Given a few moments, we can all think of the best game we ever watched. But what about the best game you never saw?
This weekend’s opponents would probably tick the box for most Irons. West Ham 8 Sunderland 0 is a scoreline that makes you dribble just imagining what Upton Park must have been like back on that Saturday afternoon in 1968 when Geoff Hurst scored six. Yes, I know technically it should have been fi ve because one of them was handball – but we’re talking about a knight of the realm here, not a dodgy Argentine with a drugs’ problem and an arse the size of Patagonia. It’s only cheating when he does it. Any takers for the scorers of other two goals, by the way? Of course, it was Saint Bobby and Sir Trev. You know the times of the goals as well? Easy tiger, no one likes a clever dick.
But picking any old game that you missed where we gave the opposition a good hiding would be too easy – and if West Ham stands for anything at all it’s about doing things the hard way. So I’m ruling out the massacre of the Mackems and several others like it. For the sake of this rather pointless exercise, you have to select a game that you had actually given some thought to attending, but didn’t get there for one reason or another.
Perhaps it was your wife’s birthday, or you had a hangover that deserved a mention in the Guinness Book of Records. It doesn’t matter to me (although it probably would matter to your missus if you had the hangover on her birthday). So I’m going to leave Sunderland behind and move forward a few years to 1976 and the Cup Winners’ Cup semi fi nal against Eintracht Frankfurt. By this time Hurst and Moore were gone, and the shops in Green Street no longer closed on a Wednesday afternoon. But we still had Trevor Brooking.
If you are of an age that means you never actually saw Brooking play, this would be a good time to sit quietly and pay attention. I know he comes across as the most boring man on the planet whenever he’s interviewed on telly (I can say this because I have followed West Ham for almost 50 years – supporters of other clubs may not). And I realise he is party to some of the very strange decisions that come out of the FA from time to time. But, by God, the man could play football.
I do understand that there is nothing worse than hearing a previous generation banging on about how good the players were in their day. I’m sure when Geoff Hurst made his debut there was some old boy in the Chicken Run explaining to the bloke next to him that there would never be another Vic Watson or Syd Puddefoot. Such is life. (Incidentally, my dad’s best man was Syd Puddefoot’s nephew. Small world, innit?) But Brooking really was something special and, unlike good old Vic and Syd, there is the video footage to prove it. Just take a look at the highlights of the two legs of the Frankfurt game on YouTube (not now – fi nish reading this fi rst) and you will understand why he is so deeply admired by all those who saw him in the fl esh.
Personally, I’m delighted those highlights are still available – because I was on my way to the Upton Park leg when I got cleaned up by an articulated lorry on the North Circular and never got to see the match. Such was the mess that truck made of my beloved Ford Escort (it was red; the fourdoor 1300; good runner but some mild corrosion – near offers accepted) that I didn’t get home in time to see the midweek match either. And ITV was not like Sky – it didn’t show the same footage over and over again in a Groundhog Day that lasted all week. You watched the highlights on the night or not at all. So for years I had to use my imagination about what went on under the lights in a Boleyn mudbath as we attempted to overturn a 2-1 defi cit from the fi rst leg.
I had the newspaper reports of course, and for weeks afterwards I would pester those around me at league fi xtures to tell me what they recalled of that magical evening. But it wasn’t the same as being there. While we’re on the subject of “being there”, this might be a good time to point out that it doesn’t always pay to believe what people tell you about how to get there in the fi rst place. The fella I was going to the game with was something of a hippy by nature and a big follower of a self-styled Tibetan monk called Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, who advocated a method of getting around called “astral travelling”.
Prompted by my mate – who reckoned he could do it – I tried to master astral travelling myself. The idea is to project your inner self into the ether and then control your outof-body experience, allowing a ghostly form of yourself to go wherever you like (a sort of spiritual Oyster card). The benefi ts seemed obvious; for one thing you could fl oat over Upton Park and watch a game for free without actually having to slide out from under your Slumberland continental quilt. And it would take all the hassle out of getting to away games. But I could never do it, which is why I’d saved my hard-earned dosh and bought a second-hand Escort instead.
It turned out there was a good reason I couldn’t astral travel. The whole thing was total bollocks and Tuesday Lobsang Rampa (real name Cyril Henry Hoskins) was, in fact, the son of a plumber rather than a spiritual guide with an A-Z of the cosmos. Back on the A406, my mate and I had come within a whisker of spending the rest of eternity fl oating in the ether after a juggernaut misjudged the moment to change lanes and solved the problem of my rusting fl itch plates once and for all by obliterating the front half of my car. And while the collision didn’t prove fatal for us – nearly, but not quite – it did for my beloved jam jar
Had we made it to E13, we would have witnessed one of the truly outstanding West Ham performances. I won’t waste your time describing in detail what you can see for yourself online. Although be warned – in some of the clips the sound is out of sync with the pictures and Brian Moore describes the action before it actually happens. The effect is similar to watching a game on your laptop as it’s being streamed and then looking up to discover that your wife, who has been listening to the radio commentary in another part of the house, has come into the room because she knows a goal is about to be scored. It’s most unnerving.
Equally disconcerting is hearing a burst of Aye-aye-ippy as we put Frankfurt to the sword. Was there a squadron of Boy Scouts in the ground that night? I’ve sung some questionable songs at Upton Park in my time (including a highly juvenile version of Distant Drums that still makes me blush with embarrassment at the memory). But Aye-aye-ippy? What were you thinking, guys?
Trevor Brooking scored twice that night. Contrary to public opinion that the only time he ever beat a keeper with his head was the cup fi nal win against Arsenal, his fi rst was a towering header from a Frank Lampard cross. His second – and our third – was simply brilliant. It’s just a shame that the TV cameras concentrated on the West Ham celebrations rather than following the Frankfurt defender who had tried, with a spectacular lack of success, to cover back and was last seen hurtling towards the Priory Road turnstiles after being utterly bamboozled by a wickedly deceptive shimmy. History does not record how much he was charged to reenter the ground.
You really do have to be something out of the ordinary to end up having a stand named after you. And they don’t give out knighthoods lightly. Trust me, Sir Trevor Brooking really was different class ¬– take a look at the highlights of the Frankfurt game if you don’t believe me. That night, as I sat by the side of the road contemplating my mangled Ford Escort, West Ham’s favourite son taught the Germans everything there is to know about fußball. Although, come to think of it, he had yet to be tapped on the shoulder by the Queen. If we are going to be strictly accurate, Sir Trevor was still plain old Mister Brooking back then. But who cares? That’s just splitting Herrs.