Few people know West Ham inside and out, on and off the pitch, quite as well as Boys of 86 hero Tony Cottee. So there are few people in as good a position to make a realistic assessment of the team’s chances of success this season under Slaven Bilic — and the good news is that the striking legend thinks the end of the Boleyn Ground era could be the start of something even better for the Irons.
‘Part of being a West Ham fan is you get more miserable moments than good, but when they’re good, they’re very good, and I really think there are good times round the corner,’ said Cottee, who scored 146 goals in 336 appearances over two spells at the club. ‘When you look at the squad we’ve put together, this is probably the strongest we’ve been in 15 years, since the Harry Redknapp/Paolo di Canio era. ‘We’ve got a great keeper, four good defenders, an abundance of midfielders and crucially we’ve now got four decent strikers.
‘I’ve always said you have to have [decent strikers] if you want to succeed in the Premier League, and in Diafra Sakho, Enner Valencia, Andy Carroll and Nikica Jelavic, finally we’ve got that. ‘Looking through the squad, this is the best we’ve had since the days of Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe and Glen Johnson. This is a really important season for the club, but we should all be a bit excited about what can happen this season. We’ve got some really good players.’
As one half, along with Frank McAvennie, of the most famous, adored and successful double act in West Ham history — 46 goals between the pair of them in the 1985- 86 season, which saw a club record highest third place finish in the old First Division — Cottee is in a better position than most to assess the Irons’ striking options. ‘Sakho is so good that he picks himself,’ said Cottee. ‘I like Valencia a lot, Jelavic I see as being a squad player, third or fourth choice, and then there’s the matter of Carroll. ‘He’s a great option to have, he gives you so much, but I’m not sure at his age and this stage in his career that he’s going to want to just be a sub to be called upon as an option.’
As both a lifelong fan and also a media pundit, Cottee is realistic in his assessment of the team’s current position, but as someone who was part of the club’s best ever league finish, he is keen to see the team rise to the next level — a move he thinks will become a more realistic proposition following next season’s much-anticipated move to the Olympic Stadium.
‘In all honesty, we’re in the second division of the Premier League at the moment, but if we can have a good season, I certainly expect us to be in the top 10, and hopefully challenging for the Europa League places,’ he said. ‘This is a hugely important season for the club. Nobody wants to leave the Boleyn as it’s where all our memories are, and we’ll all shed a tear when it’s time to move on, but as a fan, I’m sick and tired of 35 years of us not winning things. ‘Since we last won a trophy, the likes of Birmingham, Swansea and Wigan have won cups, and we haven’t — so clearly, something is wrong.
‘I’ve already bought two season tickets for the Olympic Stadium — my twin boys are West Ham fans, so after I’m gone, that can be my legacy to them. ‘Although I’m sad to leave, I’m very excited about where we’re going. We’ve got to make sure we take the best of the Boleyn with us, and I think design elements of the Olympic Stadium like the roof with the floodlights underneath, and having retractable seating, will help us to take that atmosphere with us. ‘The owners have been brilliant, and with the new stadium, there’ll be more money washing around, which you’d hope will help bring in more, better players. That, of course, means more chance of winning something.
‘Everyone needs to get their head around this move, and embrace it. I think when the first game there happens, there’ll be a real wow factor, as people look around and think “this is our new homeâ€. ‘We could stage the Champions League final there if we wanted to! Leaving the Boleyn will be sad, and we’ll all want a souvenir before we go, but once it’s happened, we’ll all be looking forward. There’s so much for everyone at West Ham to be looking forward to at the moment.’ *Tony was speaking to Claret and Hugh for Moore Than Just a Podcast. Listen to more from the team at www. moorethanjustapodcast. co.uk