Roberto departs after taking a special place in our history…

The Spanish goalkeeper will go down as one of the worst players we’ve ever had

The definition of getting the monkey off your back is ‘to remove or solve a problem that has been difficult to get rid of or solve; to get rid of a problem or situation that makes one unhappy and that lasts for a long time’. 

Well there is a certain 56-year-old ex-West Ham player who can finally rest easy in his football retirement. That player is none other than Alan McKnight. 

For those of you younger than my good self, which is many, Alan signed for West Ham in 1988.

He competed with our very own Phil Parkes for a first team place and ended up appearing in 23 league games in that first season, a pretty good total. 

However he was part of that team which was relegated bowing out in style with a 5-1 defeat to Liverpool. 

Alan McKnight is remembered for so much more during that season. After signing from Celtic as a Northern Ireland international goalkeeper his form drastically dipped, with calamitous performances, he will forever be known to West Ham fans as Alan McKnightmare and is regularly seen as one of the worst players ever to appear in goal for the Hammers.

Let us now move on a few years – in fact almost 30 years later. On May 31 last year, Roberto Jimenez Gago signed on a free transfer for West Ham. 

Looking at his pedigree, it initially looked like a good signing. After all, Roberto had played over 128 games for various La Liga sides albeit over six seasons and had played for our then manager Manuel Pellegrini in the past. 

He had also had a successful time in Greece winning the league total in three consecutive seasons while appearing for Olympiacos. 

He had then moved to Benfica where again he had shown such good form that it was rumored that Pellegrini saw him as a replacement for Lukas Fabianski. It looked like we just may have a goalkeeping battle on our hands. 

Roberto’s opportunity arose in the League Cup and he made his first start against Newport County. 

It was an uninspiring win for the Hammers on that evening in South Wales during which the whole team seemed to huff and puff for the entire 90 minutes. 

Nothing though could have prepared us all for Roberto’s next appearance in a West Ham shirt.

We’ve had many a bad night to reflect upon during cup games against lower league teams over the years but nothing could have prepared us all for that trip to Oxford in September. 

Not one of us travelling supporters expected a 4-0 thumping and as bad as that was, it was becoming clear throughout the game that our goalkeeper was in trouble. 

The last two Oxford goals were an embarrassment to witness and I remember leaving that ground thinking that we needed to wrap Fabianski in cotton wool as I feared that our new goalkeeper just might not live up to his earlier billing.

Just three days after that drubbing at the hands of Oxford United, our worst fears were realised.

During the league game against Bournemouth our number one keeper went down injured and on came Roberto for his league debut. 

Our season suddenly turned on its head where we had previously been challenging for Europe, we now began to slide down the league. 

Of course a team is not just one player. It was clear though that Roberto was at fault for goals scored against us by several teams including such ‘heavyweights’ as Everton, Sheffield United and Burnley. 

With each game the defence seemed to be constantly under pressure. A defense needs to have confidence in the goalkeeper and that seemed lacking and so the defeats began to pile up. 

It was clear to many of us that we needed a change of goalkeeper as Roberto and the defence’s confidence now seemed shot. 

But Pellegrini was not for turning. Then came the infamous game at Turf Moor. We travelled to Burnley hoping that our recent downturn could be stopped but how wrong we were. 

Those of us present saw a total collapse in which our under pressure keeper could be attributed to being at fault for all three goals. 

What made it worse was the fact that he actually punched the ball into his own net for one goal and then in front of us Hammers appealed to the referee that he had been fouled whilst the screen behind him was replaying the goal showing that he had not.

It was an embarrassment of huge proportions. 

That single moment had made even the optimist among us realise that a change of goalkeeper was necessary but not our manager, who ensured Roberto continued to suffer through several more games before he was finally replaced by David Martin for our win at Stamford Bridge.

Roberto had appeared in 10 competitive games for West Ham and only one of those produced a W in the win column. His days as a West Ham player were now numbered.

As an opportunity to escape the pressure of the Premier League Roberto was allowed to go out on loan to Deportivo Alaves in La Liga but things didn’t improve there. 

Although he was Alaves’ reserve keeper he did appear in several games but his form was inconstant. 

One minute having a great game, the next a game full of mistakes. In nine appearances he conceded 19 goals. 

Roberto found his way back to West Ham and he found himself back in a West Ham shirt for our recent pre-season friendlies albeit sitting on the bench. 

Finally his West Ham nightmare came to an end when he cancelled his contract and signed for Real Valladolid back in La Liga. 

What the future holds now is anyone’s guess. But one thing is assured he will no doubt join the likes of Marco Boogers and Joey Beauchamp in the list of West Ham disasters. 

Having witnessed each and every game that Roberto played for West Ham I have to agree with the majority, he was poor but I hope he can turn his career around. 

After all Robert Green did after that England hiccup and so did Calamity James. 

As for Alan McKnight he may no longer be seen by supporters seen as our worst goalkeeper of all times but sadly for him his surname lets him down.

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