‘We should’ve known better than to dismiss Reid, Green, and Vaz Te on their West Ham arrival’

There are players that haven’t excited us when they arrived at the club but went on to prove us very wrong

Craig Dawson (WHU) at the Arsenal v West Ham United EPL match, at the Emirates Stadium, London, UK on 11th December, 2021.

There have been many players who have arrived at West Ham with a lot of hype, only to flatter to deceive. But which players did our team not rate at first but went on to prove us wrong whilst still a Hammer?

For Meirion Williams, it was a ‘World Cup star’ that we signed in August 2010 that proved him wrong. ‘My first thought was that there was no way that would happen but then it was confirmed and it was a player from New Zealand so not exactly a star in my eyes, and so a certain Winston Reid joined the Hammers. 

‘I thought let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he will be worth all that hype. But I was there when he made his debut at Villa Park. It was horrendous. A 3-0 defeat where Winston was simply awful. It even resulted in him being benched for the next three months. In the words of Jim Royle, ‘World Cup star! My a**e’. But how wrong was I? 

‘He was a slow burner. That first season was him just warming up and he soon became one of the first names on the teamsheet. He scored some memorable goals and even got his own terrace chant. Sadly injuries put paid to his West Ham career but Winston certainly proved me wrong during his time in the claret and blue.’

It was another defender that Emily Pulham didn’t rate when he first arrived at West Ham. ‘I wasn’t just unimpressed when we signed Craig Dawson; I was angry. I thought it was a signing that lacked any ambition, that would cause us to leak goals, and that it would be the worst signing of my lifetime. 

‘I’ve never been so glad to be wrong; Craig was an incredibly reliable and determined player. He committed to every game he played and threw himself into blocks with an extremely useful disregard for his own safety. He became an incredibly valuable player and we continue to miss him after he returned north for family reasons.’

Milly Thomson agreed: ‘I knew many Watford fans at the time we signed Dawson and they were practically laughing at me after the season he had, so I was fearing the worst when we started him against Southampton. But since that incident with Che Adams he went on to be one our most solid centre backs. From the many challenges against Sevilla at home to scoring away at Lyon. He is a player I would happily bring back now.’

For Marcus Johns, it was a certain shotstopper who went on to represent England at the World Cup. ‘“If Rob Green could play for England so could I” was the rather outlandish claim that I, someone who had previously played in goal for a club in the 7th tier before giving it all up to play a different sport, made when he was called up for the national squad following Norwich’s relegation.

‘He hadn’t particularly impressed me from the small clips I’d seen on Match of the Day and in my eyes, looked more like a farmer than an international goalkeeper. This irrational disdain seemed somewhat justifiable when during a 2006 World Cup warm up game, he managed to rupture his groin taking a goal kick and missed out on the tournament.

‘With Green still injured, it was a shock to me when I saw that we had signed him for £2m. What did we need him for I wondered? We had just signed Roy Carroll and Jimmy Walker was back to fitness too. What a mistake we had made, I thought. Well, as we all know, the mistake was mine.

‘Whilst his injury meant it was a few months until we saw him, what a player he turned out to be for us. Consistent, commanding, and a great shot stopper. Indeed his bedding into the side coincides with the turnaround we encountered in the Great Escape season – the performance away to Arsenal in our 1-0 win away being one of the all-time great individual performances in our club’s history.

‘He even went on to win back his England place in time to start the opening game of the 2010 World Cup, but the less said about the US game, the better. So, whilst I had pre-judged reservations based on nothing but small clips, I’ve never been so pleased to have been wrong. For me, still the best goalkeeper since Ludo, Rob Green – I salute you and your wonky finger.’

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Ex-Spurs winger Matthew Etherington was a player that a then teenage Lucy Farrell was unimpressed with when he arrived at Upton Park. ‘In 2003 I was 15 and had a season ticket, so when we signed players I wanted them to all be exciting internationals. Etherington didn’t fit that bill. Judgy, teenage me was also unimpressed that he came from Spurs. 

‘Over the course of that season, he went on to win me, and many other Hammers’ fans, over. He was quick, he had some flair and he was determined. We were playing in the Championship, so we needed players like that to get us out of it. He was pivotal in getting us to the play-offs and won Hammer of the Year. Then he played a big role in getting us to the final by scoring in the 2-0 win over Ipswich in the second leg of the semi-final. That is still one of the greatest moments of my West Ham supporting life.

‘It’s fair to say that not all of his five and a half seasons were as rip-roaring, but he still turned my opinion around from being less-than-impressed, to being a really important player across at least two seasons that were crucial in our modern history.’

