It’s hard to believe that this time last year Robert Snodgrass was out on loan at Aston Villa. Just half a season after joining the Hammers from Hull City the Scotsman was ostracised, scapegoated and deemed surplus to requirements and so was temporarily shipped out of the club.
While trying to get on with things at Villa Park, Snodgrass was even slated in the media by the club’s ownership. That he is now a fan favourite at the London Stadium and an instrumental player in West Ham’s side is a true testament to his character and determination to succeed.
It was always going to be a difficult task for Snodgrass to immediately become a success in east London. After Dimitri Payet had forced his way out of the club, the Scotsman was billed as his replacement. This was never going to be the case no matter how much anybody wanted it to be true.
He may have done well for Hull in the first half of the season – scoring seven league goals – but he’d been deployed on the right wing or behind the striker when playing in amber and black. He was now coming into replace one of the most technically skilled men West Ham have had in years, who’d played on the left all season.
Snodgrass went the rest of the campaign without getting a single goal as West Ham finished on 45 points, which somehow saw them come 11th. Snodgrass admits that his early times at West Ham were difficult to deal with. ‘It wasn’t great from a personal point of view I’m not going to lie,’ he said in an interview for Blowing Bubbles. ‘They were the hardest months that I had going through January to May because I had my family, my three kids and my missus who weren’t there and I was staying in rented accommodation. It was quite hard to settle or find my feet, I was trying to find a house, I was trying to find schools. People tell you any footballer plays their best football when they’re settled.’
The midfielder was very honest in his views of his maiden campaign in claret and blue, he continued: ‘In the first season I obviously didn’t do well but to be honest I don’t think it was a great season for West Ham as a squad. When you look at it now and probably the season before that’s the level we should be playing at and mixing it with the big boys. I put my hands up and say I wasn’t good enough and that was the simple honest truth.’
While most of the squad were given a chance to prove they could get West Ham to those heights, that wasn’t the case for Snodgrass. He was left out of the squad for the first three games of the season and then sent out on loan to Aston Villa for the 2017/18 campaign. This didn’t exactly help him to feel settled, but he made the best of the situation.
‘My family moved down and then a few days later I had to leave. My missus and my three kids were left in limbo and saying “you’re not going to be hereâ€ so I stayed in London and was travelling all the way to Birmingham. I was doing 750 maybe 1,000 miles a week sometimes to head up to Aston Villa. It was probably one of the hardest times I’ve had in football but it was the most enjoyable because I felt my confidence had taken a massive hit.’
He became an integral part of the Villain’s team as they attempted to earn promotion back to the Premier League. By December Villa were fifth in the Championship, with Snodgrass making a telling contribution, including three goals and four assists. That made it all the more surprising when on December 8th David Sullivan made a comment in the media stating: ‘The manager said he wanted Fonte and Snodgrass, my kids begged me not to sign them.’
There were many who were confused about the thought processes behind this, with Snodgrass seemingly among those. ‘When the comments came I was doing well at Aston Villa. It was one of those situations where at the time I hadn’t even played a game [for West Ham] that season and I think the lads were struggling for points. I just found it strange that my name got mentioned because I wasn’t even there. It was difficult because I still had a two-and-a-half-year contract there and I’ve always had a good relationship with chairmen and chief executives at previous clubs.
‘You see that and it’s hard. I always want to have a level of dignity and class about things, I sort of had a war of words which I don’t think anyone would really want with their chairman. It’s just pointless. I think at that time he’s probably been asked a question and he’s given the answer that he thought was the truth. So I totally understand.’
The day after that comment he played in Villa’s goalless draw against Millwall. He continued to impress for them as they reached the play offs. He and his team mates were unable to get the club back to the Premier League though, losing 1-0 against Fulham in the play off final.
It is this loss which resulted in Snodgrass being unable to return to Villa Park at the beginning of this season, as they simply couldn’t afford him now that they were staying in the Championship. This created a sense of uncertainty around his future, but the change of management which had occurred at Snodgrass’ parent club while he was away has played into his hands.
