The Boy Never Quite Made It: Roger Cross.

Firs in a series of Hammer hopefuls that didn’t quite make the grade.

Boy Never Quite Made ItThere is nothing more satisfying as a supporter than seeing a young player come up through the youth system (or academy in modern parlance) and establish himself in the first team. Over the years we have been blessed with golden ages of plenty from our academy but there have also been periods of famine. In the Premier League age it is becoming increasingly rare for youth players to make it through the ranks and academies have become multi-cultural establishments; much different from bygone days when a youngster from Kent would have been considered exotic in our youth setup.

Roger CrossFor every successful youth team product there are many more who simply fade away. Among these there are those who are hotly tipped for stardom but who ultimately do not deliver. We shall be taking a look at some of these ‘Boys Who Never Quite Made It‘.

As a young teen in the late 1960’s it was not uncommon to arrive at the game two hours before kick-off on a Saturday afternoon in order to get the favoured view from the North Bank terrace. This allowed plenty of time to read the match programme from cover to cover to discover, not only what the current state of play was in the unofficial London championship, but also what was happening in the Football Combination (reserves) and South East Counties League (youth teams).

For several years running the name of Roger Cross repeatedly appeared in the back of the programme as he rattled in the goals for youths and reserves. He scored when he wanted to even before that idea was born.

Cross was part of the same youth intake as Trevor Brooking (they were born just a few weeks apart in October 1948) and Sir Trev mentions Cross as one of his pals at the club in his autobiography, My Life in Football. Strange to think that I had never heard of Trevor Brooking before his debut but was eagerly awaiting a first sighting of Roger Cross.

Cross made his debut as a substitute (for John Sissons) in August 1968 during a 5-0 home win against Burnley and later that season went out on loan just down the road at Leyton Orient. The start of the 1969/70 season saw Cross get a brief run of games in the first team, scoring his only goal in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal at Upton Park; but that run came to an end by October and he was transferred to Brentford.

His playing career then took him to Fulham, Brentford (again), Seatle Sounders and Millwall before going into coaching with QPR. Cross renewed his association with West Ham in 2001 and held a number of coaching and scouting roles before parting company in 2011 as a cost-cutting measure during the Avram Grant revolution.

West Ham Heroes –Number 1: John Dick

Remembering a legendary inside-forward and 3rd highest West Ham goalscorer.

John Dick PhotosWhen we are growing up most of us have heroes. As a young boy, once I had outgrown the nursery rhyme wallpaper, my walls were adorned with pictures of my first heroes. Photographs of West Ham footballers and pop stars filled my bedroom walls from the late 1950’s throughout the 1960’s. Pride of place was an action photograph of my first West Ham hero, John Dick, in a mid-air tussle for the ball in a game at Upton Park. It was taken by a press photographer who my uncle knew.

West Ham were promoted to the top flight at the end of the 1957-58 season. John Dick, who always wore the number 10 shirt (no names on them in those days), netted 26 times in that season, and scored 29 goals in Division One the following term. It was around this time that I began to take an interest in football and West Ham. I was only four at the time but I have memories, albeit hazy ones, of this period. 

I remember my first visit to Upton Park to see the Malcolm Allison testimonial game in November 1958, the delight when opening my Christmas present of a claret and blue short-sleeved V-neck West Ham shirt with a hand-sewn number 10 on the back on Christmas Day 1958, the excitement of seeing my first league game the same morning (yes Christmas Day 11am kick off!), and the first John Dick goal I recall when he netted a rebound off the Spurs keeper in front of the North Bank that day. We won the game 2-1 as well!

In a West Ham career that started before I was born and ended when I was eight, John Dick was leading scorer most seasons he was with us, scoring 177 goals at a rate of almost exactly one in every other game. His partnership with Vic Keeble for three years at the end of the 1950’s produced abundant goals (Keeble himself scored 51 goals in 84 games before injury curtailed his career).

Ted Fenton, our manager, spotted 22 year-old Dick when he was doing his National Service in Colchester, after watching him play for Crittall Athletic, now known as Braintree Town. He had a lethal left foot and was almost unplayable in the air. He was similar in a way to Andy Carroll, but with the added bonus of being more mobile, a prolific goal scorer, and a player who rarely missed a game through injury. In 1959, John, who was born in Glasgow, also won his first and only cap for Scotland against England.

