Most of us can picture what the World Cup, FA Cup and the Premier League trophies look like – but what about the Intertoto Cup? No? Google it. Then you see why Steve Lomas was pretty underwhelmed as he went to collect the trophy after our 3-2 aggregate win against French outfit Metz in the 1999 Intertoto Cup final.
‘It was a great time for us but when they handed me the trophy I thought it was my individual media – I was waiting for the big trophy to come but it never did so we called it the egg cup,’ the former Hammers captain said in an interview for Blowing Bubbles. ‘I think the club still has it – I’m sure they have – but the lads were trying to break it in the changing room after the game because it was that poor.’
Despite the disappointment of the trophy, Lomas and his West Ham teammates enjoyed the ride of the competition that saw us beat Finnish club Jokerit and Heerenveen from Holland before we took on Metz, losing 1-0 at home in the first leg before overturning the deficit in the second, thanks to goals from Trevor Sinclair, Frank Lampard and Paulo Wanchope.
‘Obviously West Ham hadn’t been in Europe for a long time, so it was great,’ Lomas, who played for us 227 times, recalled. ‘A lot of these fans were experiencing it for the first time and I think they certainly made the most of it, and we got to visit some nice countries.’
For supporters of a certain age the final is one of the greatest victories they’ve seen from the Hammers in their lifetime. While Lomas was wary of putting too much weight on the Intertoto Cup win, he’s clearly proud of his time at West Ham, especially his earlier years in claret and blue.
He joined the club in 1997 for a fee of £2.5 million, after Manchester City had been relegated the year prior. Reflecting on his move away from Manchester, Lomas said: ‘They’d tried to sell me to Wimbledon which I didn’t want to go to, but obviously I knew Ian Dowie was there [at West Ham] and Michael Hughes. I always admired the way West Ham played and Harry was a draw and it was a great move in effect.’
He arrived alongside Paul Kitson and John Hartson with the Hammers in a relegation fight, and was relieved that his new side finished the season in a comfortable position. ‘It was great to come in and stay up because I’d already been relegated with Man City and the last thing I wanted to do was come to another club and go down again.’
He was modest about his own involvement in the resurgence though. ‘We stayed up because Paul Kitson and John Hartson came in and scored goals. I played a small part, but nowhere near what them two guys did, I think they scored 15 goals between them and were sensational.’
He may be modest about what he contributed to West Ham’s season, but the supporters soon fell in love with Lomas. He became a mainstay in the side that achieved what is still the club’s most successful period in the Premier League era and was even made captain at the age of 23.
West Ham had plenty of big characters, including Ian Wright and Razor Ruddock, but Lomas is pleased Harry Redknapp chose him. ‘I think he’d seen me being there long term, he’s seen a winner who was a bit petulant at times and maybe he did it to try to calm me down a little bit and give me a bit of added responsibility.
‘I think he realised there was a lad who wanted to train hard and wanted to win every week and he hoped the lads would respect that and he knew I also organised a good party or two. There’s some great people who’ve captained West Ham: Bobby Moore, Billy Bonds so for me to follow that is a great thing to be able to tell the grandchildren.’
The Hammers finished eighth in Lomas’ first full season with the club, just one point outside the European places. But it’s the FA Cup run and the disappointment of being knocked out by Arsenal in the quarter final which sticks in his mind the most.
‘We were on a good run and I think that was really my year to lift the FA Cup. We obviously eventually got beat by Arsenal in the quarter final, but we should have beaten them.
‘Dennis Bergkamp got sent off, it went to penalties and unfortunately we got knocked out but Wolves were in the semi finals and Newcastle were in the final. No disrespect, Wolves were in the league below, we would have at least got to the final and I think we would have beaten Newcastle, we were a better team. That was a really sore one, because as a team like West Ham, you don’t get too many chances do you?’
The 98/99 season saw Lomas and his team mates do even better in the league, as they finished fifth, which Lomas feels can partly be put down to Upton Park. ‘If our away form had been a bit better we could have got a bit better. I think the first three seasons, especially before the big stand was built, it was a very intimidating place to come.’
A ninth placed finish followed that –and of course that Intertoto Cup win- but the turn of the century saw an incident which Lomas feels changed West Ham for the worse. ‘I think it was a defining moment when we sold Rio [Ferdinand] and it was a lot of money and I can understand why. To lose a player like that, for us as a club it probably signalled and gave a bad sign that young players at this club who’d come through could eventually be bought.’
