Following on from my “Don’t Press the Panic Button” article, for any readers that are younger then me (and most will be), I thought I would relate my “beginning of each season” experiences as a young supporter of West Ham in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Traditionally, of course, we have always had a reputation for performing badly in the second half of the season (down with the Christmas decorations?), but how did we fare in our opening games?
I’ll start with the 1965-66 season. I was eleven years old and had been at Wembley when we had just won the European Cup Winners Cup in May, after winning the FA Cup the season before that. Hopes were high that we would push on in the league. So what happened? We won just one game out of the first eight (a 2-1 victory over Leeds who were to finish runners-up at the end of the season). Five of those games were lost, including three consecutive games (two of them at home!) in one nightmare week where we conceded five goals in each of them (15 in total!). How could we possibly recover from that?
I’ll move on to the following season, 1966-67. England had just won the World Cup and, as we all know, West Ham were very instrumental in that. Hopes were high once again. So what happened? This time we won just one of our opening seven games, including defeats in the first three. How could we possibly recover from that?
The next season, 1967-68, we won just one of our first six games, conceding 18 goals in the process. Four of the games were lost. How could we possibly recover from that?
Let’s move on to 1969-70. We won our first two games to go top of the league, and then didn’t win any of the next seven, including five defeats, to plummet almost to the bottom. How could we possibly recover from that?
The following season (1970-71) we were at it again. This time we didn’t win any of our first ten league games. That’s right, ten games, no wins! How could we possibly recover from that?
Moving on to the following season (1971-72) we lost our first three games and drew the fourth 0-0. One point, bottom of the league, and not a single goal scored. How could we possibly recover from that?
By 1972-73 we were improving very slightly in our early season performances. This time we incredibly managed to win two of our opening seven league games, which included three consecutive defeats. How could we possibly recover from that?
But by the following year (1973-74) we were back to our old opening form. We didn’t manage to win a single match out of the first eleven league games played, drawing four and losing seven. We were bottom of the league at this point. How could we possibly recover from that?
And finally 1974-75, the season that ended with us winning the FA Cup. We won just one of our opening seven league games, and at this stage once again sat rock bottom of the league. How could we possibly recover from that?
The observant readers among you will have noticed that I missed a season out. Nine seasons out of ten we had dreadful starts. But one year was an exception. In 1968-69 we only lost one of our first eleven league games and were challenging at the very top.
So there you are, ten consecutive seasons taking me from age 11 through to age 21. In nine of the ten our start was equivalent to what we’ve seen this year. So which of the ten seasons do you think we finished highest in the league? Just looking at the bare facts you would probably opt for 1968-69. But you’d be wrong. In 1972-73 we finished in sixth place. And for all those poor starts, how many times did we get relegated in those ten seasons. That’s right, we didn’t. Not once!
And what about all the excuses that are being put forward for our poor start to this season? Did they apply then? Time and time again I keep hearing the same thing. Our poor start wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t moved to a new stadium. Well as you know, throughout those ten seasons we played at Upton Park. Fans citing that as an excuse for our poor start this year need to remember that Upton Park was not always the intimidating fortress that they remember.
Yes, our start is disappointing, especially after all the optimism following last season. Perhaps we set our expectations too high? The performances have been poor though. Throughout the years that I covered above we had players of the calibre of Moore, Hurst, Peters, Brooking, Bonds, Byrne, Boyce, Lampard, and Pop Robson. And we played at Upton Park! But we still had some appalling starts to seasons and recovered.
“Don’t Panic” is a Coldplay song. “Don’t Panic” is a famous phrase from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. “Don’t panic” is one of Lance Corporal Jones’ famous catchphrases from Dads Army. “Don’t panic” is my message. We’ve been there so many times before. I could be wrong but give it a bit longer. I’m confident we’ll be OK.