As the club settles into its new home at the Olympic Stadium following its most successful season in a decade, being a West Ham fan may be all about looking forward at the moment.
But at the Knees Up Mother Brown end of season awards, former Irons favourites Marlon Harewood and Anton Ferdinand gave a revealing insight into life at the club 10 years ago – with particular praise for an unlikely hero. In 2006, Harewood and Ferdinand were part of the team that came so close to winning the FA Cup for the fourth time in the club’s history, only to be denied in a penalty shoot-out loss to Liverpool after a thrilling 3-3 draw.
And according to both players, the reason for the club’s success in that time was the combination of manager Alan Pardew – and captain Nigel Reo-Coker, who left the club under a cloud a year later after a contractual dispute, aged just 23
‘I have nothing but admiration for Nigel,’ said defender Ferdinand, who now plays for Reading. ‘To do what he did at such a young age, and give his all week in and week out, he had real authority and maturity. He might not have left the club in the best way but the things he did in terms of making sure the bridge between the squad and the manager was good’.
Striker Harewood, whose goal in the semi-final win over Middlesbrough put West Ham in the 2006 final, echoed his team-mates comments about the captain. ‘I absolutely love Nigel, he was the best skipper I’ve ever had,’ he said. ‘For someone so young, he was an amazing man. He always looked after everybody else and would never worry about himself. He’d do anything for the lads, he looked after me very well.’
Whilst Reo-Coker’s career has not panned out quite as expected since West Ham – after spells with Aston Villa, Ipswich and Bolton, he has most recently been playing in Canada and is currently without a club – Pardew has remained a high-profile figure in English football. His West Ham career ended seven months after the FA Cup final when the side were beaten by, of all teams, Sam Allardyce’s Bolton, but during his time in charge, both players agreed Pardew did an excellent job at the club.
‘He’s probably the best manager I had in my whole career,’ revealed Ferdinand. ‘I was young and doing some silly things but he treated me like an adult and trusted me to discipline myself. ‘I remember him taking me into his office and saying “I know what you’ve been doing – it’s not affecting you now, but the moment it affects your play, I’ll come down on you so hard” – and that was enough. He could have taken me out of the team, but he trusted me to put things right, and luckily it never got to the point where it did affect my Saturdays.
Harewood was also fulsome in his praise for Pardew, who has since gone on to manage Charlton, Southampton, Newcastle and currently Crystal Palace. ‘I couldn’t get enough of Pards – his time at the club was excellent for me,’ said the former Nottingham Forest striker. ‘He treated us like adults, but he wanted us to enjoy life too. He dealt with players very well – he knew the sort of who needed an arm round them, and those who needed telling off, which is why people like him.
‘As long as we got it right on a Saturday, he was happy, so the time he was at the club was excellent for me.’ Whilst fans may have hoped that the 2006 FA Cup final was the start of great things to come for West Ham, instead it served as the opening chapter of a period of huge instability in the club’s history, which was only brought to an end in 2010 when current owners David Sullivan and David Gold bought the club.
The first of what proved to be a series of upheavals at the Boleyn came in autumn 2006 when, in a move that caused serious ripples for the club on and off the pitch, Argentinian duo Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano turned up at the club – although no-one seemed quite sure how or why.
‘The arrival of Tevez and Mascherano upset things a bit; we didn’t know who they were until we saw them in training, and it became clear they were unreal,’ said Harewood. ‘I think Pards got a bit of grief from upstairs that he had to play them, whereas he wanted to stick with the players who he knew, and who had got him where he was.
‘That showed how loyal he was,’ added Ferdinand. ‘You’ve got players like that walking into the squad but Pards wanted to play Hayden Mullins instead of Mascherano – you can laugh, but for me in that team Hayden was the most important player, he did the work other people didn’t want to. ‘He could play a bit but the most important thing was he did all the graft. It was between him and Mascherano to play, and Pards was all about loyalty and he trusted Hayden, which gave him confidence.’
Whilst Mascherano was only ever a bit-part player, Tevez’s short but sweet stay wrote his name into Irons folklore forever – and Ferdinand says it was clear to see why. ‘We could tell straight away in training that he was something else,’ said Ferdinand. ‘He was the most relaxed trainer I’ve ever seen – I always tell youngsters you can’t just turn it on and off when you like, but Tevez was the only person I’ve ever seen be able to do that.
‘He never needed to get out of second gear, and was looking to nutmeg Matty Upson all the time. He was totally casual but the best on the pitch.’ It was not long, however, before Pardew was on his way, and former Irons player Alan Curbishley was given the job of salvaging the season and saving the team from relegation – achieved, of course, in the most dramatic fashion possible on the last day of the season, with Tevez playing the key role.
But as Ferdinand and Harewood told the KUMB podcast live audience, it was something that happened earlier in the season that really turned things round. ‘As a player and fan, what was happening really got to me, and there was one game where we lost 4-0 at Charlton that was the turning point,’
said Ferdinand. ‘In the dressing room afterwards I went off on one. I was wearing my fan head, not my player one, and for about five minutes no-one could stop me – I let rip. The funny thing is that after that, our season changed.’ Harewood agreed it was a significant moment in the Great Escape. ‘Sometimes in dressing rooms, things need to be said. After what Anton said, we went on a decent run, we pulled through so it was a good thing he lost his head, we needed that,’ he explained.
Whilst all the attention was on Tevez, around the same time a youngster was on the fringes of the first team squad, and much like the the Argentinian player, he too would go on to write his name in West Ham’s history. ‘I remember Mark Noble’s first time training with the first team,’ said Ferdinand. ‘He was still only about 15 and was playing alongside senior pros like Steve Lomas and Don Hutchison.
‘He was calling for the ball all the time but not getting it so he started screaming and swearing at Lomas to give him the ball. ‘Eventually he did, just so that he could hammer Nobes when he lost it, but of course he never did lose the ball. ‘After that session, I knew he was going to be a serious player. ‘That’s why he’s turned into such a leader, because it means so much to him. He’s Mr West Ham, I’ve got nothing but praise for him. He’s younger than me, but as a footballer and as a West Ham fan, Mark Noble is someone I look up to.’
Ferdinand and Harewood both played in Noble’s testimonial and were also at the Farewell Boleyn match, and it is clear that they regard the step into the unknown that is the move to Stratford, and the next chapter in the club’s history, with huge excitement. ‘The Olympic Stadium is a big step but it’s a big step we need to take,’ said Harewood. ‘50,000-plus season ticket holders shows you how big the club is – it’s going to be amazing pulling crowds like that and attracting players from all over’
But it is one player who is already at the club who is particularly exciting Ferdinand – as a defender, as a West Ham academy graduate, and as a fan. ‘Reece Oxford – you can see he has West Ham in him and has definitely got what it takes,’ he says.
‘He won’t kick it out unless he has to, he’s always composed and looking for the pass rather than long ball – it’ll be hard for him as there are some big hitters ahead of him in his position, but if he gets his chance, he’ll take it. ‘With the stadium we’ve got and the players we’re going to be able to go for, it means West Ham is only going in one direction. As a fan I couldn’t be happier.’