Tim Holland speaks exclusively with West Ham legend Tony cottee about his West Ham career, the West Ham way, Sam Baldock and the ‘86 season.

TH: You're a local lad and a West Ham fan. What was it like to play for the club

TH: You’re a local lad and a West Ham fan. What was it like to play for the club?

TC: I can’t explain how good it was in fairness. West Ham are a passion of mine. My whole family are supporters. I have real history and attachment to the club — there was no other option for me. Growing in Romford as well with its big fan base meant that as soon as I was old enough I was going to watch matches with my mates.

TH: When a young player now scores on their debut they’re deemed to be ‘The Next tony Cottee’. Do you think that’s unfair on people like Freddie Sears?

TC: Well I was going to be the next Jimmy Greaves which is ridiculous as Jimmy was one of the best goal scorers this country has ever seen. It’s the same at every club — if you’re young and score at Everton you’re going to be the next Wayne Rooney so there’s always going to be comparisons at football clubs. I think it is unfair on young players like Freddie it puts too much pressure on players at an early age and it doesn’t help with their development.

TH: Sam Baldock was another player fans said reminded them of you. Were you surprised to see him go?

TC: I was disappointed to see Sam and Nicky Maynard leave in the summer. He was a fans’ favourite but for whatever reason he wasn’t given a chance a proper chance at the club. Managers have to make difficult decisions and I’m sure this was one of them. I think Sam could’ve scored goals in the Premier League but unfortunately we’re not going to see that at West Ham. We don’t play to his strengths and Sam has his formation and style of play and we have to respect that and you can’t argue with the results.

TH: What was it like to be part of the ’86 season?

TC: It was very special. You sometimes have seasons when one or two things go well — it could be a cup run or an

TC: It was very special. You sometimes have seasons when one or two things go well — it could be a cup run or an unbeaten run but that season everything went right apart from not winning the league. It was great as a player, we had a wonderful manager, terrific support especially after a bad start to the season. The belief was built that we might actually win the league and that was an amazing feeling. The fact that we got so close was very special it was just so disappointing that we win it as I think we were the best team that season.

TH: How do you think the Boys of 86 would compare to the current team?

TC: That’s a hard question — it’s so difficult to compare. Someone asked Tony Gale that the other day and he responded that it would be a close game but you have to remember that most of us are in our 50’s now! The way to analyse it would to see how many of the current players would get in the team of ’86 but it’s not for me say!

TH: Who was the best player you played with and against in your time?

TC: The best player has to be Alan Devonshire without doubt. He was a wonderful player. The best player against is more difficult, I had some great battles against Paul Parker and Paul McGrath but I’d have to go for McGrath at both Aston Villa and Manchester United. He read the game better than most forwards.

TH: What do you think was the best goal of your career?

TC: Technically it was the overhead kick against Nottingham Forest — it’s very rare that it all comes together and it goes right. The most enjoyable was definitely my first for the club against Tottenham because it was my first match, of who it was against and because of being of fan. It meant so much.

TH: Was it difficult not getting the chance to play further for England?

TC: I don’t have too many regrets in my career but not progressing for England was one of them, It worked out that I played 171 minutes for England even though I got sevem caps. So it was frustrating from that perspective but in those days there weren’t the same amount of friendlies that there are now. But the main reason was that I had some quality players in front of me like Lineker. But I take comfort that there was more competition for place back then as there were more English players playing the top divisions but I’m proud to have played for my country and the caps are all displayed on my wall.

TH: What was the highlight of your West Ham career?

TC: It’s difficult to name one highlight — my debut, the ’86 season, being named Young Player of the Season whilst at the club and being top scorer were all great moments. I think I was top scorer most seasons apart from when Frank beat me in ’86!

TH: What do you make of the West Ham way that supporters discuss?

TC: We play some good football but there is always going to be times when we don’t play quite as well and resort to more direct football and balls go forward quickly. Sam has had the ‘long ball’ tag for a while but you only have to see his squads to note that he always has creative players in there. What is the West Ham way? We’ve got good footballers our squad and we’d all like to win a trophy in the next 10 years and if Sam achieves that then he’ll be a legend. If he did do you think people would mention how many direct balls were played in a match? No, we all want the club to progress and compete for trophies in the long term.

TH: Finally, what’s your prediction for West Ham next season?

TC: I think we’ll finish between 10th and 15th and if we finish in the top half that will be a great achievement. I think it’s important to build slowly and the club needs stability. We need to be in the Premier League and remain there.

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