With my thoughts turned to Dream Teams this week, I suddenly remembered that I had a copy of ‘The Official West Ham United Dream Team’ sitting in my bookcase.
Written in 2003 by Adam Ward and Dave Smith, this book is a consensus on the greatest West Ham United XI based on a survey of West Ham United supporters. Adverts appeared in match day programmes and on the Club’s website asking fans to select their dream team in a 4-4-2 formation, with voting restricted to players from the modern era. The authors felt that it would be difficult to include stars from bygone days, such as Vic Watson, Syd Puddefoot and Jimmy Ruffell, as they were in the living memory of so few people; which would mean that their selection would probably be based on reputation and second-hand opinion.
Hundreds of fans responded, maybe you were in that number, and the results were compiled into this volume of facts and figures on West Ham’s greatest XI players in modern football. The book also includes interviews with some of the chosen players and their colleagues.
In his introduction to the book Ward said:
“One particularly interesting feature of the voting was that, unlike several of the other big clubs who have recently carried out similar polls to find their greatest XI, Hammers fans were not preoccupied with current stars. Several players who played in the 1957-58 promotion season received a significant number of votes, which proves that West Ham United supporters are rather more knowledgeable than rival supporters are about their favoured team.”
Billy Bonds was invited to write the foreword to the book and his words from 2003 make it clear that he holds West Ham supporters in the highest regard:
“….. I have the greatest respect for Hammers supporters. The Upton Park crowd has always been fair … even if the Chicken Run rarely gave a player a second chance. But, above all else, Hammers fans know their football. They know how they like the game to be played and they know a good player when they see one, as has been shown by the results of the poll for this book.”
His contribution also includes his personal opinion on each of the players chosen by the fans for this particular Dream Team and he had this to say on their choices:
“I would be lying if I said I agreed with every one of the selections, but they are all great players … though, of course, I can’t really give a fair judgement on the number 4!”
As I’ll be attending the Hammers Heroes Dream Team event on Thursday this week I thought it would be interesting to compare the West Ham fans’ choices of 2003 with the selection made by an expert panel of West Ham stars in 2014. Let’s see whether Billy Bonds, Sir Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Julian Dicks, Tony Cottee, Phil Parkes, Brian Dear and Tony Gale agree with the fans’ Dream Team and also whether any players from the intervening decade have made their selection grade. Watch this space for the outcome of their deliberations.
And what about you? Do you agree with the players chosen by West Ham supporters just over ten years ago and would you replace any of them with players who have graced the pitch at Upton Park since then?
One of the things that I’m looking forward to on Thursday night is hearing first-hand the views and anecdotes of the panel on their West Ham Dream Team. Listening to players recount their experiences of their heydays brings memories to life in a way that the written word simply can’t. For those of you who don’t have a ticket (cough) I’ll leave you with Billy Bond’s personal thoughts on each of the players chosen by the fans a decade ago:
1. Phil Parkes
‘One of the all time greats for me. I’ve always said I’d put him in the top five goalkeepers I’ve ever seen play. He’s up there with the likes of Shilton, Banks, Clemence and Schmeichel. He was also a smashing fella, a really likeable man who didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Ernie Gregory would call one or two of us over after training to give Phil a bit of extra practice – shooting or crossing – and, when he was trying, you just couldn’t beat him. I don’t know how he’d have handled the back-pass rule with his dodgy knees but there’s no doubt he was a tremendous keeper.’
2. Ray Stewart
‘Ray was a terrific player and of course everybody remembers him for his penalties. But he was also a really solid defender; he was agile and quick, good on the ball with a ferocious shot and he was tough. Ray was everything you’d want in a right-back; he got forward well and he was strong defensively. He could also play at centre-back and made his debut in midfield, so he was versatile too.’
3. Julian Dicks
‘Julian was a player with whom I didn’t always see eye-to-eye when I was a manager, and we had our run-ins. He could be ill disciplined at times, but the crowd loved him because he always gave 100 per cent. He also had a fantastic left foot. It would be a close one between him and Frank Lampard, although Julian would probably shade it. Dicksy had the ability to get England caps but it’s probably fair to say that his reputation went before him a little bit.’