My favourite game was in November 1959 when he scored a hat trick in a 3-2 win over champions Wolves. I remember the time well – we were top of the league and I went into hospital the following week for removal of my adenoids. The following weekend when I was still in hospital, despite leading Division One, we managed to lose 7-0 at Sheffield Wednesday! That’s West Ham for you.

I cried when we sold him to Brentford at the start of the 1962-63 season. I just couldn’t understand it. He was only 32 and had scored 23 goals the previous season. He was even more prolific at Brentford scoring 45 times in just 72 games.

John Dick AutographHis autograph took pride of place at the top of my West Ham 1959 team signatures. So many West Ham legends signed that page for me and I added some miniature pictures cut out of programmes alongside some of them. In addition to John Dick my book was signed by Noel Dwyer, Harry Obeney, Malcolm Musgrove, Andy Malcolm, Phil Woosnam, Ken Brown, Mike Grice, Vic Keeble, John Bond, and Noel Cantwell.

John Dick died in 2000 aged 70. A seat in his memory stands in Hainault Forest near to where he lived and his ashes were scattered nearby. I will always remember my first footballing hero.

Counting Sheep – 3 – The Letter D

Difficulty Sleeping These Warm Nights? And now a complete team of D’s!

Counting SheepPreviously I came up with a cure for when you can’t sleep. Forget those counting sheep theories and try to select a West Ham team of players that you have seen whose surnames all start with the same letter.

I’ve so far selected the “B” and “C” teams. Today it is my “D” team.

So here is my all-time West Ham “D” Team, selected in a 3-4-3 formation so that I could include players I wanted to be in it:

Day
Demel
Dailly
Dicks
Dyer
Downing
Devonshire
Dickens
Defoe
Di Canio
Dick

And what other players did I consider but leave out? Two keepers, De’ath and Dwyer, Davenport, Diame, Deane, Diamanti, Diop, Dowie, Dumitrescu, Dear and Dunmore.

I’ve probably forgotten someone really good. Can you pick a team of “D”s to rival mine? Who would you pick in place of any of my selections?

And who would manage the “D”s? I can’t recall a manager beginning with D so I’ll go for Dicks who has managed the West Ham Ladies Team and is also on the current coaching staff (and he made my team, too).

The First International Break (A Review of the Season To Date)

A look back at the season so far before it all stopped for the Internationals.

EPL TeamsSome things in life just don’t seem to make sense when you analyse them in the cold light of day. Last season’s Premier League season ended in the middle of May. We then had a three month break before resuming mid-August. Almost ninety days without playing a Premier League game. So we start again, play for three weekends, and then we have a fortnight break just as we seem to be getting into it again!

Of course for West Ham, we began a little earlier because of our Europa League involvement. But from the date of our first league game on 15 August we then played five competitive games in a fourteen day period. And now we have a fortnight without a game! At best it could be described as disjointed, in reality it is madness. But from our point of view, because of our lengthy injury list, very welcome madness, and relief that we have the opportunity to get some of our first choice players back from a horrendous injury list.

The stop-start nature of the Premier League season continues such that we will hit the third international break early in November! And from the Manchester United away game at the end of that month we will then have a period of eight league games in 37 days. And some people are calling for a winter break on top of all the other breaks. I’m absolutely certain that the fixture list could be managed much more effectively!

As last year, we were handed two of the most difficult away games possible in our first four games of the season. Against all the odds we won them both last time, but this term we lost them both. Also, last season we lost our opening two home games. This time we won our first home game. And if we don’t win the next one at home to Watford then I suspect we may be in for a difficult season. The upshot is we have three points after three games, exactly the same as a year ago.

Even at this very early stage the Premier League table has a predictable feel about it. Three teams have won their opening three games, Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. Three other teams haven’t been beaten yet, Tottenham, and perhaps more surprisingly, Middlesbrough and Everton. Hull will also be delighted with their start. With two wins and a defeat to a very late goal from Manchester United, their six points puts them above teams like Middlesbrough and Tottenham, who despite achieving the much praised “unbeaten” tag, have both only got five points from one win and two draws.

In addition to the seven teams mentioned above, a further six clubs have yet to record their first win, Stoke, Bournemouth, Watford, Palace, Sunderland and Southampton. It’s much too early to draw conclusions but even now, I can see the teams in the relegation dogfight being those latter six with the addition of Hull, Burnley and perhaps West Brom. I predicted a seventh place finish for us before the season started and I’ll stick with that although we’ve not really justified it yet.

