There are surely many former Hammers lost in the abyss of the bargain bin, often freebies that are nearly out of contract or without clubs.
One such player you may stumble across as you rummage for a deal is Matthew Etherington, who was, and still is, a firm favourite of mine. Matty is currently clubless having left Stoke City at the end of last season and he has been unfortunate in his search for a club. His time at the Britannia was fairly fruitful up until his final season, perhaps a sign that an injury-plagued career and age were counting against him in terms Premier League football.
For the little we’ve heard about Etherington in the past few years, it might surprise you to hear that he made only 13 fewer league appearances in red and white than claret and blue. For West Ham and Stoke City he scored 16 and 13 goals respectively in five and a half seasons at each club.
What was undeniable was his desire to play week in, week out. He gave his all for the Hammers, and as fans we always like a trier. What he had to boot was a good bit of pace on the wing and the eye to pick out a pass or cross. You could argue that he had the best form of his career at West Ham, which made him a great signing from Tottenham Hotspur by Glenn Roeder.
It’s hard to believe that a former Spurs player could so easily win the hearts of West Ham fans, but Matty did. I guess he wasn’t one of the top stars at White Hart Lane, which helped his cause on his move across London. It’s great to have a player that stays around for more than a couple of seasons, and across the five and a half we watched Etherington for, the first four were great and he became a must-start.
It says a lot about a player when he makes a move from Division Three (now League Two) to the Premier League, and that is what Matty did. From Peterborough United to Spurs, he did find it difficult to settle in North London, but established himself after a loan move to Bradford City
As is the story with most Hammers past and present, he has been slightly unfortunate with injuries. An ankle problem forced his best Spurs season short and he has suffered a recurring back injury throughout his career. Problems on and off the field may have tarnished his CV, but Etherington was clearly a popular man in the dressing room, paying credit to his character.
This always endears me to a player and to hear him recently talk of his friendship with many current Hammers was pleasing. The rumour mills even linked him with a return to Upton Park under Sam Allardyce after being shown the door by Stoke.
This is where I personally have to try and put my brain in gear and let my heart be overruled. Matthew Etherington will always be a player I remember watching as a season ticket holder, and one that I rated more often than not. The fan in me would welcome him back with open arms, but my footballing knowledge would remind me to hold that thought.
Despite only being 33, he is past his prime. I have no doubt that he could make an impact if he were to return, but it wouldn’t be the same man that we loved so much. I have no doubt that he could make some impact, but would it be an improvement to our current squad and wing? No. But his availability just might be noteworthy for clubs in a crisis. He’s an inexpensive punt, and I hope he does find a club soon
In play-off finals, West Ham fans have witnessed the difference he can make. His cross to Bobby Zamora in the 1-0 play-off final win over Preston made all the difference, and I still believe he could do that for someone. I wish him all the best in his life on and off the field, and I’m sure my fellow fans would join me in wishing him a happy footballing future.