4. Billy Bonds
‘I didn’t really care where I played … midfield or right-back. Centre-half was probably my least favourite position, because you were a little bit out of the action there and you have to be more disciplined. I went on for so long that a lot of people do still remember me as an old centre-half, an old war-horse if you like. But I think my best days were in midfield. It was my sort of role, I could roll my sleeves up and get stuck in and get forward, scoring my few goals as well. Of course I got tagged a bit, as a hard man, a ball winner, captain fantastic, and all that, but John Lyall must have thought I could play a bit too, otherwise I wouldn’t have been in West Ham’s midfield alongside Brooking and Devonshire.’
5. Alvin Martin
‘I remember Alvin when he came into the side; a cocky little Liverpudlian with his long legs like Bambi. When I say cocky, I mean cocky on the ball; he’d want to dribble past people all the time. Sometimes he would take liberties and get caught out, and he got quite a few ruckings in the early days. But he took the lessons on board and listened to the advice; I shook my fist at him a few times too, but the penny dropped and he became a great centre-half. He and Moore were both very comfortable on the ball. One thing about Alvin, though, is that I never played with or against a better header of the ball. When I had him as a manager he was in his mid-30s, but there’s no substitute for quality and experience, and that’s what he gave us. He was a terrific reader of the game and still excellent in the air.’
6. Bobby Moore
‘They use the word superstar too easily nowadays, but he was the genuine article. Bobby Moore was definitely a superstar both on and off the pitch. He was somebody you just looked up to: he wasn’t a great talker on the pitch, that wasn’t his way. Everybody simply respected him, and there was an aura about him, no doubt about it. Everything he did on the pitch was quality and he was a really nice, down-to-earth bloke off the pitch. For me, personally, as I say, I was always in awe of him, and when he left I took over as captain and his boots were big ones to fill. It’s a pleasure to be able to say that I played alongside him.’
7. Martin Peters
‘I remember speaking to Ronnie Boyce about the three World Cup winners and Ronnie – who of course grew up alongside them – said that Martin was the most gifted of the three when they were kids. He obviously made his name as an attacking midfielder, ghosting into the box, and he scored a phenomenal number of goals. He was superb in the air, a great passer of the ball and a great taker of chances. He had fantastic ability and he could play anywhere.’
8. Trevor Brooking
‘The first thing you have to say about Trevor is that he’s a gentleman. He was my roommate and my best mate at the club and somebody I could always trust implicitly. He’d help anybody and he’s been a smashing ambassador for the game. He’s also one of the greatest midfield player’s this country’s ever had. He was a great crosser of the ball, he had two good feet, but his greatest skill was that he could beat people. They talk about his lack of pace, but when you could beat people as easily as he could, you don’t always need it.’
9. Geoff Hurst
‘I wasn’t at the club at the time, but I understand that Geoff had been a midfielder and hadn’t been anything special in his early days. But Ron Greenwood put him up front and the rest is history. He was a big strong targetman who was good at holding the ball up and who had a great touch but he was also an excellent goalscorer. He had a powerful shot and was a fine header of the ball. I’d liken him a bit to Mark Hughes, who was another player who was extremely good with his back to goal.’
10. Paolo Di Canio
‘His ability on the ball is unquestionable but he’s not really an out-and-out centre-forward. In a team that’s already got Brooking and Devonshire in it – players who like to drop deep, pick up the ball and run at people, I would have preferred to have had a genuine striker like Bryan “Pop” Robson. In my ideal team Bryan would have been perfect to play off Geoff Hurst. My big question mark about Paolo is whether he’d let you down. I have to be honest, I don’t think he’s a team player. Having said that, he’s a smashing talent and I can see why the crowd love him. He’s an entertainer, he gets you out of your seat and does things that other players couldn’t even dream of.’
11. Alan Devonshire
‘Dev came from non-League football, and I remember him turning up for training and there was nothing of him, he never carried a lot of weight, and we thought “blimey, this kid needs a good dinner!”. We wondered if he’d get bullied and whether he’d withstand the physical side of things, but what a good player he was. Frank Lampard appreciated him too, he worked up and down the line and never went missing, always did his job defensively. But the real strength of Dev was his ability to go past people. He’d take the ball right up to defenders and just when you thought he was going to get it nicked off him, he had that yard of pace to take it away from them.’