If you are only going to score one 35-yard top corner screamer past one of the world’s most famous goalkeepers in your career, it helps if you do it when a club that wants to buy you is watching.
And that, in brief, is how Tim Breacker ended up at West Ham.
For nine years, the right back, who was Billy Bonds’s first signing as manager, was a fixture in the West Ham team, filling the gap left by Ray Stewart, who had been a similarly permanent feature for the previous decade.
But for all his defensive qualities, it was a goal that was by no means representative of his usual game that caught West Ham’s eye.
‘I’d been at Luton for seven years, which were some of the best in the club’s history, all in the old First Division, playing with some of our best-ever players, and winning our first ever major trophy, the 1988 League Cup, but after that we struggled a bit, and they started to sell, and it was only going one way,’ he told Blowing Bubbles.
‘In 1990, we stayed up by winning 3-2 at Derby on the last day, and I scored an absolute rocket past Peter Shilton, who was just about to go off to the World Cup as England’s first choice keeper.
‘I didn’t have an agent or much say in my leaving, but when West Ham showed interest, I went to have a meeting with Billy, the club secretary and chief scout Eddie Baily.
‘It turned out he had been at that game and saw that goal. It was the only time I ever managed one like that, but he’d seen me do it and asked me if I could do it again, so I said yes!’.
Leaving the club he had grown up with was a big decision, especially as he was stepping down a division, but Breacker felt it was the right move.
‘The way Billy spoke was very straightforward, and he made it clear he wanted me, and when someone speaks to you like that, it makes a big difference,’ he said.
‘I could have joined earlier, when Lou Macari was in charge and I was out of contract. We had a chat, but I didn’t get a great feeling when he talked about what he wanted to do with West Ham, and he never rang me back anyway, so I never had a decision to make, but the second time around, it was very different.’
Breacker’s time at Luton had been one of continuity and progress, but he got out while the going was good, as the club slid down the divisions over the following years.
But that is not to say life was exactly straightforward at Upton Park either, as his first three seasons saw promotion, relegation, promotion and arguably the most glorious failure in the club’s history — the 1991 FA Cup semi-final, against Nottingham Forest, on a ploughed field of a pitch, where Keith Hackett’s dismissal of Tony Gale scuppered the Irons’ chances against Nottingham Forest, and the prospect of a Cup final showdown with Tottenham.
‘I’d played in the quarter-final win over Everton, which was a fantastic game, but I had a niggling knee injury and went for a check-up on it and was promised I’d be back soon, but as it turned out I missed the semi,’ he said.
‘That meant I watched it from the stands with the fans and it was an amazing experience. They didn’t stop singing the whole game. There was nothing we could do about the decision, but their attitude was “so what, you’re not going to ruin our dayâ€. There was no moping, they just got on with enjoying themselves.’
There was more frustration ahead as despite having had such a watertight defence — just 34 goals conceded — the team were promoted but only as runners-up to Oldham, who came from 0-2 down to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 in the final game of the season, with an injury time penalty, going up as Division Two champions.
‘Did that Cup semi-final knock the stuffing out of the team? Possibly — it was such a disappointment, we were on such a roll that we didn’t even train that much, we were so settled in what we were doing and going into that Forest game, we’d been so high on confidence.’
Despite that double disappointment, the season ended with the positivity of promotion — but no sooner had the new season, the last of the old Division One before the introduction of the Premier League, begun, than it emerged that West Ham were in for another long, hard slog.
‘It was the complete opposite of the previous season — we never got any momentum at all,’ he said. ‘I don’t know if the Bond Scheme had anything to do with it, but that summer we hardly spent anything and only brought in Kenny Brown, Mike Small and Mitchell Thomas. I knew Mike from when we were kids, and no disrespect but he’d not scored goals at that level and that’s what we needed.
‘We played in a pre-season tournament at Highbury, and just a few days before Billy asked if I could play at centre half against Sampdoria, when they had players like Lombardo, Mancini and Vialli. I said I’d never played there before, and he said “You might have toâ€. We got absolutely stuffed.’
That season was one to forget, with injuries to key players such as Julian Dicks and Trevor Morley, and the season-long off-the-field distraction of the Bond scheme, so when relegation was confirmed, it was almost a relief.
‘Once you know it’s happened, and you’ve got a contract for the next year, it’s almost a sense of freedom as you know you can start planning for the next season — the pressure is off, there’s nothing to lose,’ he said.
This point was underlined when on April 22, Manchester United came to Upton Park, needing to win to push them closer to the first title since 1967 — and to Fergie’s fury, West Ham beat them, contributing to them losing the title to Leeds on the final day.
‘Sometimes the last team you want to play is one that’s already down, as they can play with freedom, which is what we did against Man Utd — you can’t blame us,’ he said. ‘If they wanted to win the title, they had to put away teams like us. They didn’t.’
After a promotion and a relegation, Breacker’s third season at the club saw another promotion.
‘After all those years of stability at Luton, this was an absolute rollercoaster, but after that one blip of a season, it was back to being enjoyable, and everyone being on the same side,’ he said.
‘That season, if we weren’t leading at half time when we played a smaller team, we usually got booed off.
‘We all got on well and had some experienced characters like Clive Allen and David Speedie – it definitely helped having their experience, because even if age-wise maybe they were past their best, they still had a lot to offer in terms of character and professionalism.’
