When I think back on all the games of football I’ve seen West Ham play, and the number is now approaching 1000, I find it very hard to recall many memorable games against today’s opponents. I was just four years old when we clinched promotion to the top flight in April 1958 when we beat Middlesbrough 3-1 at Ayresome Park with goals from Keeble, Dick and Musgrove. We were Division Two champions scoring over 100 goals in the process, and we were back in Division One after an absence of 25 years.
I know nothing about the game but I do remember my dad and my uncle, and various other friends of theirs celebrating long into the evening. The party at my nan’s house in Canning Town carried on long after I had been despatched to bed, but it was really the catalyst that got me into following West Ham’s results more closely the following season. Just a few months later I visited Upton Park for the first time.
Perhaps the most memorable game against Middlesbrough that I can recall was one that I watched on TV, when a Marlon Harewood goal in the FA Cup semi-final clinched our place in the final against Liverpool in 2006.
I never saw a league game against Middlesbrough until I was 20 years old because we were in the top Division and they weren’t! When they were finally promoted in 1974, after a gap of 20 years, they ran away with the Second Division title with Jack Charlton as their manager. So on a cold November day I added them to my lengthening list of clubs I’d never seen us play before, and we duly beat them 3-0. It was the first game in an unbeaten run that saw us reach fifth place by Boxing Day, although this was another of those “coming down with the Christmas decorations” seasons that saw us eventually finish 13th, although of course we were distracted by winning the FA Cup that year!
The following November we beat them again at Upton Park, but in the next two seasons we lost to them at home, and at the end of 1977-78 we were relegated ourselves. We didn’t meet them again until we were promoted back to Division One in 1981, when we beat them 3-2 but they were relegated themselves after finishing bottom, and we didn’t meet up with them again until the end of the 1980s.
We have had 20 home league games against them in my 58 years of watching West Ham and we have only lost four times, the last one being in April 2000, when in the penultimate game of the season they beat us 1-0. It was a bit of a crazy season in some respects. I particularly remember us putting five past Coventry the week before the Middlesbrough defeat. There was also the infamous 5-4 win over Bradford City where we came from behind when Di Canio and Lampard fought over taking a penalty, and we were also thrashed 7-1 at Old Trafford.
I always hate long sequences of not losing to a particular team, and Middlesbrough will believe that they have every chance of their first win at West Ham for over 16 years this weekend. But they don’t come here in the best of form either. They have only won once themselves in their first six games, beating local rivals Sunderland. They have drawn against Stoke and West Brom, and lost their last three games, to Palace, Everton and Tottenham.
I am confident that we can begin our resurgence and start to climb the table. With Swansea playing Liverpool I would hope that by 5 o’clock on Saturday we will be out of the relegation places and above both Swansea and Middlesbrough as we go into the second international break of the season.
After the break we visit Palace, then we have a home game against Sunderland. These are important games for us to pick up points, because after that we have a comparatively tough run of fixtures, where four of the next six matches are away at Everton, Tottenham, Manchester United and Liverpool, with just two home games versus Stoke and Arsenal.
Our biggest victory over Middlesbrough that I can recall was in the final game of our record breaking Premier League season of 1998-99, when two goals from Trevor Sinclair, and one each from Lampard and Keller gave us a 4-0 victory and a finishing league position of fifth place. Ever the optimist I am hoping that we can turn around our woeful start to the season and record a 4-1 victory today. What are the chances?