Fan favourite and former Irons player Carlton Cole was back in action at West Ham this month.
No, he wasn’t lacing up his boats for yet another on-field stint for the Hammers; he was fronting a new live matchday show, Live from London Stadium, debuting prior to the early December home game against Manchester United.
Currently, Cole is wearing a number of footballing hats. He’s a Technical Academy Coach for our Academy of Football, as well as co-host of the fantastic ‘The Footballer’s Guide to Football’ podcast with presenter Chris Scull and former teammate Marlon Harewood.
This new role in celebrating all things West Ham gives fans an opportunity to look back at the big man’s career in claret and blue.
Regretfully for all concerned, Carlton never did win the Ballon d’Or at West Ham – but his legacy of loyalty immortalised him in Hammers history.
Carlton signed for West Ham a few times throughout the years– once in 2006, leaving in 2013 (or so we thought), then re-signed in 2013 on a short-term contract, and signed once again in 2014.
His first spell at the club was his longest, with the affable striker scoring 59 goals in 237 appearances between 2006 and 2013.
In his second spell at the club, the veteran striker contributed nine goals in 56 appearances. It wasn’t just the goals, however, that endeared Carlton to West Ham fans and carved out his niche in claret and blue history.
Cole was part of the 2010-11 West Ham side who saw their dreams fade and die in front of them as they were relegated to the Championship, a demotion which has seen previous fan favourites running to the manager’s door with transfer requests clutched in the palm of a sweaty and wantaway hand.
Not Cole. He quietly took a 50% pay cut to stay with West Ham in the Championship, even in the face of interest from (then Premier League club) Stoke City.
After the Hammers’ triumphant return to the Premier League the following season, Cole addressed his decision to stay with West Ham saying he wanted to ‘help this club get back where we belong’.
‘I didn’t want to leave the ship,’ he continued. ‘I am that sort of guy. I would not have been able to live with myself.’
It was a show of loyalty that was not forgotten by the fans, who have always had a soft spot for Carlton’s fun-loving character.
We laughed with him during his steamy TV interview post Birmingham game, we delighted when he played in a pitch side snowbank after tumbling into it against Blackburn, and we collectively buried our heads in our hands each time he received a fine for an ill-judged tweet (three times, at last count).
When he was brought in initially, he expected to be top of the pecking order and was told the club would be clearing strikers from their roster – but instead, they pulled off the surprise signing of Carlos Tevez.
‘Tevez was obviously a world-class striker who came in on the back of a World Cup,’ said Carlton in a previous interview with West Ham United. ‘So that put me to sixth-choice striker!
‘I was flabbergasted when Tevez walked in! I couldn’t believe it. But I thought to myself: “I’ve been around world-class strikers all of my career, so it’s just another scenario to get through”.’
It’s this hard work ethic that propelled Carlton to a starting position at the club for years to come and also kept him firmly rooted in fans’ memories.
We’ve seen time and time again that any player can have a good season – but consistently trying, consistently working hard, and consistently caring is what fans want in a player.
The truth is, Carlton embodies all the best bits of West Ham. He’s always put his best foot forward, both figuratively when it comes to his always positive attitude, and literally when it comes to his goals.
He’s unfailingly loyal; there’s no burnt bridges or bad blood, he’s just happy to have been at West Ham during his many stints in claret and blue, and we will never forget his financial sacrifice to stay a Hammer, when plenty of other players refused to even entertain the idea of staying.
The world needs more Carlton Coles, more hardworking, loyal, affable and downright decent individuals.
More good role models with integrity and a sense of humour – more players who stayed on their feet when it counted, and played in the snow when we needed something to smile about.
He always tried. He always, always, did his best for the Hammers.
He wore his heart on his sleeve, and fans will be delighted to see Carlton return to a fan-facing role on matchdays, to talk about a club that he knows inside and out and loves all the same.
Welcome back, Carlton.