Dan Coker's Match Preview

Welcome to the latest 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 the Czech Republic in their first Euro 2020 qualifier, we look back at a former Hammers and England defender. Rio Ferdinand was born in King’s College Hospital, Denmark Hill on 7th November 1978. He joined the West Ham United Academy in 1992 having been scouted by Frank Lampard Senior and made his first team debut on 5th May 1996 as a 17-year-old, coming on for Tony Cottee in the 68th minute of the final day 1-1 home draw with Sheffield Wednesday. Ferdinand’s first appearance for the club coincided with legendary centre-back Alvin Martin’s final outing in claret and blue – it was hoped that this was a symbolic changing of the guard, a passing of the baton with Rio seen as the long-term successor to ‘Stretch’, himself an England international. Further substitute appearances arrived in the early stages of 1996/97 at both Arsenal on the opening day and Sunderland a month later before a League Cup appearance from the bench in a 1-0 win over Barnet, with the winning goal in that game scored by Slaven Bilic.

Ferdinand joined Bournemouth on loan in November 1996 and Sir Alex Ferguson, who had Ferdinand watched during his two months with the Cherries, said he was “graceful, balanced, first touch like a centre-forward”. Having collected valuable first-team experience to go alongside his obvious natural talent, Ferdinand returned to Upton Park and made his first Hammers start in a disastrous 1-0 FA Cup third round replay defeat at the hands of Wrexham. With the Hammers also knocked out of the League Cup the previous month by another lower league side in Stockport and entrenched in a fierce battle for survival, Ferdinand had to grow up quickly. Coming on as a half-time substitute in midfield, he notched his first West Ham goal in a 2-1 defeat at Blackburn the following week, controlling a loose ball in the box expertly with his right foot before firing beyond Tim Flowers with his left. Ferdinand would miss only two of the remaining fourteen matches in 1996/97 (with the Hammers failing to win either of those he missed), with the young defender playing a crucial role alongside the likes of Bilic, Julian Dicks and new signings Paul Kitson, John Hartson and Steve Lomas in ensuring the Hammers successfully staved off the threat of relegation. My video below shows both of Rio’s goals in claret and blue.

After rounding off the 1996/97 campaign with a 2-0 defeat at the home of champions Manchester United, Ferdinand became a transfer target of Old Trafford boss Ferguson. Writing in his autobiography, Fergie states “Martin [Edwards, former Manchester United chairman] called the West Ham chairman, Terry Brown, who said: ‘Give us a million plus David Beckham.’ In other words: he’s not for sale”. Ferdinand made 35 Premier League appearances in 1997/98 as the Hammers improved and finished eighth and, at the age of 19, was voted Hammer of the Year by the club’s supporters – he remains, to this day, the youngest-ever recipient of the prestigious award. The 19-year-old Ferdinand had made his full international debut in a 2-0 Wembley win against Cameroon on 15th November 1997 and manager Glenn Hoddle went on to name Rio alongside cousin, and future Hammer, Les in his World Cup squad for France ’98, although the young centre-half did not receive any game time at the tournament.

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Ferdinand played a key role in securing West Ham’s highest-ever Premier League finish of fifth in 1998/99 and subsequently experienced European football with the Hammers the following season, playing every match in the successful Intertoto Cup campaign and appearing in three of the club’s four UEFA Cup fixtures. He played 47 games in total in 1999/2000, which was to prove his final full campaign in east London, but was left out of Kevin Keegan’s England squad for Euro 2000. His last game for the club was to be against his next employers, as West Ham went to Elland Road in November 2000 and beat big spenders Leeds 1-0 – Ferdinand was outstanding as Nigel Winterburn’s sole strike for the club won the match and, by the end of the following week, Rio was heading north for a fee of £18m, a transfer record between two British clubs at the time. It was also a world record fee for a defender. Rio had made 158 appearances for West Ham United in all competitions, scoring two goals. Chairman Terry Brown and manager Harry Redknapp claimed that, due to the uncertainty regarding the transfer system at the time, there was a possibility that no club would be in a position to be offered that type of money again. Nearly 19 years on, the current world record fee stands at £198m…

The transfer heralded the beginning of the end for West Ham United’s modern-day Golden Generation – six months later, Redknapp had left and Ferdinand’s team-mate from youth team to first team, Frank Lampard Junior, was quick to follow. Within two further years, Joe Cole and Glen Johnson had departed, with Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe also consigned to Upton Park history by the end of summer 2004. This collection of players have earned a total of 388 England caps, winning the Champions League, Europa League, Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup between them along the way. The proceeds from Ferdinand’s sale were spent on Christian Dailly, Rigobert Song, Titi Camara, Ragnvald Soma and Svetoslav Todorov – only one of those players (Dailly) made more than 25 league appearances for West Ham. The West Stand was coined by some fans as ‘The Rio Stand’ with many believing that some of the funds generated from Ferdinand’s transfer had helped complete a side of the ground which stood for just 15 years before it was knocked down.

