Like Whitney Houston, Hammers cult hero John Moncur believes the children are the future. But unlike the superstar singer, he feels the future success of West Ham’s famed Academy won’t be on the teachings of Terry Westley, but about waiting for the right youngsters to come along.
Westley was given a five-year contract in September despite the development squad not winning a single game up to that point of the season and having been relegated from the Barclays U21 Premier League Division One last season. Th e 56-year-old joined the Hammers in July 2014 to oversee a massive overhaul of the Academy and immediately set to work releasing many of the existing squad including Sebastian Lletget, who has been taking the MLS by storm, and John’s son George.
Currently the under-21s sit fourth from bottom in Division Two but they have won their last four games, including a victory over table toppers Derby County, and Moncur Snr believes Westley is the right man to turn things around. ‘I don’t know him, but he has a lot of experience at this level,’ Moncur said. ‘You’ve got to ask yourself are the players good enough?
‘The crop of players coming through when I was playing, was it a freak because they had so many good players at the time? Th ey had Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson. Sometimes you have to have the material. You can’t blame Terry Westley if the lads aren’t good enough.
‘I don’t know if it’s luck or what. Just look at Manchester United. Th e amount of players they produced that were world beaters but since then, they haven’t had it and I don’t think they’ve changed their system or personnel too much so sometimes you just have to be patient and wait for the right lads to come through.’
A couple of years ago the Hammers had a very successful Academy side, but disappointingly failed to bring any of the players through to the fi rst team. However, Moncur says it does not matter how many good young players you have at the club, it is how many great ones you have that counts. ‘With the previous regime you had George [Moncur], Dan Potts, Sebastian Lletget, Blair Turgott, etc and they were top of the league because they had a bunch of lads who knew each other, played well together and had a strong team.
‘At the moment, it’s not really about winning leagues or being at the bottom or being relegated, it’s about producing one or two players who can go and play in the first team. ‘That’ll be Terry Westley’s job so hopefully with Slaven managing the first team, I think the young lads will get a chance. Certainly more of a chance than they would’ve had under Sam Allardyce so it will be nice to see one or two of them break through.’
As for his son George, who has scored 12 goals in 43 appearances for Colchester United since he made his permanent move last year, Moncur Snr still holds a grudge against Allardyce and his treatment of his son. ‘It was disappointing when he left because it’s my club but I think it was an even bigger disappointment for George,’ the ex-Hammers midfielder continued. ‘It was just unfortunate that the arrival of Sam Allardyce didn’t help him.
‘He never looked to the young players and what he did to them on that day when he threw them all in at Nottingham Forest was an absolute joke being honest with you.’ Looking forward, Moncur, who joined West Ham from Swindon in June 1994 for £1m, believes Slaven Bilic is the right man to take West Ham forward to an exciting future in the Olympic Stadium.
‘He certainly was the one [candidate] that stood out for me because I know him, I played with him. He’s a great lad,’ the 49-year-old explained. ‘He had all the experience to come in and do the job that he is doing. He was a good international manager, and he likes to play the West Ham way.
‘I think he has proven that he has got good recruitment skills, that he has the right people round him and that he knows the European market as well as English players. I think he has done a great job and it doesn’t surprise me that he has done so well up to now. ‘I think he is going to be the one to take us onto the new chapter when we move into the new stadium. I think the project over five years if we stick with him, the club will be in healthy hands.’
Heading into the final few games of 2015, Moncur, who scored six goals in 176 appearances for West Ham, believes a top half finish is still achievable for Bilic’s men. ‘I think the way we are set up as a team, we look really good away from home with pace on the counter,’ he explained. ‘I think that obviously the home form is a bit of a problem as the performances aren’t as good as they are away from home.
‘At the end of the day, I think we have a deep enough squad to finish in the top half and I think that would be superb if Slaven, in his first year, could get into the top half.’ The conversation turns to Moncur’s career in the claret and blue, he is quite quick to bat away the suggestion he is a cult hero before adding: ‘When I look back at my time at West Ham, you are judged by a crowd that is very knowledgeable but can also be quite hostile at times. I think it’s a credit to the nine years that I had there that they held me in quite high regard so that’s quite pleasing.’
Moncur started his career at Tottenham Hotspur, coming up through the ranks, and spent eight years there, playing 21 times and scoring once. During his spell at White Hart Lane he was loaned to five clubs before joining up with Glenn Hoddle at Swindon Town for £80,000 in 1992. Asked why things didn’t work out for him at Spurs, he replied: “At the time they had good midfield players who could keep the ball like Paul Gascoigne and he was arguably one of the best midfield players in the world.
‘I don’t think Terry Venables, who was their manager at the time, was keen on playing both of us for some reason. I think we were both as mad as each other and I think that our games were quite similar to a point, although he was obviously the better player. ‘Looking back, I think I probably stayed there one or two seasons too long but in the end an ex-Tottenham player took me to Swindon in Glenn Hoddle.’
After being with a club for such a long time, does he look out for Spurs’ results as much as he does West Ham’s? ‘I do but only because I’m hoping they’ll lose,’ he replied quickly. ‘I felt I didn’t get a fair crack of the whip there. As time went on, I always felt I did reasonably well when I played against them because I felt I had a point to prove. ‘Having signed for West Ham, it made it extra special when we got a result against Spurs. I’m not bitter towards them, it’s just one of those things. It’s the way football is.’
As for his regular appearances in the referee’s notebook, Moncur points out most of his yellow cards came later on in his career. ‘You know when you are just that little bit slower but still have got that desire to win the ball,’ he continued. ‘I wasn’t a dirty player – I was just committed. That’s how I see it. Yes, I picked up a few yellow cards but as the game went on, what you could get away with 20 years before at the start of my career, you couldn’t get away with at the end of my career.
‘They were giving yellow cards away for next to nothing so the game did change a lot during my career and that added to the amount of yellow cards I received. ‘I look back at some of the games against Chelsea and Leeds with Norman Hunter and Chopper Harris, some of their tackles were like GBH – they wouldn’t last five minutes in today’s game. It’s just the way it is. I think football is better for it in a way but then you do lose the art of tackling. It’s gone out the game a bit.
Another difference in today’s footballing world is the culture of drinking, something Moncur admits was prevalent for the majority of his footballing career. ‘The foreign players [coming to the Premier League] perhaps changed that culture. I don’t think they do it now as much but in the old days we’d probably go out once or twice a week and we built up our team spirit by going out.
‘With sports science and everything we know today, it probably doesn’t do you any good. What we didn’t realise that to go out, even on a Saturday night after the game, it took you two or three days to recover so I think the sports science element has changed a lot of it and that’s why you don’t see it so much in football. ‘I remember Frank Lampard [Snr] telling me Bobby Moore used to come in on Sunday with a plastic bag and sweat it all out.’ *John was speaking to Claret and Hugh for Moore Than Just a Podcast. Listen to more at http://www.moorethanjustapodcast.co.uk