Throughout most of the 1950’s and the early 1960’s the number 2 shirt at West Ham was owned by John Bond. He was the right back in our FA Cup winning side in 1964 and was really the only number 2 I ever remember in my early years of watching West Ham. He played his last game for us in 1965, and was followed towards the end of the European Cup Winners Cup winning season by Joe Kirkup and Dennis Burnett. But we really needed to strengthen the team in this position so Ron Greenwood signed William Arthur Bonds, known to us all as Billy, in 1967.
Those of us who were there on 19 August 1967 for the opening game of the season against Sheffield Wednesday witnessed the debut of the player who went on to play more games for the club than any other, 799, in a long career that spanned 21 seasons. He started at right back and without a doubt he was the best player I have ever seen in that position at West Ham.
Around three years later he was switched to play in midfield and formed an amazing partnership alongside Trevor Brooking. Throughout the first half of the 1970’s he continued in this role and once again, I have to say he was the best player I have ever seen at the club in the “box-to-box” midfield role.
He became captain when Bobby Moore left in 1974, and for the final ten years at West Ham he played at the back, initially alongside Tommy Taylor, and then formed an excellent partnership with the young Alvin Martin. He was one of the best centre backs I’ve ever seen at West Ham too, and in all three roles at the club he excelled.
He would be one of the first names in my all-time West Ham heroes team, and could fill any of the three positions, but perhaps he was at his playing peak in the early 1970’s when he single-handedly won so many games for the club from midfield.
To be honest I cannot recall a single game where I left the ground thinking that he hadn’t played well. He was fully committed throughout every game, and perhaps his skill was overshadowed by his commitment to win the ball when our opponents had it, but you shouldn’t be fooled, he was great with the ball too.
If I had to pick out one game that I remember above all others it was the day in March 1974 when we beat Chelsea 3-0 and Bill scored a hat-trick. He finished that season as leading scorer, which was most unusual from a midfield role, particularly in those times. Around the time of the Chelsea game I remember seeing him score a magnificent left-footed volley from outside the penalty area in a game against Coventry at Upton Park. I was standing on the North Bank directly in line with the shot.
He was always considered to be the fittest player at the club, and was almost 42 when he retired at the end of the 1987-88 season. I’ve watched the England team since the late 1950’s and when I think of some of the players who have pulled on the three lions shirt, then I am amazed that Bill never did. Without a shadow of a doubt he was the best English footballer I have ever seen (by a country mile) who never represented the full national team. He came very close a couple of times, but injury denied him in the end.
After being a youth team coach at the club, he became manager following the resignation of Lou Macari in 1990, and in his first full season at the helm led us to promotion. In the following ill-fated “Bond scheme” season that followed we were relegated, but the following year he led us back up into the top flight. He resigned in August 1994 when Harry Redknapp took over, and the two of them, who were very close friends, have never spoken since. The circumstances regarding the resignation have differing versions according to what you read.
Many consider that he was the best West Ham manager ever. Certainly those who trust statistics do. His win percentage of 44% is the highest of all full time West Ham bosses in history, his losing percentage of 30% is the lowest of all full time West Ham bosses in history, and the goals scored minus the goals conceded per game at 0.32 is also the best of all full time West Ham bosses in history.
He was Hammer of the Year four times, was awarded the MBE, won the PFA Merit award when he retired, and was the initial recipient of the West Ham lifetime achievement award in 2013. Quite simply he was an absolute West Ham legend. I’d personally like to see greater recognition for him at our new stadium.