Having been named in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad for the 2002 World Cup, Ferdinand established himself on the global stage – he had an excellent tournament and scored his first international goal in the 3-0 second round win over Denmark in Niigata on 15th June 2002. England were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Brazil.

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As Leeds struggled financially, Ferdinand left the Elland Road club just under two years after signing for them, moving on to Manchester United for a fee of £29.1m – manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s long-standing interest had not waned. In September 2003, however, he missed a drugs test and was banned from competitive football for eight months from January until September 2004, causing him to miss half a Premier League season, Manchester United’s FA Cup triumph, and Euro 2004.

Ferdinand again reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 2006 in Germany, and scored his second goal for his country in a 3-0 Euro 2008 qualifying victory over Russia at Wembley on 12th September 2007, with Steve McClaren now in charge. England would ultimately fail to qualify for the tournament but, under the stewardship of Fabio Capello, Ferdinand scored his third and final England goal in a 5-1 World Cup 2010 qualifier against Kazakhstan at Wembley on 11th October 2008, a match which saw the stylish centre-half captain his country for the second time (his first captaincy had been in a friendly match in Paris against France seven months earlier). Ferdinand’s final appearance for the Three Lions came at the age of 32 in a 2-2 Euro 2012 qualifying draw with Switzerland at Wembley on 4th June 2011.

After leaving the Hammers in 2000, Ferdinand went on to be named in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year six times by his fellow professionals, won six Premier League titles, three League Cups, six Community Shields, one Champions League and one FIFA Club World Cup. He won 81 caps for England, scoring three goals, and captained his country on seven occasions. After twelve years, 455 appearances and eight goals with the Red Devils, he left Old Trafford for QPR in 2014, spending one year at Loftus Road before hanging up his boots in the summer of 2015. Now 40, Ferdinand worked as a BBC pundit during the 2018 World Cup. Former Manchester United and England team-mate Paul Scholes said of Ferdinand:

“He was such a pleasure to play with and play in front of. To play in front of him, he made your job so easy. He was a great player, without a doubt the best centre-half I ever played with. I would say for a time as well he was the best centre-half in the world.”

England v Czech Republic

England face the Czech Republic this evening in their first qualification match for the 2020 European Championships – it will be the third post-Czechoslovakia meeting between the two nations. The pair have met twice before in friendlies, with the first match being a 2-0 win for England featuring the focus of today’s piece, Rio Ferdinand, and came in front of 38,535 at Wembley on 18th November 1998. Cher was number one with ‘Believe’, Antz topped the UK box office and the National Grid reported a surge in the use of electricity at 8pm, as the Coronation Street episode featuring the death of Des Barnes reached its conclusion.

Glenn Hoddle took charge of what transpired to be his final match as England manager and the Three Lions took the lead after 22 minutes. West Ham striker Ian Wright, winning his 33rd and final cap, centred from the left and Tottenham’s Darren Anderton finished low and left-footed into the corner past Petr Kouba. It was Anderton’s seventh and final goal for his country, in the 26th of his 30 caps.

The lead was doubled when Wright broke free down the left again – his cross found Dion Dublin who beat future Hammer Tomas Repka in the air to find Aston Villa team-mate Paul Merson, who finished with aplomb into the corner of Kouba’s net. Dublin and Merson were to both join Wright in winning their final caps for their country in this match. It was Merson’s third goal in his 21st cap. Lee Hendrie replaced Merson in the second half to win his only England cap.

England: Nigel Martyn (Leeds), Martin Keown (Arsenal), Rio Ferdinand (West Ham), Sol Campbell (captain, Tottenham), Darren Anderton (Tottenham), David Beckham (Man Utd), Nicky Butt (Man Utd), Graeme Le Saux (Chelsea), Paul Merson (Aston Villa), Dion Dublin (Aston Villa), Ian Wright (West Ham).

Subs: Robbie Fowler (Liverpool) for Wright; Lee Hendrie (Aston Villa) for Merson.

Czech Republic: Petr Kouba (Viktoria Zizkov), Tomas Repka (Fiorentina), Tomas Votava (Sparta Prague), Jiri Novotny (Sparta Prague), Jiri Nemec (captain, Schalke), Karel Poborsky (Benfica), Radek Bejbl (Atletico Madrid), Patrik Berger (Liverpool), Radoslav Latal (Schalke), Vladimir Smicer (Lens), Pavel Kuka (Nurnberg).

Subs: Martin Kotulek (Sigma Olomouc) for Novotny; Miroslav Baranek (Sparta Prague) for Latal; Roman Vonasek (Lokeren) for Nemec; Vratislav Lokvenc (Sparta Prague) for Smicer; Radek Sloncik (Banik Ostrava) for Kuka.

The previous articles in the series are:

Vic Watson
Jack Tresadern
Billy Moore
Ken Brown
Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne
Bobby Moore
Martin Peters
Frank Lampard Senior
Sir Trevor Brooking
Alan Devonshire
Alvin Martin
Paul Goddard
Stuart Pearce
Frank Lampard Junior
Joe Cole
David James
Robert Green