By definition this is a very subjective list in that it relies on two assumptions; one, that these were good players and two, that their efforts went largely unnoticed by the majority of West Ham fans. In fact their status as unsung in largely in an historic context rather than during their time spent in a Hammer’s shirt. Thus, none would likely ever feature in, or be anywhere near, any supporter’s all time favourite West Ham team. Technically, I guess, to be truly unsung there shouldn’t be a terrace song about you either and, as far as I know, this is the case for each of my selections.
Using the accepted convention in such matters, in reverse order my nominations are:
5 Paul Goddard
Goddard’s inclusion in the list stems mainly from the fact that he was ultimately over-shadowed by the McAvennie/ Cottee partnership in the 1985/86 season that led to his inconspicuous and premature departure from the club the following season. When he was signed in the aftermath of the 1980 FA Cup win, as a replacement for Stuart Pearson, it was for a club record fee of £800,000 and he quickly formed a lethal partnership with (the original Psycho) David Cross; which terrorised Division Two defences during that all-conquering promotion season of 1980/81. Between them Goddard and Cross found the net fifty-six times in all competitions including a memorable run to the League Cup final against Liverpool, where Goddard opened the scoring in the replay at Villa Park. A classy striker, who was excellent on the ball, a cool and clinical finisher and who would have featured highly in the assist tables had they existed at the time, Goddard made just over 200 appearances for West Ham between August 1980 and November 1986, scoring 71 times. Injury curtailed his involvement in 1983/84 and then struck again at the start of 1985/86 when his absence inspired the pairing together of McAvennie and Cottee upfront. In 1982 Goddard earned his solitary international appearance scoring the equalising goal for Ron Greenwood’s England in a Word Cup warm-up game against Iceland. Unfortunately he did not make the cut for the Finals and was never to feature for his country again. When transferred to Newcastle in 1986 it also set a new transfer record (£415,000) for his new club.
4 Trevor Morley
Mention Trevor Morley and most people immediately think of the infamous stabbing incident and lurid but unfounded ‘three in a bed’ stories involving team-mate Ian Bishop. Morley and Bishop arrived at West Ham together in a December 1989 swap deal with Manchester City that saw winger Mark Ward head back north. Despite scoring ten goals from his first eighteen games it was not enough to fire the Hammers back into the top flight at the first time of asking but promotion came a year later when he contributed a further twelve goals. Morley was little used back in Division One partly because manager Billy Bonds preferred the Clive Allen/ Mike Small partnership and partly due to him missing two months of the season after being stabbed by his wife. It turned out to be a unsatisfactory season all round as West Ham finished rock bottom and became one of the few clubs ever to be relegated from Division One to Division One. The following season was Morley’s most successful with a 20 league goal tally that helped West Ham to earn promotion to the Premier League. Thirteen goals in 1993/94 saw West Ham to a creditable mid-table finish while Morley was crowned as Hammer of the Year. No goals from ten outings the following season ended his stay at Upton Park resulting in a free transfer to Reading at the conclusion of the 1994/95 season. His last appearance being the Ludo Miklosko inspired home draw with Manchester United to deny them the title.
3 Peter Butler
Most often described as a journeyman footballer Butler strutted his stuff with nine different teams in all four divisions in a career that stretched from 1984 to 2000. Essentially an inhabitant of unfashionable footballing locations such as Huddersfield, Bury, Notts County, Southend and Halifax, the call came in 1992 from the east-end of London to help newly demoted West Ham find their way back to the top, a feat which was successfully achieved. Almost the stereotypical gritty northerner, Butler brought a no-nonsense, tough tackling, hard as nails attitude to the West Ham midfield, exactly what was needed in the slog that is the lengthy second tier season. Butler had few pretensions regarding his own capabilities but demonstrated an economy in passing that involved winning the ball and giving it quickly and simply to the more creative players in the side. Butler was a regular in the Hammer’s first Premier League campaign playing twenty six of forty two games and weighing in with one goal, scored in a 3-2 home win against Coventry City. Although he kept his place for the opening games of the 1994/95 season he quickly fell out of favour and, with the arrival of Don Hutchison, he was sold to Notts County in October 1994 – for twice his original signing fee. After his playing days Butler has had an eclectic and nomadic career as a coach in various Asian and African countries and is currently manager of the Botswana national team.
2 Tim Breacker
With a name that always reminded me of the ‘Breaker Breaker’ slang from the contemporaneous Citizen Band radio craze, Breacker is also the only Tim ever to have played for West Ham. Signed from Luton Town in October 1990 he was the Hammer’s first choice right back (back in the days when we had one of those) for the best part of eight seasons. He made just short of 300 appearances for West Ham (putting him at number thirty eight in the all-time rankings) in which he scored eight goals. It is probably fair to say that during that time he was mostly unspectacular and yet you knew that he would always give his all. He would bomb up and down the touchline for the entire duration of the game and although there was nothing flashy about his game he would run and tackle and run and put in crosses all afternoon. The 1993/94 season was arguably his most successful playing forty times in the Hammer’s Premier League campaign and scoring three goals including the only goal of the game in a rare win at Goodison Park. He also featured in every round of a promising FA Cup run which finally ended in a sixth round replay defeat to his old club, Luton Town of Division One; a match best remembered for a hat-trick by Scott Oakes, son of Showaddywaddy guitarist Trevor, and an uncharacteristic Steve Potts slip. Since retirement from playing Breacker has had a variety of coaching jobs and is currently Chief Scout at Bolton Wanderers.
1 Ronnie Boyce
Ticker Boyce probably only qualifies as an unsung hero because he was from an era of West Ham history that was dominated by Moore, Hurst and Peters and supported by other headline makers such as Byrne and Sissons. Affectionately known as ‘Ticker’ in recognition of his place as the heartbeat of the side Boyce spent a total of 37 years associated with West Ham in various capacities. He possessed great work rate, covered every blade of grass but was also an astute passer of the ball. Boyce made his league debut as a 17 year old in October 1960 and was still only 21 when he scored the winning goal in the 1964 FA Cup Final against Preston North End. He only scored twenty nine goals in over 340 appearances (twenty sixth in the all-time rankings) for West Ham but was on fire in 1964 cup run having also scored two in the semi-final victory over Manchester United. There was another winner’s medal the following year in the European Cup Winner’s Cup and it was another Boyce goal that kicked off the Hammer’s European adventure with the only goal of the game against La Gantoise in Belgium. A one club man Boyce was rewarded with a testimonial in November 1972 against a Manchester United side featuring Bobby Charlton and George Best and although (unusually) Boyce did not score, West Ham ran out 5-2 victors on the night. After his playing days Boyce had various roles coaching and scouting for the club right up until 1995. He had one game as caretaker manager in 1990 after Lou Macari’s departure; a 2-2 draw away to Swindon Town.