With the current season seeing games played at strange times in empty grounds, and no sign of normal service resuming soon, looking back to previous seasons is becoming an increasingly popular pastime – and for West Ham fans, there have been few seasons in recent years that served up quite as much excitement as the 2005-06 season.
Julian Shea attended the club’s pre-season media day that summer, and has dug out the piece he wrote looking forward to a season of hopes, ambitions…. and so, so nearly, success.
West Ham manager Alan Pardew has said the club just needs to add a striker to complete his squad rebuild ahead of the team’s return to the top tier of English football after a two-season absence.
The Irons’ 1-0 play-off final win over Preston 12 months after losing the previous season’s final to Crystal Palace sees them back in the big time, and speaking at the pre-season media day at Chadwell Heath, Pardew said the mood in the camp was good as a significantly changed squad prepared for the new campaign.
‘I’ve strengthened the squad considerably, I’m really happy with people I’ve brought in, they’ve added to training sessions so if nothing else we’ve gone up a level,’ he said.
‘I feel strong in every department except up front where we can strengthen a bit. To attract players has not been that difficult. My two main Championship targets, James Collins and Danny Gabbidon from Cardiff, I got straight away, Paul Konchesky we went after and we got – most targets we’ve gone for we got. I feel we’ve done well in the market. There’s one hurdle to go, but I’m pretty confident we’ll manage that too.’
That one hurdle is the addition of another striker, to join Marlon Harewood, Bobby Zamora and Teddy Sheringham, and for a long time, it looked like it was going to be Monaco’s Emmanuel Adebayor, until at the last minute, the French side had a change of heart.
‘It was a bit frustrating, the boy really wanted to come to West Ham, but then there was a change of mind by the Monaco camp which I fully understand, he’s a great talent,’ said Pardew.
‘Monaco released the player for us to speak to, we got to the point of almost agreeing terms, only for them to change their mind, and they’ve every right to do so.
‘That door is closed, we move on to other targets. He was a big fella, but I’m not looking for a particular mould I’ve got a nice balance, Marlon, Bobby and Teddy and (new signing) Yossi Benayoun, who can play just behind them.
‘I’m looking for someone who can give competition in that area and inspire us to have the best possible season we can back in the top flight.’
Having turned things around after the team’s relegation with a heavy wage bill two seasons ago, Pardew is raring to go and for the team to re-establish itself in the Premier League.
‘I can assure you one thing, this is the most gruelling pre-season I’ve ever watched, and we’re injury- free so far,’ he said.
‘I know in the history of West Ham they’ve not often entered a season with a fully fit squad. We’ve got as good a staff as anyone, now it’s about have we got quality as staff and players to make sure we secure our position.’
Pardew says the blend of experience and youth, and also players like Zamora and Matty Etherington, who have had brief experience at the top level, should make for an interesting, motivated mix, but he is also particularly excited about what new midfielder Benayoun can bring to the team.
‘He’s got a big challenge, but every season in La Liga, with Racing Santander, who are a struggling team, he’s been playing better and scoring more goals,’ said Pardew.
‘We’ve tracked him for a long time, and he’s a player I really like because he opens up the door. Playing in England will be a different game, he needs to improve on certain things and he knows he’s not an automatic starter, but since he’s been here, I don’t think I’ve seen him give the ball away.’
Pardew is happy to have seen so many new faces come in this summer, and hopes they can form the core of a new team for a new era – with a striker being the missing piece.
‘West Ham have always produced fantastic players, but there’s nothing wrong with recruiting talent from elsewhere and moulding them, so we’ve taken players like Collins, Gabbidon and Konchesky, and we can show them how we do things here.
‘We’ve almost done our shopping in order – keeper, centre halves, midfield, flair player, and now we’re looking for a striker. If we do, we’ll have a great season ahead.’
One striker already at the club, who is sure to have a key role to play, is Teddy Sheringham, who turns 40 next April.
But despite the inevitable questions about his age, the former Tottenham and Manchester United player says he is confident he is up to the challenge of top-flight football.