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And speaking of players from London rivals arriving to east London, Robert Banks admits he wasn’t keen on the signing of one particular Arsenal striker. ‘I wasn’t keen on the signing of Ian Wright in the summer on 1998. For a start, I had hoped that West Ham had moved away from buying big name washed-up has-beens especially after the scorching season that Hartson, Kitson and Berkovic had just enjoyed.

‘Wright to me, was past it, arrogant and just there for the money. It took approximately 84 minutes of his debut for me to change my mind as he slotted in the winner at Hillsborough celebrated with the West Ham fans like he’d been there all his life. Only a short spell – 26 appearances but nine goals, including a magnificent brace at St James’s Park in a 3-0 win, and 100% commitment reflected in nine yellow cards and one red. Not one of them was deliberate.’

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Fast forward 14 years, and Olivia Elliott wasn’t a fan of one of then manager Sam Allardyce’s signings. ‘Big Sam knew Ricardo Vaz Tê from managing Bolton when he signed for West Ham in 2012, and at the start, myself, my brother and Dad would joke about him only playing well when the sun was out as he would just stand where the sun was shining onto the pitch

‘He hated the shade and we found whenever he was in the shade he would give the ball away but in the sun he turned into Messi. We weren’t sold on him at first as we weren’t too sure if he was good enough to play due to his inconsistency every week. Now after scoring the winning goal in the Championship Play-Off final, which I still thought he put it over the bar, it’s quite hard to not like him.’

David Bowden agreed with Liv’s choice. ‘When the Portuguese winger joined the club, he was enjoying a steller Championship season, so on paper, it looked like a good signing. But I wasn’t convinced. His career had taken him to Barnsley, and his injury record wasn’t great. It seemed his purple patch at the start of the season had saved his career and when Big Sam came calling he naturally leapt and the chance. 

‘In my mind, I just hoped that he could handle the bright lights of London and West Ham and turn into a flop. Boy, was I wrong; it wasn’t a purple patch and a classic case of not judging a book by the cover. He continued to bang in the goals, and it could be argued that the former Bolton man scored the most crucial goal in recent West Ham history. I will forever be grateful to him for giving me my Bowen-in-Prague moment as someone who wasn’t lucky enough to be in the Czech capital.

‘His last-minute strike at Wembley will live with me forever. Sadly, his injuries did predictably catch up with him. But he scored plenty of important goals for the club and will always be remembered for that Wembley moment.’

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Paul Brand’s choice was a player who came good against his better judgement before the gloss of the Premier League. ‘Mike Small was our original Antonio. My first impression was of a big lump with an ungainly touch. But thanks to Trevor Morley being incapacitated by an even more ungainly domestic spat, he was the best we had and promptly proved me wrong by going on a scoring streak that led to semi-ironic calls for an England call-up. 

‘Eighteen goals in all for a team rock-bottom in the league was a handsome return. Sadly, he couldn’t do it in the new First Division, getting sent off in the first game of the 1992/93 season and barely featuring thereafter. After leaving West Ham, the only goals he ever scored were for Sligo Rovers, so perhaps my first impression wasn’t too far off after all.’

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For West Ham Rambles it was a certain Yossi Benayoun that he didn’t rate at first but grew to love him over time. ‘When he signed, he was one of those players that had been hyped for a while, and I thought he’d end up playing a couple of times, and never be seen again.

‘How wrong, I was? What a player. Hints of Devonshire, and Ian Bishop and a joy to watch, a real West Ham-type player. I remember his first goal, against Villa, in a 4-0 win, and then that chipped goal against Fulham. 

‘Looking at his stats, he scored eight goals and provided five assists for us over 78 appearances – it felt like more. I was gutted when he moved on to “bigger things” and went to Liverpool. He never quite went on to hit the heights I expected, but I loved every minute he played for us.’

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And finally, for Chris Wheal, it’s a player currently plying his trade at London Stadium that he wasn’t initially convinced by. ‘James Ward-Prowse was Mr Moyesball in midfield. He passed the ball backwards three times as often as he passed it forwards. His first glance around him was to ask “who’s behind me?”. It just seemed like he’d been told to play by the laws of rugby and only pass the ball sideway or backwards.

‘Every TV commentator and radio pundit spent the entire season saying what a hot-shot he was from the set-piece. Google him and there are YouTube videos of the “set-piece specialist” and “Every James Ward-Prowse free-kick goal”. Sadly he’s wearing a Southampton shirt in all those clips. I spent the entire season asking when he was going to do that for us. And then he slotted that corner straight into the net against Wolves.’

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