West Ham Till I Die

Nostalgia Series; Ray Stewart

Ray Stewart’s career at West Ham will be fondly remembered by fans of that era not just for his resolute defending, but also his fantastic penalty taking record. Ray joined the Hammers from Dundee United in 1979 for 430,000 pounds for what was then a record fee for a British teenager. The Scot was to go on to make 432 appearances for West Ham and scored 84 goals from right back. All but eight of his goals were from the penalty spot and at least three of those eight were from the goalkeepers initial saves from the penalties. There are differing views on how many penalties Ray actually missed during his West Ham career and Ray himself, when asked, does not include the ones where he followed up with these rebounds. Initial misses are most likely to be around ten as most stats say he scored 76 from 86 attempts. From my personal view the two most important penalties he ever took were in the quarter final of the FA Cup in 1980 against Aston Villa and in the League Cup final the following year at Wembley against Liverpool. Both were highly pressurised and important and Ray belted both of them home! And belt them he did. His style was no nonsense and hit with such power that both his feet ended up off the ground after striking the ball. The one against Villa was in the dying moments of the game and was to earn the Hammers a place in the FA Cup semi-final. It sent Upton Park into a literal frenzy. The one against Liverpool was to earn a League Cup final replay and was with the last kick of the match. Pressure indeed, but Ray just walked back and crashed them home.

However, Ray Stewart was not just a very good penalty taker. He added steel and tenacity at right back and was to play throughout the halcyon days of the eighties. He actually top scored in our FA Cup winning run in 1980 and played 39 games in the 1985/86 season where we achieved our highest ever top flight placing in third place. When Ray Stewart signed for West Ham in 1979 there was no internet, Sky Sports or Talksport. It was the Evening Standard back in those days who would normally break any transfer news if they could get their hands on the story before the Fleet Street elite. It was all over the Standard back page that West Ham had broken the British teenage player transfer record, and one who had only played 44 games in the Scottish League! What were West Ham doing? Time would tell that it would prove money very well spent.

But Ray, nicknamed Tonka, never did let the Hammers down. In his first season he was second top scorer with fourteen goals. His penalty taking style made him a fan favourite and his tackling style was often fearsome. Julian Dicks who was breaking into the West Ham side just as Ray’s career was finishing, went on to model his penalty style after Ray’s and he himself became a penalty legend in his own right. Ray Stewart actually scored in double figures four times in his first seven seasons at West Ham. His career highlights include the FA Cup win of 1980, the League Cup finals the following year and the quarter finals of the ECWC. Then there was the record breaking second division title performance in 1981 and a few seasons later the “Boys of ‘86”. He went on to play ten times for Scotland but says the “only time I ever had tears in my eyes was when Dalglish scored on that final day of the season in 1986 and Liverpool won the title instead of us”.

Sadly, Ray was badly injured in a game at Derby County in January 1989 and he was sidelined for fifteen months. He made a return in April 1991 and played six games in 24 days in an attempt to get fit. However, hamstring injuries had started to plague the fullback and he was released back to his native Scotland to end his career playing at St Johnstone and he played twice for Stirling Albion before bringing down the curtain on his playing career. He went on to manage Scottish teams Livingston and Stirling Albion before ending his football days at Forfar Athletic in 2004.

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