If you are young enough to remember the 70s and early 80s when cup finals were 10 a penny for West Ham, then you would have been fortunate enough to have seen William Arthur ‘Billy’ Bonds in his prime.
Arguably West Ham’s most influential player of all time, you knew that wherever you were watching West Ham, at home or abroad, that Bonzo would give nothing less than 100 per cent once he pulled on that shirt. Billy Bonds MBE will be 67 in September. He spent 27 years as a player and manager at West Ham making a record 793 first team appearances over 21 seasons – 10 of those as captain. He is the only West Ham captain to lift the FA Cup twice and won Hammer of the Year four times in 1971, 74, 75 and 87. He was also runner-up three times in 1969, 70 and 88.
I have been banging on West Ham’s door about honouring Bill since 2006 when I asked if he would be guest of honour for the FA Cup final at Cardiff. No-one at West Ham had even given him a thought, instead Billy went to a family birthday party on the day and presented the FA Trophy to Grays at Upton Park the day after.
All requests were falling on deaf ears for years but I now feel that we are getting somewhere. In February I went to a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Bobby Moore’s tragic death, which was held at the statue opposite the Boleyn. It was a bitterly cold Sunday morning but David Gold, Martin Peters and Bobby’s daughter and grandchildren turned up.
Phil Bayles from ITV London News was there interviewing fans and I told him it was a shame that no current players were there to pay their respects and that I hope West Ham do not leave it too late to honour Billy Bonds as they did with Bobby
Later that evening my rant about the current players made the news but they cut out the bit about Bill. I was contacted by a number of people who had seen me and I decided to give the Billy Bonds Stand idea another shot and got many people to tweet David Gold that evening. Two weeks later West Ham announced the Lifetime Achievement Award for Bonzo – this may have been planned for months but it encouraged me to get moving again and a month later I met David Gold at his book signing at Upton Park.
I hung around until the end knowing that would be my chance to have my say and, fair play to the co-chairman, he listened and agreed with me that Bondsey kept the team going for years. I suggested that the East Stand should be renamed the Billy Bonds Stand for three years until we went to Stratford. David Gold agreed and promised to think about it.
Personally I have been going to West Ham since the 1964/65 season with my first game being a 0-0 draw against Leicester with Gordon Banks playing in goal for Leicester. Like the majority of West Ham fans it’s in the blood. Along with my three sons, my brother and his two sons – we’re all just carrying on a family tradition that goes back to before the 1923 FA Cup final.
In all those near 50 years, I have never seen a player that inspires and leads by example as much as Billy Bonds. In his early days at right back he sent many a left winger – including George Best – over the Chicken Run Wall and it would be poetic justice that the same stand be named after him. The comments we are getting on our Twitter page have been fantastic and Bill looks like he was a hero to many.
They say that you should never meet your heroes and before I met Bill about five years ago I was worried that I was doing the wrong thing, but Bill was just what I expected – an old school, unassuming, modest, thoroughly decent man. West Ham fans are a special breed and really know our history, we are Moore than just a football club.
The fans are rarely wrong about players. Having said that I’m not sure if 6’2″ Bill has eyes of blue or brown (but then again Ludo comes from the Czech Republic and that’s 1,000 miles from Moscow!) Please support us and sign our Twitter campaign and let’s give Billy Bonds the recognition that he thoroughly deserves.