Billy Bonds

You know a club is in trouble when supporters unveil banners accusing the people who control it of being liars, thieves and cheats.

You know a club is in trouble when supporters unveil banners accusing the people who control it of being liars, thieves and cheats.

An ill-conceived bond scheme, which required supporters to pay as much as £950 simply so they could buy a season ticket, cast a long shadow over the managerial tenure of one of West Ham’s greatest sons.

Billy Bonds deserved better than to be pitched into the middle of that battle by chairman Martin Cearns and his sidekick Terry Brown. The club was badly rocked by Lou Macari’s sudden departure and the ship was in desperate need of a steady hand.

Who better than a real-life Captain Fantastic? Bonds had twice led his team-mates up Wembley’s famous 39 steps to collect the FA Cup.

He held the club record for appearances. He had been Hammer of the Year four times. He was an MBE. It was impossible not to respect Bonzo.

Bonds had been coach of the youth team since retiring as a player in 1988 and had actually applied for the top job when John Lyall was sacked.

The fact that he continued to serve the club loyally after he was denied the role speaks volumes. The players responded immediately. Despite the poor start under his predecessor, Bonds took the team to within two points of the play-offs.

The following year — his first full season in charge — West Ham were promoted. We also reached the FA Cup semi-final: the notorious game against Nottingham Forest in which Tony Gale was controversially sent off.

The next season was to prove one of the most miserable in West Ham’s history.

In an attempt to raise funds for the redevelopment of the Boleyn Ground supporters were asked to purchase bonds in three price bands — £500, £750 and £950 — for the right to buy a ticket for a designated seat for 150 years.

The proposal prompted protests and pitch invasions. The atmosphere was toxic and the team struggled to cope. West Ham finished bottom of the division with just 38 points from 42 games.

As a result, West Ham missed out on the first season of the new Premier League. Harry Redknapp, a close friend who had been best man at Bonds’ wedding, was brought in as his assistant for the new season and West Ham bounced back at the first attempt, securing automatic promotion back to the top flight.

With Bonds in charge of team affairs and Redknapp masterminding the transfer policy, West Ham looked to establish themselves in the Premier League, finishing 13th in 1993- 94.

Then, just when it looked like the club was finally back on an even keel, Billy Bonds quit after 27 years of unmatched service. And that is a story in itself.

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