Merry Christmas to all you happy Hammers out there! To celebrate this wonderful holiday, below you will find a festive list of the best players to have pulled on the claret and blue over recent years. There is a Hammer for every one of the 12 days of Christmas and each one has been selected by their number and from the last 12 years of West Ham’s history
Hopefully this will remind you of recent better days when we inevitably crumble to defeat against Arsenal on Boxing Day.
1. Robert Green
Although he let the West Ham fans down when he left for cash-rich QPR in 2012, prior to that Green was a superb servant to the Hammers and saved our skin all too often during his 219 appearances for the club. Ironically, the outstanding display of Green’s that immediately springs to mind came when West Ham last beat Arsenal, which was just under six years ago in the 1-0 win at the Emirates Stadium. Some of the saves he pulled off that day defied the laws of physics and the ‘keeper was known for frequently putting on such spectacular displays.
2. Tomas Repka
‘Tomas Repka – football genius’ will always stick with me as one of the best drywitted chants to come from the Hammers fans. The big Czech was, of course, anything but a football genius. A better, less ironic way to describe him would be as ‘fierce’. Fierce in both the way he put himself about the pitch and also in his loyalty to West Ham.
Having signed for the Hammers from Fiorentina for the then club record fee of £5.5m in 2001, Repka did not get off to the best of starts. He was sent off in his first game, a 2-0 defeat away to Middlesbrough, and then sent off again in his third appearance, the humiliating 7-1 loss against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. Despite making such a bad first impression, Repka came to win over the West Ham faithful with his uncompromising style of defending and thoroughly deserved the cult hero status eventually given to him at the Boleyn Ground.
3. George McCartney
Still a current Hammer having returned to Upton Park in 2012, the left-back is often subjected to complaints from factions of the West Ham support, but the general consensus is that he is a good player, although he is one with injury problems. When he does play, the Northern Irishman is a solid defender and also able to venture forward to create opportunities.
McCartney does only really win the number three slot by default though. The only other options from the past 12 years are Nigel Winterburn, Rufus Brevett, Paul Konchesky, and Herita Ilunga, all of whom did not perform as well for as long as McCartney during their spells at Upton Park.
4. Danny Gabbidon
Similar to the number three shirt, not many top quality players have worn the number four for West Ham in recent years. Before Gabbidon there was Don Hutchison and, after the Welsh centre-back was released by the club in June 2011, Kevin Nolan arrived and took the number. As the only one of those three to have been named Hammer of the Year, Gabbidon wins the number
At his best for West Ham, the Crystal Palace defender was a force to be reckoned with. As fast as he was strong and with an excellent eye for reading the game, Gabbidon was tremendously difficult to outfox and fully deserved the best player accolade he received in 2006. Sadly, he suffered a string of injuries later that year and was never able to recapture the excellent form he had shown for the Hammers.
5. James Tomkins
Still only 24, Tomkins seems to have been around forever. He made his debut for West Ham as an 18-year old against Everton in March 2008 and, although he slipped to allow Yakubu to score for the Toffees in that game, the young centre-back showed a lot of promise. Having joined West Ham as a schoolboy aged just 7, Tomkins is one of the few academy products knocking around the first team at the moment. The centre-back excelled during West Ham’s 2011/2012 season in the Championship and, in doing so, earned himself a place in the Great Britain squad for the 2012 Olympic Games
Sam Allardyce signed James Collins to reinforce the Hammers defence that summer though and, since then, ‘Tonka’ has struggled to get a regular game. That was until recently, when Winston Reid’s ankle injury gave Tomkins the chance to show what he can do once more. Although he will probably need to improve even more until he is considered as one of West Ham’s first choice centre-halves, the boy from Basildon is still young and has time to learn. He is both an excellent servant and an exciting prospect for the Hammers.
6. Michael Carrick
Choosing a number six for West Ham is never usually tricky. Even those with no clue about football generally know the name of that guy who lifted the World Cup for England. Nevertheless, what you are reading is a (tenuously) festive themed selection, so we cannot have Bobby Moore on this occasion. Instead we have a player who, like the aforementioned legend, came through the West Ham academy and has gone on to represent his country. While he has not done those things with as much distinction as THE number six, Michael Carrick has always been considered as an excellent player.
He was a precocious talent when he fully broke into the West Ham team as a 19- year-old in 2000, displaying coolness on the ball and awareness of his teammates’ positions that you do not usually see from players so young. Not only did Carrick do West Ham the service of playing intelligent football, he also showed the club remarkable loyalty when the Hammers were relegated to the second tier in 2003.
