Who would have thought watching Marko Arnautovic’s dismal start to life in claret and blue that we actually had a shoo-in for the West Ham hall of fame in our midst? Arnie, you will recall, kicked off his West Ham career as a desolate figure in a humbling 4-0 defeat at Old Trafford and then, in his next game, got himself sent off for stupidly elbowing an opponent at Southampton.
What followed in the next three months wasn’t much better, and I most definitely was not the only one questioning whether the record fee we had paid Stoke City for his services was simply money down the drain. In a chastening lesson to doubting fans, pundits and Blowing Bubbles columnists everywhere, Arnautovic went on to prove that old maxim that what counts in life is not how you start, but how you finish. And Arnie is clearly going to finish up as West Ham’s next club captain.
It would seem that he’s already doing a job share with Mark Noble. Following the sickening last-gasp defeat to Wolves, words were said in the dressing room. And Nobes clearly wasn’t the only the one who got stuck into his underperforming team-mates. After the fantastic win at Goodison Park, our present-day skipper was at pains to point out that the roasting was a Mark and Marko double act.
‘We spoke openly and there were some home truths,’ Noble told Sky Sports. It then transpired the people dishing out those home truths were mainly Nobes and Arnie who, according to the interview, wasn’t just involved – he was ‘deeply’ involved. I suspect it’s hard to ignore a bollocking from Mr Arnautovic when he feels deeply about something.
Come the day that he finally takes over the club captaincy – as he surely will – the Austrian will follow in some fantastic footsteps. When I began supporting West Ham in the Sixties the club captain was a certain Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore – aka Bobby to those of us on the North Bank who marveled at his skill and composure at the heart of our defence.
Mooro led the team, in more ways than one, until he left the club in 1974. His replacement was none other than Billy Bonds, who went on to do the job for the following 10 years. So much has been said and written about both men over the years that it’s pointless me trying to add to that narrative here.
Suffice it to say, although they were very different characters, both were great leaders – and great men. Grey-haired supporters such as myself who were lucky enough to see them in their prime will invariably tell any younger fan who is prepared to listen that Moore and Bonds are the greatest players ever to wear the claret and blue.
Mind you, the bloke who stepped up next wasn’t too shabby either. Alvin Martin had his critics when he first came into the side in 1978. But any doubts about his ability were well and truly quashed in the 1980 FA Cup Final when, playing next to Bonds in the centre of defence, he produced an outstanding display to help beat Arsenal in what was regarded at the time as one of Wembley’s greatest ever upsets.
He became the obvious choice to take over from Bonzo and was club captain from 1984 to 1990. Good on the ball, fearless, loyal and a fantastic leader: what more could you want? It was Alvin of course, who led West ham to our highest ever league finish.
The Boys of 86 may not have actually won the title, but they certainly won the hearts of every West Ham supporter who followed them through that fantastic season. What’s more, our captain earned the rare distinction of scoring a hat-trick against three different goalkeepers in an 8-1 demolition of Newcastle at Upton Park. No mean feat for a central defender!
Injuries took their toll on Alvin at a time when he should have been at the peak of his powers, and although he remained at West Ham until 1996 – playing brilliantly in his twilight seasons – he handed over the captaincy to fellow Scouser Ian Bishop six years beforehand.
Bishop moved to West Ham from Man City in December 1989. Manager Lou Macari, who had signed him, got the boot at the beginning of 1990 but Bish continued to get the nod from new boss Billy Bonds. His long hair and languid style on the ball didn’t appeal to everyone at Upton Park in the early days and a regular chant of “Where’s your caravan?” suggested he might have trouble winning over some less-than politically correct fans.
But win them over he did – playing 284 times, scoring 16 goals and creating countless others. By the time Bishop returned to Man City in 1998 he had definitely acquired cult status. Bishop handed over the captain’s armband to Julian Dicks, who was skipper in two separate spells: first from 1992-93 and then, on his return from a spell at Liverpool, from 1996-97.
Such was the Terminator’s standing among supporters there were reports of some West Ham fans travelling up to Anfield on a regular basis just to watch him play. Hands up if you were one of those people. And put both hands up if you were there when Dicks became the last player to score in front of the Kop before Lord Justice Taylor made them all sit down.
Now, before you put your hands down again, ask yourself if you’re really supporting the right club. Sandwiched in between Dicks’s time as captain we had the truly wonderful Steve Potts. In his 17-year stint at Upton Park he was voted Hammer of the Year twice.
Some 463 starts for West Ham in all competitions; a grand total of 506 appearances in all; twice runner-up as Hammer of the Year to go with his two wins; unfailingly sound wherever he played in the back four despite being just 5ft 7ins tall; just one red card in all that time. And just one goal to go with it – which, to my mind, only goes to show that he spent most of his time doing what he was paid to do and stopping the other lot from scoring.
The contrast between West Ham’s next two captains couldn’t have been greater. Steve Lomas, who had the job from 1997-2001, was a dogged midfielder who made the most of his limited abilities. Paolo Di Canio, who skippered the side from 2001-03 was, well… Paolo Di Canio.
There’s no doubt who was the better player – but there is an argument about who was the superior captain. For what it’s worth, my money’s on Lomas. Next up was Joe Cole, who was given the job by manager Glenn Roeder at the turn of the year in the ill-fated 2002-03 season. Shortly afterwards Roeder underwent major surgery for a brain tumour. West Ham got relegated, Cole was made Hammer of the Year – and then our captain cleared off to Chelsea.
What followed, until the appointment of Noble in 2015, left something to be desired as well. Christian Dailly had big hair and a big heart, but was hardly the most inspiring defender. Nigel Reo Coker was four minutes away from becoming West Ham’s youngest ever Cup-winning captain but will be better remembered by many for the petulant way he cupped his ear in our direction after scoring against Man Utd.
Lucas Neill made more of a name for himself by his wage demands than anything he did on the pitch. And Matthew Upson’s time in charge is best summed up by the fact that many sports journalists regularly described Scott Parker as club captain.
Kevin Nolan was a definite upgrade and I believe too many fans failed to give him the credit he deserves. The same could well be said of Noble – who has been a fantastic ambassador for the club at an extremely difficult time in our history. We’ll miss him when he’s gone. But I am certain Marko Arnautovic will be a worthy successor.
Brian Williams is the author of two fantastic books about West Ham: Nearly Reach The Sky and Home From Home.