Until you have met Billy Bonds it’s nearly impossible to comprehend the humility this legendary Hammer wears like a cloak.
In an age of red boots, ludicrous attention-seeking haircuts and ridiculous egos from people with maybe less than 20 per cent of his ability, Billy remains an example of all the game should be about.
And it was special that out of the public eye – although someone always has a camera these days – Declan Rice should have gone out of his way to introduce himself to the great man. The photo of the two of them together was significant because not only did it show us Declan’s character in full – he knew whose day it was – but that he has crossed Hammers in his heart.
He was clearly determined to pay his respects to a man who was being handed the ultimate accolade from the club he served so well. Few have deserved such an honour more anywhere in the game. Dec has regularly been compared to Bobby Moore but watching him in the 90 minutes against Newcastle he often looked like Bonzo, launching himself into what looked like lose/lose situations and coming away with the ball which he then invariably distributed so well.
It was a perfect day and fair play to the club for a perfect ceremony which reduced Billy himself to tears as 50,000 Hammers gave a reception of which only they are capable. Billy also gave us a memorable quote saying: ‘They normally wait until you are dead.’ Brilliant.
Let’s make no mistake about this — we were so fortunate he became a Hammer. You don’t — until now when the reason is very obvious — see Bill in the newspapers or on TV. He understands that his day is done and would sooner watch the Hammers quietly as a fan rather than make critical comments about players from the new generation – not his style at all.
That he is to become an immortal alongside his best mate Trevor Brooking and his greatest hero Mooro is so absolutely right. We loved him then, we love him now and it’s so right his name will be attached to that stand and our history forever – he is now immortal, written into the history of our great club in the best way possible.
That a man who is young enough to be his grandson should be so determined to shake his hand was an unsung highlight of his special day. It was so good to be a part of it all.