It was written in the stars, wasn’t it? You know when something ridiculous happens and someone says: ‘You just couldn’t write it’? Well, this story could’ve been written by my son, who’s not even two yet. It was so obvious. So, so obvious.
Having failed to sign Jesse Lingard on a permanent basis after he became a vital member of David Moyes’ heroic squad of last season, we all should’ve seen the inevitable coming. So when he came off the bench to score an 89th minute winner for Man United at London Stadium last month, why was anyone even remotely surprised?
It was a signing we really, really should’ve gone all out for, and if a deal never happens in the future, there is something so twisted and cruel in the fact the first time a full London Stadium would be able to publicly thank him for his efforts in claret and blue, it would be just minutes before he broke all our hearts. What was somewhat comforting, though, was that he clearly wanted absolutely no part to play in the inevitable celebrations playing out in the away end in front of him.
Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo basically had to bully him into joining the Man United fans in the limbs that followed his superbly taken winner. He reluctantly got involved, despite so clearly being absolutely buzzing with what he’d just done. He’s a Manchester boy after all. He’s a Man United fan.
Any football fan would’ve wanted to go absolutely mental if they’d scored an 89th minute winner for the club they supported. It’s natural. So the fact that he restrained himself in respect of 60,000 heartbroken Hammers was impressive in itself.
But it also got me thinking of other ex-Hammers who have scored against us after leaving. Did they celebrate? How did they react? Did they rub it in our noses or did they just play down any celebrations with their teammates?
It has to be said, it’s difficult for a player not to celebrate a goal, even if they desperately don’t want to, when they’ve got their teammates jumping all over them and high-fiving them. It’s natural for footballers to act in the moment, in the sudden rush of adrenalin you get when scoring a goal.
But then there’s the likes of Frank Lampard and Jermain Defoe, both of whom absolutely loved scoring against us. Obviously, this would have a lot to do with the fact they were vilified for jumping ship at the times that they did, their reputations tarnished the moment the door shut behind them.
Lampard scored seven goals against us during his career and each and every one of them he celebrated, sometimes even doing so directly in front of us. We didn’t like him and he didn’t like us, so it was fair game. The same applied to Defoe, who bagged six goals against us and enjoyed every single minute of it. His behaviour was in line with Lampard’s.
Arrogant, piss-taking, disrespectful. Then again, the disrespect was mutual, so you can’t really blame him either. Another player who springs to mind is Joe Cole. He scored three against us after leaving the club the first time around, twice for Chelsea and once for Liverpool.
His first came at Stamford Bridge and he celebrated with the Chelsea fans. The other two, though, came at Upton Park. The first of those, for Chelsea, barely mustered an emotion from him. He didn’t even smile. It was strange, given only a few months earlier he may as well have been crowd surfing in the Shed End.
Perhaps he realised where he was, outnumbered, and his reputation still relatively intact. Cole’s other goal at Upton Park, which was for Liverpool in a 3-2 defeat for the Hammers, led to a half celebration. The moment the ball hit the back of the net he began to wheel away in celebration but in a split second he stopped, gestured with his hands that he wanted a low key celebration to his teammates and then got absolutely mobbed by them. Fair play.
It was that euphoria of scoring a goal that took a hold of him for a brief moment before he realised where he was and who he was. In that same game, another former Hammer scored against us. Glen Johnson, with probably the best goal he ever scored, pinged one into the top corner from 25 yards. No celebration. Zero emotion. He wanted nothing to do with it, either.
So there is a bit of a trend here, and it no doubt relates to many more who left the club and then came back to haunt us. Essentially, all it comes down to is relationships and respect. If a player leaves the club as a respected figure and one who was on good terms with the supporters, then the likelihood is they would refuse to celebrate when they scored.
The complete opposite is true for those who left under controversial circumstances. I have absolutely no doubt the likes of Dimitri Payet or Marko Arnautovic would take great pleasure in rubbing our noses in it if they scored against us. But with Lingard the whole thing was different. The respect and admiration from the fans is there, obviously, but he’d technically not met us properly before because of Covid and having to play 99% of his West Ham career behind closed doors.
But he stayed respectful regardless, because deep down he knew how much we loved him and how much the club did for him in resurrecting his career. After all, the entire stadium gave him a standing ovation when he came off the bench for Man United last month.
So, respect to Jesse Lingard and I, for one, am delighted he’s doing well for United so far this season. He deserves it.