Now deep into the noughties the Hammers were trying to climb out of the ‘lobster pot’ known as the Nationwide League Division One. Alan Pardew had taken the reins from caretaker manager Trevor Brooking in October 2003. An excellent run took West Ham to fourth spot and qualification for the play-offs.
A 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace in the final could not disguise the shoots of recovery under Pardew. A solid and capable squad was beginning to take shape and included Anton Ferdinand, Marlon Harewood and Christian Dailly. A young kid called Mark Noble was also on the threshold of the first team. We enjoyed a half decent run in the FA Cup. In the 3rd round Wigan were edged out by the odd goal in three, while Wolves were comfortably beaten 3-1 in the 4th round.
The Hammers drew Fulham in the 5th round and secured a goalless draw at Craven Cottage. That would appear to have been the hard part. But the Hammers were soundly beaten 3-0 by a rampant Fulham side that would finish ninth in the Premier League that season.
In 2004-05 Pardew recruited veteran striker Teddy Sherringham and combative midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker as the push for promotion gathered pace. There was a glorious finale to the season as West Ham beat Preston in the play-off final to secure promotion. So the FA Cup was little more than a side show as we exited in the 4th round.
The following season brought a highly creditable ninth place finish but all eyes were on the FA Cup. What’s particularly interesting about this run is that with the exception of Norwich City, all our opponents were from the Premier League. We needed only one replay and scored eleven goals in six games. It adds fuel to the theory we always struggle against low league opposition.
The first Saturday in 2006 saw the Hammers travel to Norwich and seal a 2-1 win in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Our goals were scored by Haydon Mullins and Bobby Zamora; two unsung heroes who would often pop up to score vital goals. At the end of the month Blackburn Rovers came to Upton Park for the 4th round. However, the match didn’t begin well as Rovers went into the lead within forty seconds.
A cheeky Panenka style penalty scored by Teddy Sherringham put us back on terms. This was followed by a smooth cross field move ending with Matty Etherington, who calmly finished to put the Hammers ahead. A subsequent own goal made it 3-1 but a long range effort from Morten Gamst Pedersen suddenly brought the game back to life. It was left to the ever reliable Bobby Zamora to finally put the game to bed.
In the 5th round against Bolton the Hammers played out a goalless draw at the Reebok Stadium. Back at Upton Park, an own goal engineered by Nicky Hunt and Jussi Jaaskelainen put the Hammers ahead. There were spurned opportunities to go further ahead. But a wickedly swerving Kevin Davies shot deceived Shaka Hislop in goal.
Deep into extra time Yossi Benayoun went on a mazy run down the right hand side. A perfectly weighted cross was met by Marlon Harewood. The Boleyn went into rapture as we got into the hat for quarter finals for the first time since 2001. Manchester City were drawn away from home in the quarter finals. At this time City were the proverbial sleeping giants and still a long way off the Pep revolution.
Although City’s ranks were severely weakened by injury they made a much stronger start. But it was West Ham who opened the scoring four minutes before half time. Dean Ashton played a one-two with Matty Etherington who then picked up a flick-on from Nigel Reo-Coker and buried a shot past David James.
Early in the second half City went down to ten men when Sun Jihai swung an arm at Etherington. West Ham added a second when an in-form Benayoun supplied Ashton who converted from close range. Kiki Musampa halved the arrears and guaranteed a nervous last five minutes. We held on and made it through to our seventh FA Cup semi-final.
Luckily Chelsea drew Liverpool which left us with Middlesbrough and on the paper an easier route to the final. For the fourth time in five semi-finals we played at Villa Park but unlike most of the others didn’t need a replay. The game was tight and frenetic with Boro seemingly on top for long phases of the game. Twelve minutes from time came the big breakthrough.
Dean Ashton turned provider on this occasion, as a knock down paved the way for Marlon Harewood to power through and strike an angled drive into the roof of the net. It was a glorious victory made all the more poignant by the death of former manager John Lyall five days before the game. Lyall masterminded two FA Cup wins for the Hammers and it felt like we had a guardian angel looking over our shoulder.
The final against Liverpool would be the last one staged at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. A gleaming Wembley Stadium resplendent with its victory arch was now finished; but the last one hosted by the Principality would be an absolute classic. Contemplating the ‘maybes’ is a common pastime for Hammers fans; but for a moment of inspiration from Steven Gerrard it could have been us lifting the trophy.
