There are good ways to leave a football club, and there are bad ways to leave a football club.
We remember players like Scotty Parker, Paul Goddard, Joe Cole and Carlos Tevez with affection because they left the club in the right way.
Others however, such as Frank Lampard Jnr, Jermain Defoe, Dimitri Payet, Marko Arnoutovic among many others, are vilified because of the way their departure was perceived by the fans – and if they should ever set foot back at West Ham they are roundly booed. Or worse.
Carlton Cole would definitely fall in the former category, and is recognised as a club legend.
However he raised more than a few eyebrows (and blood pressures) when he tweeted on 4 January this year: ‘Paul Ince – What a ledge’.
Presumably he meant legend, rather than a narrow horizontal surface projecting from a wall, cliff.
The tsunami that followed was full of mis-informed and on occasion racist fervour.
Paul Ince was a Judas, you should not be calling him a legend. You don’t know the full story Carlton. That was the gist of it.
Carlton felt moved to respond and later the same day said: ‘Sorry if my post disgruntled you, but I was six years old when the whole Incey drama went down. Some of you giving me stick weren’t even born. He didn’t leave the club on good terms with the club but to me he was England’s first black captain and seeing that as a youth made me believe.’
In one fell swoop, Carlton did more for Ince’s relationship with West Ham fans than Ince had managed in 32 years.
The thing is, Carlton is absolutely spot on. Love him or loathe him, (I am not a fan) Ince left West Ham after coming through the youth ranks, making his debut in 1986 and rising up to be the first name on the team sheet by the time we were relegated in May 1989 and manager John Lyall lost his job.
He then joined Manchester United and won two Premier Leagues, two FA Cups, one League Cup, three Charity Shields, one Cup-Winners’ Cup and one European Super Cup.
He went on to have a year at Inter Milan before returning to Liverpool, ending his career at Middlesbrough, Wolves, Swindon and Macclesfield.
He won 53 caps for England and as Carlton rightly pointed out, became England’s first black captain. Not bad for a young lad from Ilford.
So why do so many of the West Ham fan base burst a blood vessel at the mention of his name?
I’m not putting this forward as fact, but much of it is true, mixed with my opinion. Ince was not a likeable character.
Even before he left there were stories of him having fall-outs with team mates including David Kelly and Alvin Martin.
Indeed when you mention his name to many of his contemporaries they will suck on a thoughtful tooth and change the subject.
An unpleasant character – but that did not make him a bad player. Far from it.
He first came to national attention in a 4-1 win over Liverpool in the Littlewoods Cup in November 1988, in which he scored twice.
It is hardly any surprise that a young man being told how great he was all the time would allow some of that to go to his head.
It is also no surprise that he would have the utmost regard for the man who had nurtured him through his career to become a first team regular, John Lyall.
Assurance had allegedly been made to the precocious Ince and his equally odious agent Ambrose Mendy, about Lyall’s future should relegation happen.
But the club sacked Lyall anyway and Ince felt betrayed and felt he had no reason to be loyal to the club as they had not shown the same loyalty to his mentor.
Who knows? A player as good as the self-titled “Guvnor” was always unlikely to spend much time in the second flight, and that turned out to be the case as he played for West Ham against Stoke City on the opening day of the 1989-90 season before his move to Manchester United was sealed.
The controversy surrounded a photograph that was circulated of Ince in a Manchester United shirt before the deal was done.
The popular explanation for this was that the deal had been done but wasn’t going to be announced until Ince and Mendy returned from their respective holidays. But the photo was leaked, and West Ham fans did not take it well.
I accept all that – what grates with me is that to this day, Ince has continued to blame Mendy and the press, and never accepted any responsibility himself, nor has he ever offered any form of apology to West Ham United or its fans.
Maybe, given the way he has been treated you might think that it’s less and less likely to ever come.
The difficulty in Ince’s case is that he is a hero to many – like Carlton – for the reasons he cites. And rightly so.
He gave young black kids belief that they could achieve at the highest level. But the vitriol direct towards him has often been misinterpreted as racially motivated.
It never was – not by anyone with more than two brain cells, anyway. The hatred aimed at him was because he behaved like an arrogant d*ck.
Even Jermain Defoe, who requested a transfer just hours after relegation, admitted later that it was not the most sensitive thing to do.
Young, rich kids will receive bad advice from people who stand to gain. That doesn’t mean they cannot apologise for it later.
Thirty two years after Ince left the club, it might be time to bury the hatchet and remember that we all make mistakes. But an apology would be a good start. How about it Paul?