To a non-West Ham supporter of a certain age if someone mentioned the Great Escape they would immediately refer you to a certain film and the actor Steve McQueen riding that Triumph TR6 Trophy motorbike as he tried to get away from his German captors only to end up tangled in amongst rolls of barbed wire.
But to a West Ham fan, say those words and we immediately think back to that long afternoon at Old Trafford where against all odds we recorded a win that ultimately resulted in us retaining our Premier League status. That final day of the 2006/7 season was the culmination of an amazing run in which the team won seven of its last nine games. I was there for eight of those games and was also there on that final fateful Sunday afternoon.
May 13 will go down as an afternoon where the stadium clock seemed to come to a standstill as every minute seemed to last an eternity until that final whistle sounded and our Premier League survival was complete. The question now is will history repeat itself?
I cannot be the only one who has looked at our remaining league games and tried to work out just where those all important points will come from. There is one game that really stands out and that has to be the final game against fellow strugglers Aston Villa.
Could this be the one that decides our future? Only time will tell. What this season does, however, bring to mind is the question: Is this the West Ham Way? Was the Great Escape a one off or is it more business as usual? Well let’s have a look at the history books.It is certainly a fact that West Ham have had more relegation battles than is good for our health.
I cannot be the only one that sometimes craves for mid table mediocrity but then when we have achieved it, ala the Alan Curbishley years, there is an element of masochism that we wish for that excitement of a good old fashioned relegation scrap.
Well that masochistic trait has certainly been fed in the last 20 years. During that time we have been in eight relegation scraps and let’s not forget that for three of those years we were in the Championship.
That little statistic means we have spent almost half our time fighting against all odds.Relegation has happened though just twice meaning our survival record is pretty good. So let’s take a closer look at those relegation scraps.
First up is the first season of this millennium 2000/01. Statistics show that we ended up six points above the relegation zone but it all looked very different with two games to go. At Maine Road with three games to go I witnessed a defeat against fellow strugglers Manchester City that left us just two points above the relegation zone.
Fortunately City lost their final two games and as we beat Southampton with one game to go it meant that Citeh were already relegated before our last game of the season at Middlesbrough, the first defeat of the Roeder era. Just two years later the inevitable happened and relegation occurred. This was the year of the team being allegedly too good to go down, but it did.
Despite only one defeat in our last 10 games we were relegated on a record 42 points. Our defeat against fellow strugglers Bolton Wanderers with five games to go was the real decider.
Despite winning three and drawing in those last four games, it was not enough to save us. I was there on that last day against Villa and with Bolton 2-0 up against Middlesbrough, we needed to win by seven to stay up.
Despite Di Canio’s heroics it was not to be and with the defeat we also said goodbye to a fantastic but underachieving squad of players. After two years in the Championship we regained our Premier League status only two years later to be involved in the Great Escape. After two years of mid table mediocrity where some of us craved for excitement along came another relegation scrap.
Five defeats in March found us once more looking down the barrel of relegation. A hard fought win against Wigan coupled with Hull losing to Sunderland and Wigan, meant that despite a defeat at a Fulham and a draw against Manchester City we ended up in 17th place but five points above the relegation zone on a paltry 35 points. It seemed that we had started a bit of a trend of one good season, one bad but there was no lucky escape the following season.
Five defeats in April should have meant game over but somehow we still remained in contention of a safe place. With just two games to go we traveled to Wigan still with a chance and as we took a 2-0 lead I stood next to a guy dressed up as superman and felt that we just might pull this off but then we imploded and a 3-2 defeat meant we were relegated with one game to go.
Wolves survived on 40 points a full five more than our previous haul when we survived. Surely there has to be a rest bite from all this relegation threat/mid table mediocrity.
After all with the move to the Olympic Stadium came the promise of the next level, a relegation scrap was going to be a thing of the past. In just four short years we are now involved in our second. The last saw the demise of our manager and a return to midtable security.
Will this season have a similar outcome? It’s pretty clear that our run in is easier than many but who knows! After all, a few extra stress lines on the face and bitten nails is the West Ham way when the month of May comes along. Could our safety be confirmed again at Old Trafford as with the year of the Great Escape?
Only this time with one game to go, or will it go down to that final game against Villa? Only time will tell but one thing is certain, it’s going to be emotional!