There have been so many great games in the last 58 years and I’ve covered many of them throughout my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford. So many of them are remembered because of the importance of the game, the goals scored, and the spine-tingling atmosphere generated by our fans. Hopefully my memories of these great games will evoke fond memories of fans, (especially older ones like me!), and the music in the charts at the time.
Sometimes lady luck runs your way and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve had more than my fair share of good fortune so I can’t complain. But there have been times when the luck hasn’t quite gone my way. On 23rd March 1996, we were playing at home to Manchester City who were struggling near the foot of the table at the time (and in fact they were relegated on goal difference at the end of the season). We visited Ladbrokes in Green Street on the way to the game as I fancied a bet on the correct score that day. Looking down their list I was looking for a value bet and thought that their odds on us winning 4-1 (80-1) were very generous. In those days they often put out some tempting, and realistic, correct score odds knowing how difficult it is to predict the score of a game. These days they are not usually so generous.
I put my five pounds on and we went in to see the game. I was with my dad and my son. Whenever I took my dad along we always had to buy seats at a low level as he didn’t like climbing the stairs to sit high up. So we had seats in the old West Stand lower just about level with the penalty area in the half where the Bobby Moore stand is. Slaven Bilic was playing for us and Steve Lomas, who came to us at a later date, was a City player at that time. Keith Cooper was the referee. City’s star player was Kinkladze and he was fouled early on for a penalty. I remember Ludo diving to his right to save it. About half way through the first half Iain Dowie scored with a header in front of the Bobby Moore stand, and 1-0 was the half time score. My bet wasn’t looking too hopeful with only one goal in the first half. I’d virtually forgotten about it.
In the second half Dowie headed his, and West Ham’s second goal from a Michael Hughes corner. Redknapp brought on Dani for Dumitrescu and Steve Lomas was sent off for two yellow cards. Ludo then blundered by dropping the ball allowing Niall Quinn to score an easy goal for 2-1.
There were about ten minutes left when Julian Dicks hit a trademark screamer from about 30 yards. From where we sat we were right behind the shot as it burst the net. 3-1. I remembered my bet and retrieved my betting slip from my pocket to look at it to make sure I had put it on correctly. Come on West Ham, just one more goal and £400 was on its way to me.
There were about five minutes left when Ian Bishop threaded a superb pass to Dani who ran on and tucked the ball past the keeper with his left foot. 4-1! This was unbelievable. OK West Ham you can ease up now! But they didn’t. They continued to attack sensing City were out on their feet. Hughes hit the post and Marc Reiper had an easy chance to score from the rebound but missed. I heaved a sigh of relief. I was looking forward to collecting my money!
The ninety minutes were up when the ball fell to Niall Quinn in our area. He swivelled and hit a superb left foot shot. Goal. Then Keith Cooper immediately blew his whistle for the end of the game. We didn’t even have time to kick off. To say I was gutted would be the understatement. It was a terrific game of football but you’ll forgive me for being a little disappointed.
The West Ham scorers that day were Dowie, Dicks and Dani. Have we ever had three “D” goalscorers in one game? Also in the team were Bilic, Bishop and Potts. Ludo had returned to play in goal after the late Les Sealey had made his one and only start between the sticks for us the previous week when we lost 3-0 at Newcastle. He did make one further appearance when he came on as a substitute for Ludo in the final game of the following season at Old Trafford. He had of course previously played for Manchester United, famously being picked for their FA Cup Final replay win in 1990, after their regular keeper Jim Leighton had a poor game in the first match against Crystal Palace.
Number one in the charts on that day was the Take That version of the old Bee Gees song, How Deep Is Your Love. Also in the top ten that week were Oasis with Don’t Look Back In Anger, Mark Morrison with Return of the Mack, and the Beatles with their second hit using the voice of John Lennon, many years after his death, with Real Love. The new chart always came out every Sunday then (I’m afraid I’m not up to date as to when it is changes these days), and the new number one on the day after the City game was Firestarter by Prodigy, which had gone straight in at the top after its release that week.