The last day of February brought us the tragic news that Glenn Roeder had passed away at the age of 65.
The end came after a long battle with a brain tumour that had first been diagnosed while he was serving as Hammers boss back in April 2003, as fans will remember only too well.
When Glenn first fell ill, shortly after a home win against Middlesbrough as we battled relegation, we were forced to take stock, realise what was important, and hope for the best.
And so again, as we mourn his passing, we are pressed once again to re-evaluate the man and his efforts on our behalf.
Glenn had followed Harry Redknapp into the job at a time when not many among us saw a change coming, although it’s fair to say that Harry’s flamboyant team, brimming with young talent like Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard, alongside the incomparable Paolo Di Canio, had dipped below their peak performance as we neared the end of the 2000-01 season.
And with Rio sold and fans critical of how the subsequent transfer funds had been spent, perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised. However, it took an explosive fanzine interview and a resulting falling out with then chairman Terence Brown to see Redknapp sacked.
It came as a shock to us all – West Ham was not a club that chopped-and-changed managers after all – but amid the media frenzy, it was coach Glenn Roeder who was asked to step into the breach for the final game of the season away at the Riverside. A new arrival was expected that summer.
Future England boss Steve McClaren was rumoured to have rejected the chance. Many thought that Alan Curbishley might move from Charlton, but his time would come later.
George Graham, recently sacked by Spurs, was also mentioned in some quarters. And yet when the dust settled, Glenn Roeder was the last man standing; taking full- time charge and becoming only the club’s ninth manager in over a hundred years.
With a modest managerial career at Gillingham and Watford on his CV, fans didn’t know what to expect, but hoped for good things – particularly as Roeder seemed to come with the endorsement of the younger players at the club who had worked with him on the training ground at Chadwell Heath.
Joe Cole, for one, backed him, saying: ‘I can assure the fans, we work with him every day and he is a top-quality coach. He is probably in the top three coaches I have ever worked with.’
And with Joe front and centre of what we hoped would be a bright new dawn, his words carried weight.
Fittingly, Cole was among the first to lead the tributes to his former boss when the sad news arrived last month, describing Glenn as a ‘very good man who probably didn’t know his worth in the game because he was so humble’.
Humble. Good. Nice. Kind. All of these were recurring themes as other heartfelt tributes flooded in from other Hammers such as Fredi Kanoute, Kevin Horlock, Jermain Defoe, David James and most memorably Don Hutchison who fondly recalled the compassion and support offered to him by Roeder when his own father was dying, calling him: ‘The nicest manager/human I’ve ever met’.
England keeper James and Scotland midfielder Hutchison had been two of Roeder’s first signings, as money from the inevitable departure of Frank Lampard was reinvested.
Despite a slow start and some heavy defeats that season, the Hammers rallied strongly and finished just outside the European places in 7th after beating Bolton on the final day.
A vast improvement on the 15th place finish the previous year. Unfortunately however, that performance couldn’t be matched the following season.
West Ham fans will debate long and hard about exactly what went wrong in the 2002-03 season, as a talented attacking team ended up being relegated with a record 42 points.
Many will point to the first home game of the season as being pivotal. For an hour Roeder’s men ran Arsenal ragged and went two up. But the reigning Champions came back, and with Kanoute missing a vital penalty at 2-1, momentum was lost and the visitors escaped with a 2-2 draw.
Instead of taking maximum points and making the recently refurbished Boleyn Ground into a fortress, the Hammers struggled in the following games, and despite a memorable away win at Stamford Bridge along the way, it was almost February before fans saw a win at home.
By the time Jermain Defoe’s last minute winner against Blackburn got that monkey off the team’s back, West Ham were deep in trouble.
In truth, for all the attacking flair that team possessed, it was built on less than solid defensive foundations, and ultimately one could not compensate for the other.
As tension mounted in the run-in, things took a dramatic and sobering turn when Glenn fell ill after that Middlesbrough game and was rushed to hospital, where his devastating diagnosis left him out of action for the remaining three games.
On a wave of emotion, under the stewardship of Trevor Brooking, two wins and a final day draw at Birmingham were secured – but it wasn’t enough. Sam Allardyce’s Bolton stayed up, and West Ham went down.
That summer saw the break-up of a squad that had erroneously been considered ‘too good to go down’.
Despite Glenn’s recovery, his tenure wasn’t to last much longer. One win in our opening three league games was deemed not good enough, and after an ignominious defeat away at Rotherham, his tumultuous time at the club was over.
It is perhaps inevitable that Glenn Roeder will always be synonymous with that relegation at West Ham, but he was a man who simply said yes offered the opportunity to be West Ham manager, and who did his utmost to make things work.
And who among us can say we wouldn’t have done likewise. If ultimately he falls into that category of well-respected coaches who couldn’t quite make the transition to successful managers, well he’s in some very good coaching company there.
As a player Glenn will be remembered as a classy ball-playing defender, with a stepover in his repertoire that many fondly recall, most notably for QPR and Newcastle.
A natural leader, he captained both clubs and while at St James’s Park, he became a close friend, mentor and generally calming presence for a young Paul Gascoigne.
I had the pleasure of dealing personally with Glenn one more than one occasion.
When he first got the job at Upton Park I was working at ITV Sport and he contacted our department to explore getting access to footage of all of our upcoming opponents.
Pleasantly surprised that he’d taken on this task himself, I was naturally happy to help, and throughout our conversations he always came across as a very nice man. There’s that word again.
Glenn Roeder will be much-missed not only by his family and friends, but the wider football community to which he belonged to.
His time at West Ham had undeniably disappointing lows, but there were highs along the way too, and he takes his rightful place in the rich history of the club we love.