The 1983-84 season saw a number of significant milestones at West Ham. Midfield maestro Trevor Brooking retired after a 17 year playing career, Tony Cottee was emerging as a fine striker and scored 19 goals in all competitions, and inspirational captain Billy Bonds was still plugging away although appeared less often.
Alan Devonshire and Phil Parkes remained at the fulcrum of a side that made a dazzling start to the season. Seven wins in nine games put the Hammers top from August to October. However bubbles always burst and they gently descended to ninth place. Our interest in the FA Cup ended in the fifth round after a 3-0 defeat at Birmingham. The game was marred by two pitch invasions and required an FA inquiry. It was symptomatic of an era that added fuel to the so-called ‘English disease’.
The following season saw the Hammers back in familiar territory as they just scrambled clear of relegation in 16th place. The FA Cup was more fruitful and proved to be the highlight of the season. We started with a 4-1 win against Port Vale in the 3rd round. Paul Goddard’s hat-trick was seen by a disappointing crowd of 11,452 at Upton Park. Severe winter delayed the visit of Norwich until February.
Our fourth round opponents were eventually relegated that season. But it was the Hammers who went behind in the 27th minute. It was a lead the Canaries held until the hour when two goals in two minutes won the game for West Ham. A 1-1 draw was ground out in the fifth round against Wimbledon. It also saw the welcome return of Alan Devonshire who had been out injured for a year. The Hammers were rampant in the replay as Tony Cottee scored a hat-trick in an emphatic 5-1 victory.
The sixth round matched West Ham against an underachieving Manchester United side. John Lyall was scrabbling around for players as a flu epidemic almost caused a postponement. A gutsy display from the Hammers couldn’t prevent a 4-2 defeat as United would go on to win the Cup that season.
The mid-point of the 1980s witnessed an unforgettable league season and another quarter final appearance in the FA Cup. It was providence that the right group of players came together at the right time. Phil Parkes had returned from injury with Alvin Martin and Tony Gale as defensive rocks in front of him.
Alan Dickens carried the torch for Trevor Brooking in midfield and a deadly partnership had been forged upfront. Frank McAvennie was signed from St. Mirren for £340,000 and proved an effective foil for Tony Cottee. They would score 46 league goals between them in the 1985-86 season. By the third round of the FA Cup in January, we were handily placed in third spot so unlikely to be troubled by relegation.
A 1-0 away win at Charlton did the job and set up a fourth round tie with Ipswich. West Ham was lucky to get away with a draw as the tie continued at Portman Road. However the teams could still not be separated. Before penalty shoot-outs became the norm, managers would occasionally toss for the right to stage the next game. John Lyall lost and the game went back to Portman Road. Tony Cottee scored the winner with nine minutes of extra time remaining.
Remarkably the Hammers overcame Manchester United after a fifth round replay at Old Trafford. This set up a quarter final against fellow high flyers Sheffield Wednesday. Now established as title contenders, there was feverish speculation that a league and cup double was on the cards.
The dream quickly faded as two first half goals settled the matter. West Ham finished third in the league and only four points adrift of champions Liverpool. It has to be wondered what impact the cup run had on our league form. West Ham lost the two league games that followed the quarter final which, with the benefit of hindsight, was crucial. West Ham could have been the Leicester of the 80s but ‘if’ is a mighty word in football.
Replays were needed to get through the early rounds of the FA Cup in 1986/87. It was Sheffield Wednesday who again ended the Hammers’ run this time in the fifth round. Storm clouds were gathering in the league as we slipped to 15th place in the table. Another mediocre season followed as West Ham was beaten in the fourth round by QPR and finished a disappointing 16th in the first division.
After an eight year stay in the top tier, West Ham were relegated in 1988/89. It also spelt the end of John Lyall’s 15-year tenure as manager. They failed to climb out of the bottom three for the duration despite a talented squad that included Liam Brady, Paul Ince and Julian Dicks. The cups were a different matter as we reached the League Cup semi-final and enjoyed a brief interlude in the FA Cup.
Arsenal were dispatched after a replay in the third round. Swindon Town provided stubborn opposition but eventually scraped past them after another replay. Omen hunters were delighted as Swindon were defeated on the way to Wembley in 1964 and 1975. In the fifth round away at Charlton, the Hammers were reduced to 10 men when Mark Ward was sent-off. Happily Stuart Slater’s goal in the 53rd minute secured a third 1-0 scoreline in the Cup.