‘You don’t play as many games (as in the Championship), so recovery shouldn’t be a problem, but I want to play, I’ve not signed another contract to sit and watch,’ he said.
‘The manager knows that but it’s up to him whether he picks me. When I first came here the manager asked about getting involved in training, and I said I didn’t want to. You should either do one thing or the other, or you’ll be treading on people’s toes.
‘My experience and tips are useful to players but there are useful things that people can say to me too, whether it’s coming from a 50 year old or a 22 year old, we’re all in it to help each other. I’ve not got any coaching badges yet, and I’m not interested in it yet, so it’s not automatic that I’ll go down that road.’
Another player with a point to prove in the Premier League is Matty Etherington. He had a brief taste of it in his short stint at Tottenham, but since his move to West Ham he has become a key player, and he is keen to show the world what he is capable of.
‘I’m a better player now than I was when I left Spurs, there were circumstances outside my control that left me short of confidence which is why I decided I had to leave,’ he said.
‘I know I’m Premier League standard, I’ve no need to prove anything to myself, but I have to others. Our fans know it will be a tough season, there will be times when we’ll be 1-0 down at home with 15 minutes left and they’ll have to give us a lift. They have a part to play and I’m sure they will.’
Defender Anton Ferdinand is another player who is particularly keen to take his chance in the top flight – but in addition to wanting to prove himself professionally, there is a uniquely personal motivation; the prospect of going up against brother Rio, formerly of West Ham, now a fixture at the heart of Manchester United’s defence.
‘That would be a huge day for me, for my brother and the whole family, I’ve played against him in the garden but never in a competitive game so let’s hope I’ve got the shirt when the game comes around,’ he said.
‘Of course we talk about football – he’s one of the best defenders in the world, so to have him as my brother is fantastic. When I feel I’m not doing something right, here I’ve got people like Tomas Repka, Christian Dailly, and Malky McKay here but he’s a phone call away too. And of course if I see him do something on the pitch I’m going to say it, sometimes he asks me too.’
Ferdinand, 20, has just signed a new contract, after being linked with a move to European champions Liverpool in the summer, something he says he never knew much about, but with Pardew having signed a new defensive pairing, Gabbidon and Collins, from Cardiff, he knows his place in the West Ham starting XI will have to be earned on merit.
‘I can’t wait for it all to start, I’m looking forward to it massively, it’s a big step up but one I’m ready to take. Having competition in your position is only going to bring out the best in you, it can only be good in training and matches. So all you can do is work on the training pitch and work with each other. The boss picks the team, so you’ve just got to do your job.’
As the latest product off the West Ham homegrown assembly line, Ferdinand knows fans have certain expectations of him, but he does not regard it as pressure – and he says he is only one of many promising prospects anyway.
‘Fans don’t expect more of you, but they know how you’ve been brought up, so they expect you to play a certain way,’ he said. ‘This club always produces good players, and there’s a whole new batch coming through, not just me. Elliot Ward, Mark Noble, Trent McClenahan, Hogan Ephraim – there’s a lot coming through with me.
‘West Ham belong in the Premier League. Ambition will be high but I don’t see why we can’t stay here. If we mix and click together, we’ll stay up.’
West Ham went on to finish 9th in the 2005-06 season and reach the FA Cup final where they lost a penalty shoot-out to Liverpool, with Anton Ferdinand missing the final kick.
The missing piece striker turned out to be Dean Ashton, signed in January 2006, who scored in the FA Cup final but whose career never recovered from an injury picked up on his first England call-up in August 2006.
Yossi Benayoun went on to play for Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, QPR and to have a second spell on loan at West Ham.
Teddy Sheringham was the only West Ham player to score his spot kick in the 2006 FA Cup final. He was released by West Ham the following summer.
Matty Etherington stayed at West Ham until January 2009, when he joined Stoke.
Alan Pardew was sacked by West Ham in December 2006, with his final game in charge being a 4-0 loss to Bolton, managed by Sam Allardyce.