West Ham legend Sir Trevor Brooking has revealed the reason he never became the club’s full-time manager – because his wife told him not to. In an interview for Blowing Bubbles, the two-time FA Cup winner, who was named third in the club’s all-time greatest player list behind team-mate Billy Bonds and Bobby Moore, said he did not want to damage his legacy.
‘I’ve always had a great rapport with the fans, but if you look at managers who go back to their old clubs, there’s always a season where something happens and it all goes wrong ,’ he explained. ‘We live in a world where people’s patience is short and my wife said she never wanted to have a situation where I managed the club, it went wrong, and I was tossed out having undone all that I achieved as a player.’
Sir Trevor made 643 appearance in 17 years for the club, putting him fourth in the all-time standings. He also had two short stints as caretaker manager in 2003, losing just one of his 14 games in charge, and almost managing to achieve the near impossible by turning things around and saving the club from relegation after a disastrous season under Glenn Roeder’s stewardship.
Rather than return to the club on a full-time basis, he put his professional and administrative experience to great use at the Sports Council and as director of football development at the Football Association, but Sir Trevor remains a regular visitor to the London Stadium, a close observer of goings-on at his old team and a universally respected neutral in the sometimes fraught relationship between the club’s fans and its owners.
Given his experience and insight, he has clear views on the fate of another former claret and blue hero who unlike him did return to take the managerial plunge, before it inevitably ended in tears – Slaven Bilic. Despite his successful first season at the club, including the Boleyn farewell, ultimately Bilic’s West Ham underperformed, leading to his sacking in November 2017 and replacement by David Moyes. Sir Trevor said that results, performances and most importantly players’ attitudes meant that once problems came their way, the writing was on the wall.
‘You’d have to put some question marks against some of the players, I don’t know whether he lost the ability to motivate them, but the most damning fact was that there were four or five goal tonkings on a few occasions, and people’s heads went down too quickly,’ he said. ‘If we went behind, you could sense it was a case of ”how many will the other lot get?”, not ”will we get back into the game?”
‘We were very soft centred, particularly at the start of the season. You can’t look at specific individuals, but there were a few whose heads went down and if things started badly, they just accepted it was going to be one of those games. Slav probably needed a rest, but fans still look back on him fondly – that last season at Upton Park and the final game was a fitting way to leave, but there was always that doubt with some fans about going to the new stadium, and results didn’t really help.’
Exit Bilic, enter Moyes – and fortunately things improved, as the former Everton manager turned things around to steer the team away from relegation, but sadly for him, too late to earn a long-term contract, and come the end of the season, he too was on his way – from a club which for so many years prided itself on its managerial stability. ‘We may have finished near the top of the bottom half in the Premier League last season, but just days before the season ended, we’d still been wondering if we’d go down, so from David’s point of view it was too late.
‘He brought in his own staff and people like Stuart Pearce, and in fairness they did tighten things up – around February/March time there was even talk about him getting a new contract, but then we had a bad patch. We lost to Brighton and Swansea so we weren’t out of the woods yet, so unfortunately for him the decision was probably taken then to look elsewhere. After that we won at Leicester, which was the big one, drew with Manchester United and beat Everton, but by then it was too late.
‘The position the club is in now is a bit of a culmination of the last two years – Slav did great, then had a few bad months, so David came in and got them more organised, but he was only there for a while too. He did manage to make a lot of money in the January transfer window – it was amazing he got something like £17m for Andre Ayew – so that was available for the summer, but unfortunately for him, he wasn’t really able to bring in anyone at that time.’
Arguably the lowest point of last season was the home game with Burnley in March, a hugely important match in the team’s survival bid, where three goals in 15 second half minutes condemned the home side to another worrying defeat and sparked furious protests by fans, including pitch invasions. Amid chaotic, angry scenes which saw the club’s directors retreat inside in the face of fan fury, it was Sir Trevor who remained in the executive seats – knowing that for all the ill-feeling, he was safe.
‘Our last three away games before that had been losses 3-1, 4-1 and 4-1 so we really needed to try and get something out of that game,’ he recalls. ‘There had been discussions that some demonstrations might take place, but after an hour it was still 0-0 and it looked like we’d weathered the storm. Then they put Chris Wood on, and within about five minutes he scored. That pushed the button for those who wanted to demonstrate.’
The scenes, including captain Mark Noble intervening to stop a pitch invader, and the planting of a corner flag on the centre circle, unfortunately remain enduring, defining images of what was a traumatic season for all involved with the club. Some fans started chucking coins, and security advised some of the board to go inside to safety, but I wanted to stay in the seats because I was hopeful we could still turn the game around!’ he said. ‘I thought they’re not going to throw anything at me, and then rather embarrassingly a few minutes later, the lads who had been throwing things started singing “There’s only one Trevor Brooking”!
‘Fortunately for the team, there was then an international break which allowed tempers to cool down. The club had meetings with fan groups, and mercifully things took a turn for the better. Being out of the cup as well meant we had three weeks before Southampton at home, which was a crucial game, one we had to win. ‘We met the supporter groups, and we said we know it’s frustrating but we need to stay up – we appealed for the atmosphere to be better, it was and we won that game, and then we went to Leicester and got the win there and we were safe. But that gave the time to understand they had to invest, and they changed the manager.’
In his 17 years in West Ham colours, Sir Trevor played under just two managers – the club’s two greatest ever, Ron Greenwood and John Lyall. In the 34 years since his retirement, he has seen 11 men fill the role on a permanent basis. Like every West Ham fan, Sir Trevor is still hoping that the Manuel Pellegrini era brings with it the stability and continuity that have been so absent in recent years, at such cost to the team and its fans.
Whenever the next managerial change comes, and whoever it is, fans can expect to see Sir Trevor there still – but just not taking the job himself. After all, he would not want to upset Mrs Brooking.