It was the turn of Norwich to dream of a double as the Hammers’ quarter final opponents. A goalless draw at Carrow Road was followed by a 3-1 defeat at Upton Park. West Ham had nothing left in the tank at the end of a miserable season. Lou Macari was appointed as West Ham’s fifth manager in July 1989. It was an ill-fated reign that lasted only seven months.
He resigned after a betting scandal emerged at his previous club Swindon Town. Humiliation followed in the third round of the FA Cup as the Hammers were defeated by fourth division Torquay United. Club legend Billy Bonds was installed as manager who brought about a rapid improvement. In his first full season (1990/91) West Ham won promotion and reached the FA Cup semi-final.
Aldershot were drawn away in the third round but the tie was switched to Upton Park for safety reasons. A turgid 0-0 draw was played out and the replay took place 11 days later. There was no prevarication this time as the Hammers won 6-1 featuring a brace from Trevor Morley. It took another replay to dispose of Luton in the fourth round with a handsome 5-0 victory again with a couple from Morley.
After 12 goals in the Cup, one might have expected more goals when drawn at home to Crewe in the fifth round. However, there was no wasted effort as Jimmy Quinn scored the winner 15 minutes from time. Another home draw gave us Everton in the sixth round. In an exciting match West Ham just shaded it by the odd goal in three.
For the third time Villa Park hosted a semi-final featuring West Ham. They were up against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest who both seemed past their best. Referee Keith Hackett ultimately turned the game in favour of Forest when Tony Gale was sent off for a professional foul on Gary Crosby. Hackett was roundly condemned but Forest exploited the extra space and ran out 4-0 winners.
The 1991/92 season saw the Hammers relegated just before the Premier League launched. In the FA Cup, we narrowly edged past Farnborough and Wrexham before meeting Sunderland in the fifth round. The Black Cats emerged victorious with a 3-2 victory.
Promotion eclipsed everything else in 1992/93 as we were beaten 4-1 by Barnsley in the fourth round. A mid table finish in 1993/94 was complemented by another FA Cup quarter final. Watford, Notts County and Kidderminster were negotiated before the Hammers drew Luton Town. Although mid-table in the second tier, the Hatters made West Ham sweat in a goalless draw at Upton Park. A thriller at Kenilworth Road dumped West Ham out courtesy of a Scott Oakes hat-trick.
Amidst boardroom tensions, Billy Bonds resigned as manager in 1994. He was replaced by former assistant Harry Redknapp who assumed full control. His first three FA Cup campaigns in charge were distinctly humdrum as West Ham were eliminated by the fourth round. In 1997/98 fans fidgeted nervously as we drew non-league Emley. They had fought through four qualifying rounds before reaching the first round proper.
West Ham prevailed but only narrowly by a 2-1 scoreline. Manchester City were defeated as were Blackburn Rovers after a replay. It set up a quarter final with Arsenal. A tight game at Highbury finished all square with Ian Pearce scoring the Hammers’ goal. The replay at Upton Park still couldn’t separate the teams after two hours of football. A 4-3 defeat in a penalty shoot-out was disappointing, but at least banished the prospect of endless energy-sapping replays.
The 1998/99 season marked our highest ever finish in the Premier League (fifth place). The FA Cup was quickly forgotten as we were beaten by Swansea in the third round. The new Millennium brought another top 10 finish in the Premier League. But the FA Cup produced another shock defeat as we went down 1-0 to Tranmere Rovers in the third round.
More boardroom wrangling caused Harry Redknapp’s departure just before the end of the season. A parting gift was a 15th place finish and another run to the FA Cup quarter final. Walsall, Manchester United and Sunderland were our scalps in the early rounds. A home draw in the quarter final against Spurs was the stuff of dreams and source of future bragging rights.
However, it wasn’t to be as our North London rivals won 3-2. The 2001/02 season was notable for a seventh place finish under new manager Glenn Roeder. Not so the Cup as Chelsea beat West Ham at home in a fourth round replay. The 2002/03 season was another season to forget as Glenn Roeder collapsed with a brain tumour.
He thankfully recovered but it was a grim reminder of how stressful football management had become. Trevor Brooking took over as caretaker manager for the last three games, but could not save the club from relegation even with 42 points. The FA Cup ended in the fourth round as Manchester United thrashed West Ham 6-0. We looked forward to happier times, but Glenn Roeder’s predicament proved how insignificant football can be.