With thirty games of the 380 in the Premier League completed, eleven have been won by the home team, eleven by the away team, and there have been eight draws. Thirty-six goals have been scored by the home team and an equal number by the away side. In the whole of last season, around 41% of games were won by the home side, and 31% by the away team, with 28% drawn. So away wins are up this time, although it is too early and the sample is too small to draw conclusions yet. With 2.4 goals average per game this season to date, then goals scored are more than 10% down on last season’s average of 2.7, but once again it is perhaps too early to predict a continuation of the downward goal scoring trend. In an average round of matches last season 27 goals were scored, so three fewer goals have been scored on average each week so far.

Last season, of course, we were the favourite team of the “neutral” supporter who likes to see goals in games from either side. The 116 goals scored in our games (3.05 per game) put us on the top of that particular “league” with only Everton’s matches achieving an average of 3 per game. After three games of this season our games have had eight goals, but unfortunately we’ve only managed three of them, one in each. Manchester City, apart from being top of the Premier League, have also had the most total goals with twelve in their three games (4 per game).

So we have a band of seven teams at the top who have all won at least two of their games or remain unbeaten (on 5 points or more), and six clubs without a win at the foot (with two points or less). No team has drawn all three of their games. We therefore sit in the middle band of seven teams on 3 or 4 points, where the result of the next games will start to decide if we are heading towards the top or bottom groups, or remaining in mid-table.

International Football – England Win in Slovakia

Big Sam’s First Game in Charge of the National Team

England TeamI am not particularly a fan of international football these days. I prefer the club game and of course watching West Ham. However I am still proudly English and like to watch the major tournaments and the qualifying games. I am definitely not a fan of friendly games where unlimited substitutions take place. These are not true football matches, and serve little purpose in preparing the team for tournaments. They hold no interest for me whatsoever and I don’t usually watch them at all, unless of course a West Ham player is involved, in which case I might sneak a look. But, of course, despite the ever increasing dearth of English talent playing in the Premier league these days, West Ham’s English players have not had a look-in in recent times.

It was a different matter when I was growing up in the 1960’s. England international games were one of the few opportunities we had to watch football on TV. There was something quite magical about watching the national side then, and of course this was enhanced by England winning the World Cup when I was just 12.

Since we hosted Euro 96, when we came very close to winning, (losing to Germany on penalties in the semi-final) we have never gone beyond the quarter finals in a major tournament, often not getting that far. Despite this we have frequently qualified for the tournaments with ease, so something is very clearly wrong in how we tackle tournament football.

Since 1996, when Terry Venables lost his job, we have had six managers up to and including Euro 2016. Can you name them? In order they were Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Sven Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson. Apart from one notable failure (the famous “wally with the brolly” headline refers when McClaren was outwitted by Super Slav) we have qualified every time, but not achieved very much in the finals themselves.

What do those six England managers have in common? They all won their first game in charge, something our old friend Big Sam has replicated with the last minute win in Slovakia. I won’t say too much about the game, other than that I think we deserved to win, we controlled the game, but we showed again how difficult we find it to score goals.

I was pleased for Allardyce, and despite my reservations about what I believe are his limitations as a manager, as a patriotic Englishman I hope he does well. One thing that is amazing really is how the England team has changed in the four years since Roy Hodgson’s first game just over four years ago in May 2012. England’s starting XI today under Sam was Hart, Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose, Dier, Henderson, Sterling, Lallana, Rooney, and Kane. Personally I don’t have too many qualms about his choice, although I’ve never personally rated Henderson, and other attacking players such as Lallana and Sterling, despite being very good footballers, need to score more goals. Perhaps this is where our own Michail Antonio will get his chance (as long as he doesn’t get picked in the right back role!)

I looked up the starting eleven chosen by Hodgson for his first game, and not a single one of them were in the starting line-up today. His team was Green, Jones, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines, Milner, Parker, Gerrard, Young, Downing, and Carroll. There were four players with a West Ham connection, either then or later. The last West Ham player selected for England was Downing a couple of years ago when Hodgson picked him for one game, played him in a position that he wasn’t occupying for us at the time, and then discarded him.

So qualification for the World Cup in 2018 is now underway, and the initial results couldn’t really have been better. Three points from an away game in Slovakia, one of the tougher fixtures we will face, in a qualifying group that additionally contains the might of those footballing giants Malta, Scotland, Lithuania and Slovenia. It was boosted still further by the latter two drawing in Lithuania and therefore getting one point apiece. I am writing this before Scotland’s trip to Malta is more than half an hour old, with the score currently 1-1. But that result shouldn’t really matter in the final reckoning.

