A week or so ago, I went with a few friends to a charity dinner, to celebrate the impending 50th anniversary of England’s one and only World Cup final triumph. Blimey, fifty years since we have won anything! Before the Euro 96 finals, which England hosted, the comedy duo David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, with the indie band, the Lightning Seeds, released a tune called “Three Lions”. It became the anthem of the summer:
Three lions on the shirt,
Jules Rimet’s still gleaming,
Thirty years of hurt,
Never stopped me dreaming…
Thirty years of hurt… it’s now fifty!
The charity that hosted the events was Sparks, who fund research into diseases and disabilities affecting young people, including the effects of premature birth. We heard some moving tales of the impact of premature births, which put the football hurt into perspective, for sure. There was also a silent and an open auction for a range of objects and holidays. The prices were a bit frightening – there were a fair few City types at the event – so I didn’t get a chance to get involved in that side of things. There was a chance to donate though, which we all did.
But the reason we were there was the main speakers. Two of my great footballing heroes from my younger days. Geoff Hurst, who scored the hat trick that won England the World Cup in 1966, and Trevor Brooking, perhaps the finest midfielder ever to wear a West ham shirt. He graced the team in the 70s and the 80s, the latter decade being when I used to go to all of West Ham’s home games, having just come down to London from university.
Geoff Hurst is the reason I support West Ham. And I was delighted to have the opportunity to tell him that during questions. At the age of seven in 1966, I hadn’t yet become a massive football fan. My dad was Arsenal. He was in the Royal Air Force and was away a fair bit on tours of duty. So I developed a bit of independence. It was the World Cup that awakened my interest in football, but even then I remember going out with friends during the final. We came back for extra time, I think.
England beat West Germany 4-2, and Geoff Hurst scored three. The other was scored by another West Ham player, Martin Peters. The captain was Bobby Moore… of West Ham. I don’t remember making a conscious decision, but that must have been the moment that my allegiance with West Ham began. And Geoff was my hero. I remember this because my next memory is of when we lived in Cyprus, between 1967 and 70. We’d listen to the BBC on the radio for the football results, and I remember exulting when Geoff Hurst scored six goals in an 8-0 victory against Sunderland in 1968. I was a Hammer, and have never wavered since.
I got my karma when my son, Kieran, rejected West Ham for Arsenal – at the age of seven! And Arsenal are very much my second team. But when the two play each other, my emotions tell me I am an Irons fan through and through.
Trevor Brooking is my favourite West Ham player of all time. A brilliant, apparently effortless midfielder, he was at his peak in the early eighties, when he combined with the left winger, Alan Devonshire – Devo – to produce the most exciting football I have seen at the Boleyn. He played for England 47 times and it should have been more. Ironically, it was an ex-West Ham manager, Ron Greenwood, who made him second choice on the left of England’s midfield to Liverpool’s Ray Kennedy on the basis that he wanted to construct England’s core from the Liverpool team which dominated English and European football in the late 70s and early 80s. Fair enough, but to sacrifice Trev…
Trevor didn’t score a lot of headers, but there were two memorable ones. The main one was when he scored the only goal in the 1980 FA Cup final – against Arsenal. West Ham were in the Second Division (now the Championship) that year, having been relegated the year before. They got back the year after the Cup final victory, as runaway champions. They also played brilliantly in the European Cup Winners cup that season, reaching the quarter finals. At that point they faced the mighty Dynamo Kiev, who had half of the Soviet Union team in those days. At the Boleyn, Kiev won 4-1, with one of the best displays of football I have ever seen. But in the away leg we beat them 1-0. Pride restored.
The other header was in one of the first games of football I ever went to. It was at Ipswich’s Portman Road in 1971. An England Under-23 game against Switzerland. 1-1 draw. (I must say I placed it as about 1973 and against Bulgaria until I checked). Trevor was just starting to break through and scored with an awesome diving header. A collector’s item!
Geoff is in his 70s now and Trevor in his 60s. They both looked incredibly fit and well at the dinner. Before and after dinner they were on the soft drinks. An example to all of us!
Geoff dominated questions – not surprising given that the occasion being celebrated was the ’66 World Cup victory. I asked him a question about what Mark Noble, West Ham’s current captain and midfield anchorman, had to do to get in the England squad. He is the most capped player at England U-21 level and has been in outstanding form this season. Geoff gave a long and reasoned answer, which essentially said that there was huge competition, especially with the young Spurs players like Dele Alli and Eric Dier coming through, and he may not be quite good enough. I’m not sure I agree, but it probably indicates what the football establishment thinks. Another West Ham stalwart in the past, Billy Bonds, suffered a similar fate. Never picked for England, when so many inferior players – flavours of the month – were.
I also got to speak to Trevor after the Q&A. Asked him about that partnership with Devo – they are still in touch. What a privilege to be able to speak to two of my all-time footballing heroes in the same evening. The player who made me support West Ham, and the player who embodied the values of the club, the preferred style of football – the West Ham way that poor ol’ Sam Allardyce never understood – like no other.
West Ham have had a fantastic season. They lie sixth today, one point behind Man Utd, who they still have to play. Man City faltered today, so if West Ham can win their last three games, it is not out of the question that they could sneak into the Champions League next season. A long shot, but still possible…
Things are looking up. We move into the Olympic Stadium next season. Slaven Bilic has been superb as manager this season. West Ham have rediscovered themselves – the West Ham of Geoff Hurst and Trevor Brooking is restored.
Come on you Irons!