There was a time that almost every successful team included an enforcer, a player whose job it was to inject that added element of fear and steel into proceedings. The hard-man culture reached its peak during the 1970’s and early 1980’s although there were still pockets until recent years, when football became much less of a contact sport. Now they are finally consigned to the footballing scrapheap alongside muddy pitches and the battering ram centre forward. Notorious hard-men from over the years have included such names as Dave Mackay, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, Norman ‘Bites Yer Legs’ Hunter, Billy Bremner, Roy Keane, Graeme Souness, Joe Jordan and Vinnie Jones.
At various stages in West Ham history, there have been managers who would have regarded the more agricultural approach to the beautiful game as a tactic that falls somewhat below that expected at an academy. However, that has not prevented a number of notable robust individuals turning out in the claret and blue. Here I take a look at my top six Hammer’s Hard-men:
5 = Andy Malcolm and Eddie Bovington
I am cheating a little here by lumping together two players who both fell foul of Ron Greenwood’s reluctance to deploy players with a predominantly destructive or physical element to their game. Quite possibly, Greenwood’s purist philosophy ultimately restricted the 1960’s West Ham side from achieving as much as they could.
Andy Malcolm was born above a grocer’s shop just around the corner from Upton Park and signed for West Ham in 1948, going on to become the club’s first ever England youth international. Malcolm made his first team debut in 1953 and developed into a ruthless, tough tackling and tenacious man-marker who was assigned to shadow, shackle and stop opposition star players such Jimmy Greaves, Denis Law and Johnny Haynes; England captain Haynes would later describe Malcolm as ‘a butcher’. An important part of Ted Fenton’s promotion winning side of 1957/ 58 (which included the likes of John Bond, Noel Cantwell, Malcolm Allison, John Dick and Vic Keeble) Malcolm’s contribution was recognised when he won the fan;s vote for the first ever Hammer of the Year award. When Greenwood replaced Fenton in 1961 Malcolm’s abrasive style saw him quickly fall out of favour and he lost his wing-half berth to a young Geoff Hurst. Malcolm left for Chelsea at the end of 1961, in a swap deal involving Ron Tindall, having played over 320 games.
North Londoner, Eddie Bovington joined the West Ham groundstaff in 1957 and received his first taste of first team football in an end of season encounter at Old Trafford in 1961. Bovington’s progress at Upton Park was very slow, however, and it was only after the Hammers were thrashed 8-2 at home by Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day, 1963 that he secured a proper run in the side; Bovington for Peters being the only change for the return fixture two days later which saw a 3-1 win for West Ham. Bovington’s man marking job on Rover’s Bryan Douglas had made a huge difference and he kept his place for the remainder of the season including the run all the way to Wembley for FA Cup success. The following season again saw Bovington as a regular starter in his man-marker role but in March 1965 he suffered a bad kneecap injury which kept him out for the remainder of the season, including the concluding games of the European Cup Winners Cup campaign. Bovington never had a great rapport with manager Greenwood and went on to play just two more seasons before hanging up his boots at aged 26 to join his family’s tailoring business.
4 Tomas Repka
Tomas Repka established a new West Ham record transfer fee when he was signed from Fiorentina by Glenn Roeder in September 2001 to embark on a topsy-turvy career at Upton Park. Sent-off on his debut at Middlesbrough, Repka then put in a man-of-the-match performance in a 3-0 home win against Alan Shearer and Newcastle before being sent-off again the following week in a 7-1 defeat at Blackburn. Repka spent much of his West Ham career as part of an accident prone central defensive partnership with Christian Dailly or at right back where his performances were typically commited and uncompromising but with a high probability of a rush of blood at any moment. He was a regular in the side relegated in 2002/03 (one red card at home to Fulham) but stayed around in the second level for two seasons to help steer the Hammers back to the Premier League (one red card at home to Preston). Repka played a further half a season back in the Premier League before deciding to return to his homeland for family reasons. By the time of his final game, at home to Fulham, Repka had turned around the widely held liability status of his early Hammers career into one of cult hero.
3 Martin Allen
Martin Allen or ‘Mad Dog’ was one of the players recruited to the club (from QPR) during Lou Macari’s brief spell as manager in the wake of relegation to Division 2 in 1989. Allen played through an eventful period of West Ham history as the club endured a string of promotions and relegation either side of the transition to the Premier League, Macari’s resignation, the appointment of Bonds to the manager’s seat and his acrimonious replacement by Redknapp. Allen has described himself as a destructive player and formed an usually, for West Ham, tough tackling midfield partnership with Peter Butler. It was a period defined by ill-discipline in the West Ham ranks and Allen was never far away from a yellow card or worse. He was sent off twice in the claret and blue, once for a two footed lunge at home to Derby and once for a foul on Rufus Brevett of QPR. In a separate incident he was punished by the club, but not by the referee, for a foul on Carlton Palmer just twenty seconds after entering the field as a substitute. Aside from his tough tackling reputation, Allen notched a respectable thirty five goals during his two hundred games for the Hammers.
2 Billy Bonds
Six feet two, eyes of blue, Billy Bonds was after you for over twenty seasons as a West Ham player. Originally signed by Ron Greenwood as an energetic, marauding full-back, Bonds was later moved into midfield to play the role of minder for Trevor Brooking and later still to central defence where he formed long term partnerships with Tommy Taylor and Alvin Martin. Known to be one of the fittest players ever to wear a West Ham shirt, Bonds was the epitome of hard work and commitment and cultivated a swashbuckling, Viking look to accompany it. He was quoted as saying that he got as much enjoyment from winning a strong tackle as from a great pass or setting up a goal. Bonds was known to be a tough opponent and as hard as nails but he was not a nasty or niggly player like some of football’s better known hard-men. Bonds was sent off just twice in his lengthy Hammer’s career; once for spitting in a League Cup tie away at Hull and once for an all-in fight with Colin Todd of Birmingham. Following the latter expulsion he was fortunate not to miss the 1980 FA Cup Final but escaped with a one match ban. Bonds holds the all-time appearance record for West Ham, weighed in with over sixty goals and was even leading scorer in 1973/74.
1 Julian Dicks
The Terminator, Julian Dicks was a four times Hammer of the Year winner from his two spells with the club between 1988 and 1999. Despite having a sweet left foot and a thunderous shot Dicks is best known in the football world for his poor on-field discipline and his shaven head (which anecdotally prevented him receiving an England call-up). Dicks was sent off five times as a West Ham player, three of which came in the single 1992/93 promotion season and led to him being stripped of the club captaincy. He first saw red in the infamous League Cup battle of 1989 against Wimbledon; a match which saw regular scuffles, a series of robust challenges and, at one stage, a seventeen man brawl. Dicks was finally sent packing for a scything tackle on Dennis Wise. Offences in the 1992/93 season comprised an elbow in the face of Newcastle’s Franz Carr, a run-in with Steve Bull of Wolves and a pair of reckless challenges on Ted McMinn of Derby. His final red resulted from two yellows in a game at Highbury in 1995; this was a game played just five days after the alleged but disputed ‘stamp’ on the head of Chelsea’s John Spencer leading to a long running dispute with Sky’s Andy Gray. Dicks played over three hundred games for the Hammers and contributed sixty five goals.