le Saux (Chelsea), Teddy Sheringham (Man Utd), Alan Shearer (Newcastle).

Sub: Michael Owen (Liverpool) for Sheringham.

Tunisia: Chokri El Ouaer (Esperance), Hatem Trabelsi (CS Sfaxien), Mounir Boukadida (Etoile Sahel), Khaled Badra (Esperance), Sami Trabelsi (captain, CS Sfaxien), Jose Clayton (Etoile Sahel), Kaies Ghodhbane (Etoile Sahel), Skander Souayah (CS Sfaxien), Sirajeddine Chihi (Esperance), Adel Sellimi (Real Jaen), Mehdi Ben Slimane (Freiburg).

Subs: Zoubeir Beya (Freiburg) for Souayah; Imed Ben Younes (Etoile Sahel) for Ben Slimane; Tarek Thabet (Esperance) for H. Trabelsi.

The previous articles in the series are:
Ken Brown
Sir Trevor Brooking
Bobby Moore
David James
Alan Devonshire
Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne