Perhaps the most skillful player I ever saw in a West Ham shirt was Sir Trevor Brooking. He made his debut for the club in 1967-68. I remember the season well. I was at Barking Abbey School and the early part of the season coincided with me and my friends starting in the third year, which was one of the age groups for one of the school football teams. We used to play games against other schools on Saturday mornings, and then in the afternoon we’d head off to Upton Park to watch our heroes play.
Trevor made his debut in the away game at Burnley at the end of August on a Tuesday evening, and then came on as a substitute for Billy Bonds to make his home debut the following Saturday against Manchester United. He had only played a handful of games before getting a run in the team as Christmas approached.
The first game I can really remember him playing for us, where he made quite an impact on me, was in the Boxing Day morning game against Leicester City. In those days the Boxing Day games used to kick off at 11 am, and I sat in the old West Stand to watch us fight back from conceding two goals in the first quarter of an hour, to win the game 4-2. Trevor scored one of the goals and a Brian Dear hat-trick sealed the win, but it was one of those games where we could have scored double figures.
The reason we didn’t was because of a superlative performance by the 18 year old, Leicester keeper, Peter Shilton. It was the first time I’d seen Shilton play and I wasn’t surprised when Leicester sold Gordon Banks, then the England keeper, to ensure Shilton was a regular in the Leicester goal.
On the day after we broke up from school for the Easter holidays, I remember Trevor scoring a great hat-trick in a 5-0 rout of Newcastle, one with his left foot, one with his right, and one with his head. It’s often said that Trevor didn’t score headed goals but that is not strictly true. I can specifically remember a diving header from about 18 yards to earn us a last minute 2-2 draw (I think against Wolves), and of course the important ones, the winning goal in the 1980 Cup Final against Arsenal, and a headed goal to break the deadlock in the European Semi-Final in 1976 against Eintracht Frankfurt. That was probably the best game I ever saw, and was possibly Trevor’s finest for West Ham. He made the second goal for Keith Robson, and then curled in the important third goal.
Only three players, Billy Bonds, Frank Lampard (the senior one), and Bobby Moore, turned out in more games for West Ham than Trevor. He played over 600 games and scored over 100 goals, a good return for a midfielder. He played 47 times for England, scoring five goals, but the peak of his career in the 1970’s was a lean time for the national side as we failed to qualify for the finals of the 1974 and 1978 World Cups.
He was comfortable with both feet, and had an uncanny knack of letting the ball run across him before playing it. So many defenders knew what he was going to do, but they couldn’t stop him. His ability to set up goals for others would have put him high up in the assists charts throughout his career, but those statistics were not kept in those days.
His last game for the club was the final game of 1983-84, a season which promised so much for the club. After winning the first five games we topped the league, and stayed in the top three throughout virtually the whole season until around mid-March, when a spectacular nose-dive saw us plummet to ninth, winning just one of our final dozen games. His final goal for us was scored on the last day of 1983 when we thrashed Tottenham 4-1 at Upton Park.
He never wanted to be a manager, but he stepped into the breach a couple of times in 2003, and although it was only on a caretaker basis, his record of nine wins in 14 games makes him the most successful manager we’ve ever had in terms of win percentage. After his playing career ended he was a long time pundit for the BBC on Match of the Day, and had a long career in senior administrative roles at the FA. He was knighted in 2004, and of course had stands named after him at Upton Park, and now the London Stadium.
He was Hammer of the Year an unprecedented five times and has always been regarded as a true gentleman. He was quite simply a West Ham legend. He was one of a rare breed; a player who played for just one club throughout his whole career. It was a pleasure to watch him play so many great games for us over such a long career.