‘In the 21st century we’ve only once gone beyond the sixth round’

It’s been more than 40 years since West Ham last won the FA Cup - Could 2022 be our year?

Self-deprecation is a defence mechanism for any football fan; but I hope my fellow Irons will understand why I say West Ham are the club that launched a thousand clichés.

The adage of coming down with the Christmas decorations was too true as the team ran out of gas.

January would often see them tumbling out of the FA Cup to concentrate on the league. A 2-1 defeat to Spurs in the League Cup was a bitter pill to swallow; only because it represented our easiest route to a trophy even with Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea still in the mix.

The Europa League always has priority with the prize of a Champions League spot for the winners. Yet there is still the FA Cup, and a third round draw against Leeds United to contemplate.

It could have been a lot worse, but looking back January has more often than not been a graveyard for the Hammers.

Aside from one glorious interlude in 2006, our FA Cup record in the 21st century  is undeniably poor.

Since 2000 we have progressed beyond the fourth round on only seven occasions. There have been moments to savour but are strangely elusive in the memory. 

In 2001, we travelled to Manchester United for the fourth round at Old Trafford. A memorable 1-0 victory was secured as a club legend gathered fuel. 

The unbridled joy of being Fergie’s fly in the ointment was matched by the winner. Paolo Di Canio picked up a defence splitting pass and was one-on-one with Mancs’ goalie Fabien Barthez. 

The stationary Frenchman comically raised his arm hoping to convince the striker he was offside. But the wily Italian was beyond all machinations. It was our first win at Old Trafford in 15 years. 

Oh to be among 10,000 Hammers fans at the Theatre of Dreams that day.

The next three seasons featured some painful reverses, particularly a 6-0 mauling at Manchester United in January 2003. It was one of three fourth round exits in four years. 

The year 2006 still shimmers with the essence of what might have been. Steven Gerrard’s inspirational strike in the dying seconds had placed the Cup in Liverpool’s lap.

But the early games in January were just as stirring as Blackburn Rovers were fourth round visitors at Upton Park. I was ensconced in a crowd of 23,700 that witnessed a bare knuckle ride ending in a 4-2 victory. 

Losing a goal after 25 seconds had a tedious inevitability about it; happily the attacking prowess of Sheringham, Etherington and Zamora cured the jitters.   

The remainder of the noughties took us no further than the fourth round as the trophy cabinet remained tightly locked. 

We were relegated in 2011, but there was consolation in the cups. A run to the League Cup semi-final was complemented by an appearance in the sixth round of the FA Cup. 

I was there for the 3-2 win against Nottingham Forest (fourth round) and a 5-1 demolition of Burnley (fifth round). But these games were just temporary diversions from a crushingly disappointing season.

To exit at the third round is a chastening experience but it does at least extinguish false hope. Even so we expect them to go down fighting with the strongest side available. 

In 2014 Sam Allardyce’s mind was somewhere else, as five youth players were selected for the third round tie against Nottingham Forest. It was an aberration rightly punished by a 5-0 thrashing from an experienced Forest side. 

In 2015, we faced Everton in a third round replay at Upton Park. I was relieved to miss the game as two hours of football left the teams locked at 2-2. 

A penalty shoot-out ensued and went to sudden death. With the scores pegged at 8-8 it was goalkeeper Adrian who scored the winner. Perhaps the perfect game to watch on the radio?

Recent outings in the FA Cup have been distinctly underwhelming with the exception of 2016. Our final season at Upton Park saw us bag victories against Wolves, Liverpool and Blackburn Rovers; but we were dispatched in the sixth round by familiar nemeses Manchester United. 

Early round defeats to Wigan, AFC Wimbledon, West Brom and Manchester United (again!) make success in the Cup seem further away than ever.

It is almost 42 years since we last won the FA Cup; Dexy’s Midnight Runners had the number one single with Geno and I was at school studying for my ‘O’ Levels. 

Telephone boxes were the closest anyone got to a mobile phone. There was no such thing as social media, the internet or remote working. 

The last time we went to a Wembley Cup Final the Twin Towers were still standing. It’s about time we won something and can only hope the year with three twos might be a good omen?

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