The 1993-94 season saw some much-needed stability, as the club survived its first season in the top flight, but then another plot twist, when in summer 1994 Billy Bonds was sacked and replaced by his assistant Harry Redknapp.
‘It happened when we were on a pre-season trip to Scotland, and although there had been some mutterings of something happening, it was still a shock to me when Billy went,’ said Breacker.
‘I thought Billy was fantastic – a legend as a player but as a person, with everything about the way he conducted himself, he was somebody you could really look up to, which is probably why whatever might have been going on behind the scenes, he wasn’t prepared to put up with it.
‘The most telling thing about him, though, is whatever did happen, he never spoke out and threw mud at anyone. That’s a sign of real class and character, and tells you so much about him.’
Redknapp’s persona and management style were in marked contrast to his predecessor, and ushered in the start of another memorable period of Irons history, that would see the emergence of some of the greatest homegrown talent in years, and also some of the most exciting signings.
‘A bigger squad means more choices, so I thought that was great,’ Breacker said. ‘Harry’s approach was sign lots, some will work and some will not, but if you don’t make signings you never know.’
And sign Redknapp most certainly did, from far and wide. Some, like Marc Rieper and Slaven Bilic, were inspired purchases, whereas others, like Marco Boogers and Ilie Dumitrescu, entered fan folklore for all the wrong reasons.
But it was faces from closer to home, such as Julian Dicks, Don Hutchison and John Moncur, who Breacker remembers as livening up the dressing room the most.
‘They always knew I would be the first to laugh, so I tried not to get involved with what they were up to,’ he said. ‘Moncs is the funniest person I’ve ever met — not just in football, but anywhere. The things he used to get up to were incredible — you’d see or hear something and think “did he really do that?â€’.
In the early days under Redknapp, however, it was the youngsters that caught the eye, and Breacker, now the seasoned pro, got to see some of the very best up close and personal right at the start.
‘Even when Rio Ferdinand was still a kid and coming through, it was incredibly obvious that he was going to do well — he was such an athlete and had amazing composure and confidence,’ he said.
‘It was different with Frank Lampard. You could see he wasn’t as naturally gifted as Rio, but he was so determined to be a player that even when he was still a schoolboy, he used to come in and train all the time, always pushing himself.
‘I remember doing one v ones with him in training – I was a lot older and stronger and it felt a bit wrong doing it against a kid, but he didn’t care, he’d keep coming back for more, which tells you about his character.
‘Later, when I went into coaching, I would always use him as an example — he worked so hard on his deficiencies and look where it took him.
‘I was that type, too; I wasn’t a natural, every week I had to work on things and not take things for granted.
‘Joe Cole was a bit younger than those two, but there was a lot of talk about him and even at that age, when he used to come in to train, he would do things that made us think â€‘did he mean to do that?â€.
‘Michael Carrick was around that time too, so fair play to the club for bringing them through and giving them a chance.’
As the 90s came to a close, however, Breacker was playing less frequently, and he faced a big decision.
‘I was one year off getting a testimonial, but for that I needed to sign a new contract, which would have been an honour, but it would have been on reduced terms and with less likelihood of playing and I didn’t want to sit around, I wanted to play as much as possible,’ he said.
‘I had started a sports science degree in London, which was also going to have a say in my decision, so I went to QPR on loan when another Luton and West Ham old boy Iain Dowie was caretaker manager, then Gerry Francis got the job on a permanent basis and said he wanted me there.
‘West Ham didn’t want me to go and mentioned having a testimonial, but I explained it wasn’t about that, then I got back in the team and played my last game at Upton Park v Arsenal.’
Breacker played the first half of that 4-0 defeat in February, before being substituted. The end of an era for him, but the start of a new era for the club, as making his home debut that day was new signing Paolo di Canio.
‘I was getting the odd game here and there, but I wanted more, and Gerry wanted a decision from me.
Time to leave
‘One of the coaches, Roger Cross, who’d worked with him, said I’d really enjoy it and I didn’t want to hang around at West Ham, waiting for someone to pick up an injury so I’d get a chance, and I decided it was time to leave. I’d had such a great relationship with the West Ham fans, I didn’t want it to fizzle out,’ he explained.
‘Going to Rangers worked out really well, in terms of playing and my studies. I enjoyed my time there and as it ended up, I got straight into coaching there so when it was finally time for me to retire, I went into coaching without a break.’
After stints coaching and scouting for teams including Charlton, Plymouth, Leicester and Bradford, Breacker is currently enjoying a welcome break from involvement in football — which has finally given him an opportunity to catch up with some old West Ham team-mates.
‘I went straight into football from school, and straight into coaching from playing, so this is my first breather,’ he said.
‘For years, my only contact with West Ham was when a team I was involved in was playing against them, or scouting U23s, and the teams I worked for rarely played against them.
‘I managed to get back for the last game at Upton Park, and I went to the new ground for the naming of the Billy Bonds Stand — but even then I had to leave a match across town where I was scouting early, and went straight out onto the pitch at the London Stadium as soon as I arrived there,’ he said.
‘In football, you go from being with people every day, and being so close to them, to not seeing them again once someone moves on, so it was great to have a catch-up and share so many memories, because my memories of my time at West Ham are so good.’