Recollections may vary and history is written by the winners but we never get proper recognition for our part in the game. They talk about Jamie Carragher’s own goal, the Pepe Reina fumble that Dean Ashton tapped in and the Paul Konchesky cross-cum-shot. And of course Steven Gerrard’s wonder strike to draw level in the dying seconds.
It’s conveniently forgotten how well we played and were actually the better team over 90 minutes. The last truly great FA Cup Final should never have been decided by penalties but it works so well on TV.
The next two seasons were pretty dismal affairs in the FA Cup as West reached no further than the 4th round.
Alan Pardew left in the aftermath of the Carlos Tevez affair and was succeeded by Canning Town-born Alan Curbishley, a former player who rekindled fond memories for many fans. The early signs were encouraging as Curbs secured a top 10 finish in his first full season. However, by the 2008/09 season he too was gone and ultimately replaced by Gianfranco Zola. West Ham did at least have a half decent season in the FA Cup, knocking over Burnley and Hartlepool before losing to Middlesbrough in the 5th round.
We narrowly avoided relegation in 2009/10 finishing 17th while Arsenal put us out in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Zola was eventually replaced by Avram Grant who presided over relegation in 2010/11. The drop was only brightened by a run to the semi-final of the League Cup and a 5th round appearance in the FA Cup. Relegation brought a new managerial appointment as the much travelled Sam Allardyce took over as boss.
The FA Cup was quickly buried as the Hammers lost to Sheffield Wednesday in the 3rd round. However, the priority was promotion and ‘Sam the Man’ delivered as Blackpool were defeated at the play-off final in 2012. The next three seasons were really about consolidation in the Premier League. We progressed no further than the 5th round in the FA Cup; one further appearance in the League Cup semi-final was the main highlight.
Sam Allardyce was replaced by Slaven Bilic when the former’s contract was not renewed. The Croat had briefly played for the club in the 1990s and returned in time for the club’s last season at Upton Park. Dimitri Payet was in the form of his life and guided the Hammers to eighth place in an emotionally charged final season at the Boleyn.
A fine run in the FA Cup took us to the quarter finals; notable victories were recorded against Liverpool and Blackburn but lost to Manchester United. Slaven Bilic was dismissed in November 2017 and replaced by David Moyes for his first stint in charge. Despite saving the club from relegation he was released in favour of Manuel Pellegrini, a coach with a much sexier CV than Moyes. His tenure was ill-fated and was later replaced by David Moyes who was plainly a glutton for punishment.
The Bilic-Pellegrini-Moyes era hasn’t given much joy where the FA Cup is concerned. In the past seven seasons we have gone no further than the 5th round and there have been some regrettable performances along the way. A 5-0 defeat to Manchester City in January 2017 was particularly difficult to take. But the low spot was a 4-2 defeat against AFC Wimbledon in January 2019. We had cantered to a 2-0 win over Birmingham in the 3rd round. Sitting mid-table in the Premier League it felt like the perfect time to start a cup run.
Drawing AFC Wimbledon of League One in the 4th round was a golden opportunity to make rapid progress. However, West Ham often turn a golden opportunity into a banana skin. And so it came to pass on a cold night in South London. We failed to get a single shot on target in the first half as Wimbledon raced into a 3-0 lead by the 46th minute.
Pellegrini made a triple substitution which almost paid off when Perez and Anderson scored to reduce the arrears. But Wimbledon continued to push forward and finished the tie when Toby Sibbock’s close range header made it 4-2. Pellegrini later said it was a disaster as West Ham wanted it much less than their opponents.
For a club that made its reputation in the FA Cup, West Ham’s record is surprisingly modest; three time winners, twice runners-up and seven appearances in the semi-finals. It’s not a bad stat but it doesn’t get close to our rivals. Compared to Spurs’ record of eight wins, once runners-up and 21 semi-final appearances the Hammers’ record looks decidedly sick.
Burnley, Leicester and Birmingham have all appeared in more semi-finals than West Ham. With the greatest of respect to those teams, a club of West Ham’s stature and reputation should be way ahead. With the third round approaching in January hope springs eternal. It would be nice to break that 44 year dry spell in football’s oldest knock-out competition.