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July 02, 2009

Something New to the Table

Something New to the Table

(Terry Roper and Tony McDonald West Ham in My Day Football World 2008)

It is not that hard to read a book that offers nothing more than pieces of paper with words on either side. These books are a trial to get from cover to cover, and the book will probably become abandoned on the coffee table, conveniently left on the commuter train, or discarded by the toilet for ‘loo reading.’ Some books will make you want to give up reading forever. Many football books are brought with excitement for Christmas and find themselves in the jumble sale or the bargain book bucket by mid March.  

You sense that some of these dreadful books have been designed to tick as many boxes as possible. One page will have a few grainy black and white photos to appease the over-60s fans, the central spine will be crammed with colour snaps of today’s heroes for the under fives, and some club shop adverts will be splattered onto the book covers. You wonder why someone thought that these books would sell when they are about as exciting as watching back episodes of Last of the Summer Wine. There are plenty of those books polluting the shelves of your local bookshops.

You will be pleased to note that West Ham in My Day is not one of those dreary books. This collection of interviews with former hammers communicates the passion of one of England’s most iconic football club, and this book does not read like a celebrity magazine. We do not have glossy colour pictures of ex hammers by their swimming pools in their second homes within Miami or Portugal. We get a very human ‘warts and all’ portrait of life at the club, and within the East End of London over nearly sixty years.

It is obvious that the stories within this book will reawaken a lot of memories for many Hammers fans, as well as the wider football community. It is a history of football book too. When you are reading this kind of book, it is easy to only read the profiles of the players that are familiar to you. In my case with this book, I would have read Mervyn Day’s interview as well as every chapter from Frank McAvennie onwards, but I would have failed to have got the point of this book, or understood the rich history of West Ham United Football Club.

The early tales from players that include Bill Lansdowne, Lawrie Leslie and Peter Brabrook talk about a game that seems to be totally different to the football of today. For the fan that believes that satellite television invented football and that all footballers are millionaires within their mansion pads in Surrey, the accounts make for revealing, and sometimes sobering, reading.

All of these accounts have an ‘honest’ dimension about them. For instance, many ex players talk about their frustration after being left out of the first team squad. The story of Mark Robson is one of particular heartbreak. This long standing hammers fan though that he had reached football’s version of seventh heave to play on the Upton Park pitch, but his dream lasted for only one season.

Despite the arguments, dressing room show downs, and training ground fights these interviewees always show an undying respect for the fans and the institution of West Ham United Football Club. Many of these players look fondly upon their time at West Ham, and it is not surprising that many of these legends are still living in the local area. Each story ends with an interesting insight into what the players did after leaving Upton Park and the various tales disprove the theory that all players end up either within the manager’s dugout, the pundits studio, or pictured outside a city night club for the front of the tabloids.

It is no surprise that I know more about more recent players who wore the Hammers shirt. Most of my Hammers friends had a mixture of awe, pride and slight nervousness about Julian Dicks. Dicks was a cult hero for them and you sometimes wondered if they were trying out some of his uncompromising moves during some school matches. The book talks about Dicks doing an unconventional pre-match warm up routine and opting for Coca-Cola rather than energy drinks in the final minutes before leaving the dressing room. Would that be allowed in today’s game?

The commentary about Tim Breaker covers the yo-yo years of the early nineties as well as the initially controversial changes in the management set up involving Billy Bonds and Harry Redknapp. Local lad, Mark Robson talks about his one full season at Upton Park. The book finishes with an interview with John Moncur. Like Dicks, Moncur was another cult hero amongst by Hammers friends and you wonder whether he ever got the recognition that he deserved. After opting for West Ham over Chelsea and withstanding the managerial turbulence involving Bonds and Redknapp, he became regular fixture in the centre of midfield.

The Moncur years also covered the Redknapp’s random foreign signings, the emergence of a batch of exciting young footballers including Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. The Glenn Roeder years are also mentioned when Moncur argues that “I was basically told that my age was against me and that he didn’t think I could do a job for the team.” He describes the 2003 side as the “most talented brunch of players in West Ham’s history. But they were lacking the commitment and desire you need to go with it.”

John Moncur believes that the fans “love players who would give 100% every week and also be able to put their foot on the ball and show a bit of skills,” but all of these accounts, in their different ways, seem to recognise this philosophy. Despite various on and off the field issues, the next generation of players seems to breaking into the first team and I hope that they recognise these sentiments of the fans. Without question, the stories of the next generation of players should be told in a similar book in the future.

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