The 2000/01 season, the one in which Ferdinand was sold, saw the Hammers finish 15th as Harry Redknapp –who had brought Lomas to the club – was sacked. It was also a frustrating season for Lomas for various reasons. ‘Through that season I think I was going to move back to Man City or Everton and then I tore my posterior cruciate around the November time and was obviously finding it hard to get back. I went away and had an operation and then Rio went and we just stumbled over the line but it was a big shock because Harry had earned the right to have a little blip.’
Looking back on this made Lomas reflect on what could have been if things had been done differently earlier. ‘When we finished fifth we thought if we pushed on and bought two or three really top players we could have kicked on but I think Terry didn’t want to stretch the club and put them into financial difficulty. He’d had them periods of being touch and go, relegation, going down to the second division and then going back up to the Premier League so he was always mindful of that.’
Glenn Roeder replaced Redknapp. While West Ham finished seventh in Roeder’s first full season, it was a mixed campaign for Lomas. ‘I was actually injured when he first came in, but I played against Tottenham and someone stood on my toe and actually fractured my toe. I was out for another three months so it was becoming a bit of a disaster season, but thankfully I came back at the tail end of the season. I think I was able to contribute my best goal scoring ratio over a period of 12 games.’
Lomas was known as a fiery character, as was his team mate Tomas Řepka. Both players are fondly remembered by Hammers fans, but there was one incident between the two which Lomas wasn’t too happy about. ‘I was coming back after my broken toe, the ball has been played into the front man and I’m coming back to try to knick it off the front man’s foot. Tomas, instead of standing up he’s just absolutely careered through the geezer from behind and as I’m running back he’s took the geezer out and he’s come straight through and two footed me. I go “Tomas I’ve just come back from 14 months and two injuries, do me a favour”.’
The following season saw the club relegated with the record number of points any club has suffered the drop with. It was a squad many said was too good to go down, but Lomas rues one decision made in the transfer market. ‘The prime problem when we got relegated was we started the season with just three strikers. Glenn wanted to buy Marcus Stewart as a fourth striker because you had Freddy [Kanouté] who was beginning to get a bit injury prone, Paolo [Di Canio] was getting on in years and young Jermain [Defoe] had done his best work off the bench. Sod’s law we didn’t get Marcus as a fourth choice striker and we ended up losing Freddy and Paolo for about 15 games at the start of the season.’
It was this run which caused the damage, as the Hammers only lost one game after February. They fought but it was futile as they were relegated with a total of 42 points. This saw the mass exodus of the club’s young stars as Joe Cole, Glen Johnson and Defoe among others all returned to the Premier League. Lomas didn’t have much choice but to stay.
‘I think in the last ten games [of the relegation season] I must have had at least 10 injections, so I needed a clean up in my ankle. I think there might have been a chance that they wanted to get me off the wage bill, but unfortunately I’d had an operation that didn’t go too well and the three months turned more into eight.’
He managed to come back for the tail end of the season, which meant he was able to feature in the club’s play-off campaign. The second leg of the semi final against Ipswich Town is the game that sticks in the minds of both Lomas and the fans the most. ‘Matty Etherington scored one of the best goals Upton Park had seen in many a year. It was great. Under the lights it epitomised West Ham: high energy attack. The crowd got behind us and spurred us on and we played some really good football that night.’
The ensuing final resulted in a 1-0 loss against Crystal Palace. The Hammers reached the final again the following year but it was different this time around. ‘I missed the play-off final that year, I’d torn my calf about six games before the end of the season so I missed the run in.
‘It was another poor final in the end but we stole it and it went in our favour. You can ask the Crystal Palace fans, nobody will remember it being a poor final.’
He may have helped West Ham get back to the Premier League, but he wouldn’t play for the club again, as he left in the summer of 2005. ‘I didn’t want to stay there and be a squad player, I wanted to play. I’d had a lot of injuries and I was 32 then. I could easily have stayed another year and in the back of my mind I was tempted to because I wanted to stay there for 10 years and maybe get a testimonial. There were a couple of really good hospices around that I thought if I get that I could maybe donate it to them but obviously it wasn’t meant to be. I wanted to play football and I wanted to stay in London so that made the decision easier to go to QPR.’
There were certainly trials and tribulations during Lomas’ time in East London, but he looks back on his time with West Ham and the fans fondly. ‘They’ve always been good to me in terms of they respected that I always gave 100 per cent no matter what. The good thing about it was in that first five years, I think it’s still the most successful time [for West Ham] in the Premier League in terms of finishes in a consecutive period and let’s not forget the egg cup, so it was a great great time.’
*Steve Lomas was speaking to James Longman and Chris Scull on the Knees Up Mother Brown podcast. Listen to this podcast and more in their archive on http://www.kumb.com/podcast