The young Geordie had spent the preceding season sidelined through injury and did the honourable thing by staying with the Hammers for the following campaign as they sought promotion back to the Premier League. As it was, West Ham lost to Crystal Palace in the play-offs and had to spend another year outside of the top flight.
Although Carrick left for rivals Tottenham before the next promotion chase began, his decision to stay and work for the Hammers when other teams were sniffing around him was admirable.
7. Christian Dailly
This one is a little tongue in cheek. Christian Dailly was undoubtedly a loyal servant to West Ham – he spent six years at the club despite rarely being made a first team regular. The only problem with him was that number on the back of his shirt. The number seven is supposed to be reserved for flair players! You know; speedy wingers, play-makers, tricksters, goalscorers. NOT for curly haired utility men. Dailly wearing the number seven was worse than James Collins wearing white boots every week.
And yet, here he is, among the best players to wear the first dozen numbers for the Hammers in the last 12 years. ‘How the hell has that happened?’ I hear you wonder. Well, Dailly had his name on that shirt for six of those years for starters. After that, only Freddie Ljungberg, Kieron Dyer, Sam Baldock and Matt Jarvis have gone near it. Not exactly a list of Hammers legends there. So Dailly emerges as the tallest dwarf (or elf if we’re still being Christmassy) and claims the number seven. Perhaps flair players should just leave it alone.
8. Scott Parker
Now we’re getting somewhere. The list of Hammers to have worn the number eight shirt in the past 12 years includes Trevor Sinclair, Teddy Sheringham, Andy Carroll and, of course, Super Scotty Parker. Trev and Teddy were both superb during their time in the claret and blue, Andy Carroll did well last season as well before signing permanently and changing to number nine in the summer, but Scott Parker singlehandedly carried West Ham through countless games when he was a Hammer.
He may have left the club in the Championship and gone to Tottenham, but he was the only player who deserved a move. He’d fought so valiantly and played so well as he tried to keep West Ham up that he’d earned the right to do as he pleased.
9. Dean Ashton
Merely thinking of Dean Ashton makes most Hammers as miserable as Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve – they cannot help but wonder: ‘What could have been?’ His inclusion in this list does, therefore, go against the main purpose of the article (to spread Christmas cheer). But he definitely deserves his spot as the best number nine we’ve had in the past 12 years. Signed from Norwich City in January 2006, the big centre-forward did not hang about in showing what he could do and became a fan favourite almost immediately. His crucial goals in the FA Cup quarter-final against
Manchester City did him no harm and his top-rate performance in the final against Liverpool went down a treat. Now 30 years old, Deano should have been leading the Hammers frontline for nearly seven years. Instead, in a cruel twist of fate, he was forced to retire four years ago because of an ankle injury he picked up in training with England before he was set to make his international debut in a friendly against Greece
10. Paolo Di Canio
Nothing really needs to be said about the Italian magician, does it? We all know that he’s a West Ham hero and always will be.
11. Matthew Etherington
Although he started with the number 12 shirt when he first joined the Hammers as part of the deal taking Frederic Kanoute to White Hart Lane in 2003, Matty Etherington typified what a number 11 should always be about. He was the oldfashioned winger who would run at full-back, drop a shoulder and then whip a cross in to the box
Oddly enough, Etherington is the exact player Sam Allardyce could do with right now. Moreover, he’s the kind of player Matt Jarvis should be, but we’ve already established he’s stuck with that cursed number seven shirt.
12. Carlton Cole
Since his return to the club after being released in the summer, Cole wears 24 for West Ham. Prior to leaving he wore the number nine shirt. But Cole enjoyed his best football for the Hammers when he had 12 on his back. Remember the cracker he scored against Newcastle, when he controlled the ball on his thigh in the area, turned and smashed it into the net with his left foot? Remember that breathtaking team goal he finished off with aplomb against Wigan? And remember that screamer he scored against Spurs from outside the area? Yep, you guessed it, they were all in the number 12 shirt.
Safe to say, Cole was better in the number 12. Which actually makes perfect sense, because he played his best football for West Ham under Gianfranco Zola and it was the season following the little Italian’s departure that Cole switched to the number nine shirt. The ghost of Christmas past would say that he should have stuck with 12, but he’d probably also say that West Ham should have stuck with Zola. If this list has failed to perk you up, then just remember; no matter how rubbish West Ham play in future, at least we don’t have to tolerate Lionel Scaloni on the second day of Christmas.