Being a West Ham fan, you could have been forgiven this summer for thinking that Sam Allardyce was intending to field 11 strikers for this first game of the season, given the forward-dominated transfer speculation involving the club this summer.
Now don’t get me wrong, signing strikers is important but I feel one very important man has been kicked to the wayside and given he is no longer employed by the club, but I’m not going to remain silent any longer. I love Carlton Cole and am going to use my first article of the season to explain why he’s my favourite West Ham player of all time. This is not going to be a balanced piece considering both sides of the argument, for the simple reason that as far as Carlton Cole goes, for me, there is no other side of the argument. He’s awesome, end of.
Middlesbrough home, September 2007
We’re failing to dominate against a team we really should be dominating against and our fans are getting on Carlton’s back for the simple reason that he’s occupying the position typically played by crowd favourite Dean Ashton and he is not Deano. Chances come and chances go, the tempo of the game looks like it’s swaying in Boro’s favour and the tension increases. A lesser man would have bowed to the pressure but this is Carlton Cole. He gets his head down, keeps plugging away and plays a hand in our first two goals in an eventual 3-0 win before sliding the third in himself. I was impressed.
Coventry away, November 2007
I was even more impressed when he put in a man of the match performance to put us into the Carling Cup quarter finals. The game was both a typical West Ham performance and a typical Carlton performance; trailing 1-0 at half time to a mediocre Championship outfit and nothing’s falling for the C man. Well, except himself.
After half time, no real change. The whole team look more determined but still nothing’s really happening. Then, it does. Twenty minutes to go and a lucky, twice-deflected Luis Boa Morte effort somehow finds the strength to enter the Coventry net. Game on. Big Johnny Spector then takes out the Coventry winger and puts Carlton in the clear. Our powerful number 12 shrugs off the challenge from a desperate Coventry centre and he scores, in the last minute, to put us into the quarters, and gives a wonderfully candid post-match interview to Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves in which he sums up everything I love about him. Effort, emotional strength, humility, resistance. I think this was the game where Carlton Cole became my favourite West Ham player.
Wigan away, March 2009
The thing I’ve always loved most about Carlton is that he never gives up. However, this can sometimes detract from the fact that on his day, he is a truly great footballer. On a horrible night at Wigan, of the sort that is brought up by football pundits when a talented player from the continent is bought by a Premier League club (‘oh aye, he’s great if you stick him in at the Bernabeu or the San Siro, but could he do it on a stormy night at Wigan?!’), the C Man scored a goal of outstanding beauty.
A wonderful, flowing team move ended with Carlton curling home an unerring finish to give us a 1-0 win that boosted our hopes of European football. It’s sometimes easy to forget with players like him, the triers, the workhorses, the grafters, what gifted athletes they truly are. This was one of those nights where Carlton reminded us all just what he’s capable of.
Blackpool at Wembley, May 2012.
Something that is not Carlton Cole’s fault is that West Ham have not won a trophy for 33 years. However, just over a year ago, he helped all West Ham fans feel like something it is truly difficult to make a West Ham fan feel like: winners. A well-taken first half goal to put us 1-0 up on Blackpool in the Championship play-off final put us on our way to automatic promotion back to the Premier League.
The game was, for me, unlike anything else I’ve ever gone through as a West Ham fan. Far me for me to pin the victory on one man but Carlton was magnificent the whole game, possibly his finest performance in a West Ham shirt. Powerful, energetic, full of beans; he had it all. As hard as I took it when Carlton Cole left the club at the end of last season, it was right that he did, because he couldn’t get in the team for one reason; Andy Carroll is simply a better striker than him.
I don’t agree with every decision that Sam Allardyce made last season and I think it’s a great shame that Allardyce never wanted to take the risk of playing the two of them up front together. However, I’m keen to look back on everything that Carlton gave to the club and how he helped us build and put us in a position where we could sign strikers like Andy Carroll. Cheers for the memories big man, always believe in your soul, you’ve got the power to know, you’re indestructible, always believe in Carlton Cole!