As a West Ham fan who has been attending games since 1958 I must have seen us play against the old enemy on countless occasions. I have watched us win, lose and draw, and can recall some notable victories. The first one that I remember was the only occasion that I watched a game of football on Christmas Day.
The day had begun at a ridiculously early hour, as is quite normal for four year olds anticipating what is inside those wrapped parcels left by Santa Claus overnight. My presents that Christmas were memorable and included a bright red three-wheeled bike with a compartment at the back. Inside was a package which when I ripped it open revealed a claret and blue v-necked short-sleeved West Ham football shirt, which on the back had a hand-sewn big number 10, the number worn by my first football hero, West Ham’s inside-left Johnny Dick. Another package contained a small claret and blue West Ham scarf which I still own today. To add to my delight my dad told me that we were going to watch West Ham later in the morning when they played Tottenham. This would be the first (and the last) game of football I have ever seen on 25 December.
Until the late 1950s there was always a full league programme on Christmas Day. Modern footballers and management complain these days about the fixture congestion during the Christmas period, and many call for a winter break, but at that time there were 42 top flight league games, as well as FA Cup games and replays, to be fitted into a season, and it wasn’t that unusual for three games to be played in a four day period, or four games in a week. And there wasn’t the squad rotation prevalent in the modern game. It wasn’t unusual for the same eleven players to play in almost all of the games, and of course there were no substitutes either.
But with the introduction of floodlights heralding the ability to play games in the evenings, as well as the reduction and eventual removal of public transport on Christmas Day, the need and desire to play games on that day disappeared, and West Ham have never played on 25 December since, although Boxing Day retains the tradition of a full league programme.
To get back to my story, off we went on Christmas morning, me, dad, Uncle Bill, and Uncle Ted to catch a bus for the short journey along the Barking Road from Canning Town (where we stayed with my grandparents for the Christmas period) to Upton Park to see the game that kicked off at 11am. I had only been to Upton Park once before then (to see my first game just a few weeks before, the Malcolm Allison testimonial game) so this was my first league game. And the team didn’t let me down.
We won the match 2-1, and Johnny Dick scored the first ever league goal I remember seeing when he pounced on a rebound from the Tottenham keeper (a chap called Hollowbread) in front of the North Bank early in the second half. The photo captures the goal. Vic Keeble scored a second goal before Tottenham pulled one back when we only had ten players on the field with Phil Woosnam off injured from a bad tackle. The return fixture was at White Hart Lane the following day. I wasn’t there but my dad told me about West Ham’s 4-1 win with goals from Johnny Dick, Keeble, John Bond and an own goal.
Since my first game in 1958 we have played them over 100 times, and in the games played at Upton Park or the London Stadium we have a positive record, winning more often than losing. Many games stand out in my memory, especially winning ones. There was a 4-0 victory in our cup winning season of 1964, a 3-2 win the following season with a Johnny Byrne hat trick (he often scored against them), and a 2-0 win in one of the last games prior to the 1966 World Cup (Byrne scored both goals, both penalties!).
1976-77 was memorable as they were relegated, and we beat them 5-3 to end a poor run where we had lost six games in a row. In our best ever league season (1985-86) we won 2-1, one of the games in the frenetic run-in, with goals from (who else?) McAvennie and Cottee, and the same deadly duo were our goalscorers the following season on Easter Monday when we won by the same score. There was a superb Monday night 4-3 win at Upton Park when John Hartson and Paul Kitson made their debuts to help us narrowly avoid relegation in the 1996-97 run-in. And of course we will never forget the final league game of 2005-06 when we faced them in the game that was to famously become “Lasagne-gate”. Once again a 2-1 win dented their hopes of a place in the Champions League.
A 1-0 win with an Antonio header in our final season at Upton Park. A Lanzini goal in our first season at the London Stadium to repeat the score of the previous season and dent Tottenham’s lingering title hopes. So many great, roof-raising memories!
What will be the outcome this Saturday? I’ll predict a 2-1 West Ham win to replicate that first game I saw almost sixty years ago.