Manuel Pellegrini was clearly keen on integrating the midfielder back into the side. ‘He obviously never signed me but he’s trying to get the best out of me and I believe he’s doing that by talking to me.’
This approach has certainly had an impact, as at the time of writing there’s only one Premier League match this season in which Snodgrass didn’t get on the pitch. He’s also registered his first goals for the club. His first came from a tap in during the 8-0 Carabao Cup win against Macclesfield Town and he added another from the edge of the box during that same match.
West Ham’s number 11 was made to wait until December for his first Premier League goal.
It was worth the wait though, as he curled in a beauty to equalise in a 3-2 win against Crystal Palace. Once one came another soon followed. In the next game he scored the first goal in a 2-0 win against Fulham, stroking the ball in from outside the box.
However, when asked about his highlight of the season so far, the Scotsman didn’t choose any of these moments. It’s a sign of his character that he replied: ‘I think a lot of people speak from a selfish point of view saying I’ve done this or I did that but that’s not the case for me. I think for everybody it’s probably the one against Everton. It meant so much to all of us. It would have been five games on the bounce losing in the league but it was a great win, a win that we obviously enjoyed and I think that was a turning point.’
While he’s very much focused on the team, Snodgrass is of course relieved to be able to make his own mark on the club. ‘I remember sitting in the London Stadium thinking if this goes well it will probably be one of the best moves I’ve had in my career, but it turned out at that moment in time [when he first went out on loan] to be one of the worst. It didn’t go to plan but now as I sit here, I’m just glad that I got a fair crack at it to show the fans a side of me that I showed all the previous clubs I’ve been at.’
He became a fan favourite at most of his former clubs, which include Norwich City, Leeds United and Livingston. That is now the case at West Ham United. He combines his work ethic with technical quality on the ball which makes it almost impossible not to enjoy watching him play.
It is clear that he makes an effort to endear himself to fans through the way he operates on the pitch. ‘One thing that they’ll know [at his former clubs] and hopefully you know is that I give everything. Sometimes it might not be good enough or whatever, that sometimes happens in football, but I’ll always try to give my best for the club and the fans, because I appreciate that they pay a lot of money to come and watch. That’s just the person I am.’
He’s also made a considerable impact off the pitch for a cause which is very close to the hearts of West Ham supporters. Having visited Isla Caton while she was having her one of her cancer treatments, Snodgrass set up an auction page to raise money as a way of helping the cause, having already donated out of his own pocket.
Recalling the time he met the brave little girl and her family, he said: ‘Me and Mark obviously were there in the hospital and got speaking to the family. It was actually emotional that day just sitting and listening to the story and what they’ve had to get through. I just thought on that day no kid deserves to go through that, no family deserves to go through that at all.’
When speaking about his auction, he continued: ‘The reason I did it is just so the family aren’t alone. We’re here, we’re thinking about you and we’re trying to let you know we’re here with you through the battle. The biggest thing is that young kid needs us as much as possible.’
It is clear that Snodgrass has discovered the togetherness that West Ham often have despite his tough start to life in east London. When asked about what makes being a West Ham player so special, he replied: ‘I think the full thing for me was always tradition. I loved as a Glasgow lad watching football down south seeing the tradition and the names with Stewart and McAvennie.’
He continued: ‘For me the biggest thing is creating the connection between the squad and the fans because once you get that and they know there’s an honest bunch there that will give you everything, these fans will back you.’
The theme of backing is a large one when looking at Snodgrass’ time with the Hammers. He wasn’t supported enough by the club upon his arrival, but through his own determination and the help of Pellegrini, he’s now a fan favourite who earns as much backing for his work on and off the pitch as almost any player in this squad.
Robert Snodgrass was speaking to Dave Walker, Kev Slade and Exwhuemployee on the West Ham Way show on Phoenix FM. Listen to this podcast and more in their archive at phoenixfm.com/category/the-west-ham-way/