Just when we thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, football loses yet another one of its genuinely nice guys.
Former Hammer Papa Bouba Diop, sadly passed away at the end of November following a long illness aged just 42.
He may not have been a Hammer for very long, having spent just one year at the club during that fantastic 2011/2012 promotion season under Sam Allardyce, but he certainly made his mark not only on the club but also the fans and his colleagues at the time.
Since the sad news of his passing, the likes of Carlton Cole, Matty Taylor and Wally Downes have all paid tribute to ‘The Wardrobe’, who made 16 appearances and scored one goal during his solitary campaign in east London.
Diop was 33-years-old when he signed for us and was never going to be a regular starter in a 46-game Championship season, but what he did give us was valuable experience and a huge presence in midfield, which are priceless attributes to have in such an unforgiving and competitive league like the Championship.
Wally Downes said just as much when he spoke to the We Are West Ham podcast about Diop this month: ‘We knew perhaps we wouldn’t get the 40-odd games out of him, and we didn’t necessarily want to.
‘He was the best squad player we could pick up at the time. But if Mark Noble or Kevin Nolan were injured, he would come in.
‘Diop was a defensive midfielder who allowed others to play, he could sit in front of the back four, win lots of aerial stuff and generally allow the likes of Nolan to get forward and be creative.
‘In a promotion-chasing season it was critical that we had players who could do a job to ensure a win and when he came on he’d come on with serenity, he’d get the ball, keep it and the dynamic of the game would change.’
There’s a reason he was nicknamed ‘The Wardrobe’, because he was an absolute giant standing at 6ft 5in, but he was also a very gifted footballer, who perfectly fit the Sam Allardyce mould. Big, strong, experienced and hard-working.
Paul Scholes once described him as ‘one of the most awkward players’ he ever played against and added: ‘You get involved physically with him and you’re wasting your time.’
High praise from a world-class player and proof that not only was he a very talented midfielder, but also the type that even the very best feared coming up against in the middle of the park.
Of course, he will mostly be remembered for scoring the opening goal of the 2002 World Cup, when Senegal shocked reigning champions France with a 1-0 victory in Seoul but his time in England was just as successful.
Not only did he collect an illustrious Championship Play-Off final winners’ medal while at West Ham, he also lifted the FA Cup with Portsmouth under Harry Redknapp.
But despite those two huge accolades during his time in England, off the pitch Diop was a gentleman and a family man.
Downes sums him up perfectly by saying: ‘He was a gentle guy and had a wonderful demeanour.
‘Whenever you went into the canteen at the training ground he would be there offering you a cup of tea or offering to take your plate out.
He was just a really well-rounded guy.’
While Diop only spent one season at the club as a squad player, it’s very obvious that he was the type of player that fits in perfectly at a club like West Ham and I think we can safely say it was an honour to have had him represent our colours, albeit very briefly.
We would like to send our sincere condolences to Diop’s friends and family at this difficult time.