There is nothing more satisfying as a supporter than seeing a young player come up through the youth system (or academy in modern parlance) and establish himself in the first team. Over the years we have been blessed with golden ages of plenty from our academy but there have also been periods of famine. In the Premier League age it is becoming increasingly rare for youth players to make it through the ranks and academies have become multi-cultural establishments; much different from bygone days when a youngster from Kent would have been considered exotic in our youth setup.
For every successful youth team product there are many more who simply fade away. Among these there are those who are hotly tipped for stardom but who ultimately do not deliver. We shall be taking a look at some of these ‘Boys Who Never Quite Made It‘.
As a young teen in the late 1960’s it was not uncommon to arrive at the game two hours before kick-off on a Saturday afternoon in order to get the favoured view from the North Bank terrace. This allowed plenty of time to read the match programme from cover to cover to discover, not only what the current state of play was in the unofficial London championship, but also what was happening in the Football Combination (reserves) and South East Counties League (youth teams).
For several years running the name of Roger Cross repeatedly appeared in the back of the programme as he rattled in the goals for youths and reserves. He scored when he wanted to even before that idea was born.
Cross was part of the same youth intake as Trevor Brooking (they were born just a few weeks apart in October 1948) and Sir Trev mentions Cross as one of his pals at the club in his autobiography, My Life in Football. Strange to think that I had never heard of Trevor Brooking before his debut but was eagerly awaiting a first sighting of Roger Cross.
Cross made his debut as a substitute (for John Sissons) in August 1968 during a 5-0 home win against Burnley and later that season went out on loan just down the road at Leyton Orient. The start of the 1969/70 season saw Cross get a brief run of games in the first team, scoring his only goal in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal at Upton Park; but that run came to an end by October and he was transferred to Brentford.
His playing career then took him to Fulham, Brentford (again), Seatle Sounders and Millwall before going into coaching with QPR. Cross renewed his association with West Ham in 2001 and held a number of coaching and scouting roles before parting company in 2011 as a cost-cutting measure during the Avram Grant revolution.