West Ham entertain Leicester in the final game before the 2022 World Cup

West Ham United met Leicester City 54 years ago this week when I witnessed my favourite ever goal being scored

On Saturday 16th November 1968 West Ham met Leicester in a First Division game, almost exactly 54 years ago this week. It was a game I remember well and one I refer to in my book, Goodbye Upton Park Hello Stratford that was published in 2016. One of the chapters was entitled ’60 Favourite West Ham Goals’ and number 1 at the time and still my all-time favourite was scored by Martin Peters in that game. I stood on the North Bank behind the goal that it went in. I asked the question “what constitutes a great goal?” and two key elements that I identified, a spectacular volley, and a team goal were present in this goal being scored.

Bobby Ferguson was our goalkeeper and he had the ball in his hands at the South Bank end of the ground and rolled it out to Martin Peters on the edge of the penalty area. Peters advanced forward a few yards then passed it out to John Sissons on the left wing. Sissons, a tricky winger, moved forward and from just inside the Leicester half played a long diagonal cross into the penalty area where it was met by Peters on the volley as it came over his shoulder. His thunderous shot from about 12 yards almost decapitated Peter Shilton, the Leicester keeper as it sped into the roof of the net. He hadn’t stopped running from the moment he passed the ball out to Sissons.

The game ended 4-0, which included a brace from Brian Dear and came a fortnight after we had beaten Queens Park Rangers 4-3 with goals from Moore, Hurst, Peters and Redknapp. Harry’s goal in that game was number 3 in my favourite goals chapter, and Bobby Moore’s goal in the game was at number 8. Two weeks prior to the QPR game we had beaten Sunderland 8-0 when Geoff Hurst scored 6. Oh for a return to those free scoring days!

The QPR game as well as Martin Peters spectacular volley against Leicester can be seen on You Tube with commentaries from Brian Moore from the Big Match Sunday TV highlights programme, although sadly Martin’s goal doesn’t show the whole move, just the end of it. I’ve written about it before but even to this day it still remains as my favourite. I met Martin in 2007 at a book signing when I bought his book ‘The Ghost of ‘66’. He was a lovely man and we had a long chat. He couldn’t remember the goal and in fact could barely recall any of the many goals he had scored in his career. Sadly it was perhaps the beginning of the symptoms of the Alzheimer’s disease which brought about his untimely death at 76. I took along my programme from the game which I dug out of my collection and he very kindly signed it for me as well as his book.

Some interesting features from the programme:

  • The cost 1 shilling (5p)
  • The proposed teams on the inside cover (with no number 7) – of course no squad numbers in those days. The West Ham team that day was actually Ferguson, Bonds, Charles, Cushley, Stephenson, Moore, Peters, Boyce, Dear, Hurst, Sissons – it didn’t really pay to predict the team in advance, although there were fewer changes of personnel from game to game.
  • An interview with 22 years-old Billy Bonds
  • Trips by Lacey’s coaches to the forthcoming away game at Ipswich (70p)
  • A quote from Ron Springett the QPR keeper prior to the game a fortnight earlier where he said that West Ham was one of his favourite grounds, he never had a bad game there, he was leaving himself wide open to look a proper Charlie, he’d probably let four goals in (And he did!)
  • The league table prior to the game showed West Ham in 7th place (5 points from the top), with 21 points from 18 games (7 wins, 7 draws and 4 defeats) – only 2 points for a win in those days. Goals for 34, conceded 21. Only Liverpool and Everton (top and 2nd) had scored more (35 and 36)
  • Leicester were 2nd from bottom.

At the end of the season we had finished 8th, Leeds were champions, and Leicester were relegated despite reaching the FA Cup Final. We scored 66 goals, the third highest (exactly the same number as the champions Leeds, although we conceded 50 compared to Leeds 26)

So now we face Leicester 54 years on in a season that isn’t going particularly well so far, certainly on the domestic front. A look at the league table shows us in 15th place with 14 points from 14 games, having lost 8 times, and just two points above the relegation zone. The league is very tight with just 7 points separating Liverpool (19) in 8th from Southampton (12) in a relegation place (18th). If we had beaten Palace last weekend we would be in the top half, but after an inept performance we sadly didn’t. A look at the six teams immediately above us tells the story for me – Fulham, Palace, Brentford, Leeds, Villa and Leicester – all teams I would have expected to be on top of. It would take a very unlikely set of results, but if we lose to Leicester in this game it is mathematically possible for us to go into the break for the World Cup in the bottom 3. A defeat on Saturday is unthinkable, isn’t it?

The manager is getting increasingly tetchy in interviews and articles are beginning to emerge regarding his position. After two successful seasons and eight wins out of eight in Europe surely that is unthinkable too. Isn’t it?

Two West Ham games against Leicester appear in my book among my 20 favourite West Ham matches. The 4-0 game that I referred to earlier is at number 16, and at number 11 I recount the 4-2 win that took place on the morning of Boxing Day 1967 which kicked off at 11am. We came from two goals down in the first quarter of an hour to win the game thanks to the first Trevor Brooking goal that I remember seeing, and a hat-trick from Brian Dear.

Either of those scorelines would be a great result going into the break, but there is little logic in expecting that to happen given our recent form and performances. Leicester have picked up after a poor start and sit immediately above us in the table. Perhaps we can repeat the Boxing Day 1967 result? I say that more in hope than expectation. What are the chances?