Dan Coker's Match Preview

With England playing the Czech Republic in Euro 2020 qualifying yesterday, the first part of my look at the Hammers’ Czech Connections focuses on a man who came ‘from near Moscow and played in goal for West Ham’…

Ludek Miklosko was born in Prostejov, a city in the Olomouc region of then-Czechoslovakia, on 9th December 1961 and came through the youth systems at Zelezarny Prostejov and, later, Baník Ostrava. He made his senior debut with RH Cheb (now known as Hvezda Cheb) in 1980 at the age of 18 and returned to Banik Ostrava in 1982; he made his debut for Czechoslovakia in the same year.

After eight years with Banik Ostrava, including winning the Czech league title, Miklosko signed for Lou Macari’s West Ham United in February 1990 for a bargain £266,430. Macari had given trials to the 6’4 Miklosko in December 1989 but it was two months later before he received work permit clearance to play in Britain. Ironically, Macari never got to manage his new signing in a match as the Scot was already on his way out of the club when the 28-year-old Miklosko made his Hammers debut in a 2-2 Second Division draw at Swindon on 18th February 1990 – he went on to keep seven clean sheets in 19 appearances under Billy Bonds in the remainder of his first season. The club finished seventh, two points and one place short of a play-off spot. Miklosko was in the Czechoslovakia squad for the 1990 World Cup in Italy but didn’t play a game, with future QPR custodian Jan Stejskal preferred between the posts.

Embed from Getty Images

Miklosko was a Division Two, FA Cup and League Cup ever-present in 1990/91, keeping 25 clean sheets in 56 appearances in all competitions during a season in which his popularity was underlined by being voted Hammer of the Year. The Irons won promotion and reached the FA Cup Semi-Finals – the only match ‘Ludo’, as he was affectionately known, didn’t play in was a 5-1 Full Members Cup defeat at Luton, when Allen McKnight came into the side. Ludo’s 22 league clean sheets equalled the club record previously set by Phil Parkes.

Renowned for his agility, shot-stopping and long kicks which could often reach the opposing penalty area, Miklosko experienced top flight football in England for the first time in the 1991/92 season but the Hammers would be relegated in bottom position. He missed six league matches, four of which were lost, with Tony Parks his new understudy. Ludo kept 12 clean sheets in his 46 appearances. He played a key role in denting Manchester United’s title hopes, making two fantastic saves from Mark Hughes and Ryan Giggs, with Kenny Brown scoring the Hammers’ winner in a 1-0 victory. Ludo also kept a clean sheet in a goalless draw at eventual champions Leeds.

1992/93 would again see Miklosko play every league and major cup match, missing only an Anglo-Italian Cup tie against Bristol Rovers when rookie Steve Banks donned the gloves. Bonds’ Hammers won an instant promotion to the Premier League, with Ludo in fine form, particularly when saving a penalty from Sunderland’s Don Goodman in a memorable, televised 6-0 home win over the Wearsiders in October 1992. Miklosko played 55 matches in all competitions, keeping 23 clean sheets. He also retired from international duty in December 1992 having won 40 caps for Czechoslovakia.

Embed from Getty Images

Miklosko helped the Hammers establish themselves as a Premier League outfit in 1993/94, playing 51 matches and keeping 18 clean sheets as the Irons finished 13th and reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. ‘Ludo’ remained first choice under new manager Harry Redknapp in 1994/95, keeping 16 clean sheets in 48 games, playing a key role in the Hammers’ ultimate survival after a season-long battle against the drop. The Irons finished 14th but perhaps Ludo’s finest hour in a West Ham shirt arrived in the final game of that season when his fine saves from Lee Sharpe and Mark Hughes, and his role in the rearguard action against Andy Cole and his Manchester United team-mates denied the Red Devils the title in an incredible finish to the campaign.

1995/96 would see Miklosko miss his first league matches in four seasons, after a red card against Everton resulted in suspension. Julian Dicks took over in goal at Goodison Park, performing manfully as the Hammers went down to a 3-0 defeat in December 1995. 17-year-old Neil Finn started the New Year’s Day match at Manchester City in Miklosko’s absence, with Ludo’s wife helping to attach Finn’s name and number to his goalkeeper’s jersey in advance of the match – the Hammers narrowly lost 2-1. Les Sealey also got a game in goal at Newcastle, making several saves to keep the scoreline down to a 3-0 Magpies win. Miklosko saved a Keith Curle penalty when Manchester City were beaten 4-2 at Upton Park in March 1996 with the Hammers going on to finish in the top ten for the first time since 1985/86. Miklosko played 42 matches in all competitions, keeping 14 clean sheets.

The Hammers experienced a difficult 1996/97 season, finishing 14th and being knocked out of both cups by lower league opposition in Wrexham and Stockport. Miklosko missed two league matches and two League Cup matches through injury, with Sealey and Steve Mautone stepping in. Ludo kept nine clean sheets in his 41 appearances. It was around this time that Mikosko stepped out of international retirement to make two appearances for the newly-established Czech Republic.

1997/98 saw Craig Forrest join the club and, after only one clean sheet in 15 appearances in the first half of the season, the 35-year-old Ludo made his final Hammers appearance in a 2-0 defeat at Derby on 6th December 1997. Miklosko joined QPR in an initial loan deal in 1998, which was later made permanent for £50,000. He joins fellow West Ham goalkeeping greats Phil Parkes and Robert Green in having kept goal for both clubs.

Miklosko had made 373 appearances for West Ham in all competitions. He had kept 125 clean sheets, won the Hammer of the Year once and been promoted with the club twice. My video below is a compilation of some of Ludo’s saves in a West Ham shirt – it includes a rare interview with the man himself at a time when his English was in its fledgling phase, as well as plaudits from former team-mates Ian Bishop and Stewart Robson.

After three years at Loftus Road, Miklosko retired from playing and replaced Sealey as goalkeeping coach at West Ham under the new management of Glenn Roeder in the summer of 2001. He helped David James and Robert Green establish themselves in the England side during his time coaching at the club, which ended in March 2010, two months after the Sullivan/Gold takeover at the club. Now 57, Miklosko was back in east London for the re-naming of the Billy Bonds Stand earlier this month.