Big Sam’s absolute minimum requirement is to qualify for the World Cup finals with ease, just like his predecessors have usually done. The important thing will be what happens when we actually get there. That’s where his credentials to manage the national team will be tested. He will probably only get one chance.

The Hammer’s Week in History 1

How has the week 5 – 11 September shaped up in Hammer’s history?

This Week Hammers HistoryThe doldrums of the International Break is the perfect time to look elsewhere for entertainment rather than seeking it from that collection of expensive labourers masquerading as craftsmen in the national team.

The mission that I chose to accept was to travel back in time and forage through the annals of this week in Hammer’s history; here is what I discovered for the period 5-11 September.

The first weeks of September over the years have been characterised by an abundance of goals; before early season exuberance on flat, grassy pitches in late summer sunshine gives way to a cold, muddy mid-winter’s slog with floodlights switched on before half-time.

This week in history has witnessed some heavy home defeats which includes 1-5 and 2-5 reverses to the ‘scallies’ of Liverpool in both 1965 and 1968; had there been Twitter in 1965 it would have been awash with abuse, as less than a week after the 1965 Liverpool game, came a further 2-5 defeat at home to Leicester. Not a great start to the season for a team that would provide 3 world cup winners the following summer.

There have been a fair share of big wins as well though including two which featured rare Bobby Moore goals; home to Wolves in 1964 (5-0) and away to Sunderland in 1967. Other big wins were 6-1 away at Manchester City (1962), a Dave Swindlehurst hat-trick in the 5-2 home hammering of Coventry (1983) and a Frankie Van Der Elst goal in a 5-0 mauling of Birmingham (1982).

Goals galore also in two 7 goal thrillers; one being Sam Allardyce’s first home win against Portsmouth in 2011; and the other the 1998 encounter with Wimbledon, which is this week’s featured match.

The fourth game of the season saw both teams undefeated going in to the midweek encounter at Upton Park. West Ham had beaten Wimbledon twice the previous season and a repeat performance was anticipated by the expectant home support.

The Hammers raced into a 3-0 lead midway through the first half, with goals from John Hartson (7 mins) and Ian Wright (14 and 27 mins) and all seemed to be going to plan despite Marcus Gayle pulling one back for Wimbledon in the 30th minute to make it 3-1 at half time.

The second period was a very different affair. After 64 minutes, a defensive miscue from home debutant Javier Margas (he of the claret and blue hair-do) allowed Jason Euell to reduce the arrears to 3-2 and then Gayle struck again in the 77th minute to bring the scores level. Rather than sit back and admire their handywork Wimbledon kept pushing forward for substitute Efan Ekoku to score the winner in one of the most remarkable come-backs seen in the Premier League.

Hislop, Pearce, Ruddock, Lampard, Margas, Moncur, Sinclair, Berkovic (Impey), Hartson, Wright, Lazaridis

Notable West Ham players born this week (a very defensive week) include:

5 September Malcolm Allison (d. 2010)
7 September John McDowell (65)
7 September Ray Stewart (57)
11 September Slaven Bilic (48)
11 September George Parris (52)

3 Lions and a Hammer

Will Michail Antonio be flying down the wing for England today or will he be right back on the bench?

England TeamIf Michail Antonio picks up an England Cap today he will become the 40th player to represent England as a West Ham player. I don’t know about you but my interest in the England team is always heightened if there is a chance of seeing a Hammer in action. There has to be some incentive to watch the national team these days when there are so many alternative entertainment options such as sorting your CDs into alphabetical order.

The 39 previous England Hammers, the last being Stewart Downing in 2014, have pulled on the 3 Lions shirt a total of 415 times. Of these over 25% of the caps belong to Bobby Moore (108 ) followed by Hurst (49), Brooking (47), Peters (33) and Martin & James (17 each). Peters earned a further 34 caps following his transfer to the North London retirement home.

In fact, Tottenham top the list for supplying the most England players with 75 followed by Villa (73), Liverpool (70), Everton (66), Manchester United (65) and Arsenal (60). West Ham occupy 12th place in the rankings surprisingly below teams such as Blackburn Rovers, West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield Wednesday.

Congratulations on the call up, Michail and hope you get a look in on what is largely an uninspiring squad. It is again a weak Qualifying Group that England fortunately find themselves in with the opening game, away to Slovakia, possibly being the toughest that they will face. It is not a shock that the new Manager is already talking about “respecting the point”.