Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Friday, January 08, 2021

In Retro - The 50 Best West Ham Games of the Premier League Era (10 - 1)

10. Spurs (h) 1-0 : 2016/17 Premier League
(Lanzini (65))

Them again. 

In truth this was a situation not unlike the corresponding fixture the season before. As then, Spurs desperately needed to win in order to keep their title challenge alive, but for the downwardly mobile Hammers this was a game we had to win to secure our mathematical safety. 

Someone in the Metropolitan Police obviously likes a bit of an atmosphere and agreed to schedule this game on a Friday night, meaning that the general air around the ground was what you might have imagined at a pre Agincourt barbecue.

For a second consecutive season, Slaven Bilic hauled a terrific performance out of his players as their high intensity pressing caused Spurs an awful lot of trouble for a team who had built their success on such a tactic. While the visitors managed a couple of good efforts through Harry Kane and Heung Min-Son, the reality is that for a second season they simply faded a way at the point of their greatest need. 


If you look closely enough, you can see Jan Vertonghen's heart breaking

Some of that can be attributed to us, of course, as Bilic deployed an aged back three of Jose Fonte, Winston Reid and James Collins and they performed heroically. Elsewhere Cheikhou Kouyate was thundering about in midfield and even the much maligned Andre Ayew and Jonathan Calleri were outstanding up front. And for the possibly the only time in living memory there was an actual, audible atmosphere in the chemical waste dump that we call a ground. 

I refuse to accept that the London Stadium is a good place to watch football, but on this night, in these circumstances and against these visitors there was a hint of electricity in the air. Not the kind you get from the mains, but more the spark you get when you take off an acrylic jumper in the dark. I suppose that's a start. 


9. Arsenal (h) 2-1 : 1999/00 Premier League
(Di Canio (29, 72) - Suker (77))

It's hard to believe now, I realise, but there was a time in the Nineties when Arsenal were the most feared team in the land. Manchester United were their great rivals but they tended to play a brand of football that either submerged you or gave you a chance. Arsenal, by contrast, didn't do chances. They either played you off the pitch with scintillating football or they kicked you off the pitch with a fearsome ruthlessness. I don't think teams ever really believed they could beat Arsenal, and Harry Redknapp especially appeared to hold a sort of reverence for them which often seemed to transmit to his teams. 

On this day, we entered the Sunday afternoon fixture having not beaten them at home for thirteen years and not having won any of our previous eleven games against them. Most Hammers tended to arrive at Arsenal games knowing that the biggest mystery of the day was really how we would contrive to lose rather than if. 

This one started slightly differently, however, as the good early season form generated by our UEFA Cup run carried over into the match. Paolo Di Canio was soon tormenting the visitors with his unconventional strike partner Paulo Wanchope, and we looked a bit more up for it than previously. Di Canio opened the scoring on the half hour after a long mazy dribble in which he was seemingly tackled about five times and eventually ended up with him tapping in from six yards while David Seaman went for a stroll around Newham. 

His second was more memorable, as he sent Martin Keown on his own journey of discovery and left him stranded in the box to make it 2-0. Things all then went a little bit Upton Park as Davor Suker quickly pulled a goal back before mild mannered midfield philosopher Patrick Vieira upended Di Canio and got sent off. Not content with that, he returned to spit at Neil Ruddock and gave a pretty good impression of a man desperate to incite a riot. We clung on, somehow, as Arsenal kept knocking at the door, even as we lost Marc Vivien Foe to a second yellow card of his own. 

We would beat them only once more at Upton Park, when Marlon Harewood scored a last minute winner in 2006 and Alan Pardew promptly started a fight with Arsene Wenger. Halcyon days. 


8. Spurs (a) 3-2 : 2017/18 League Cup
(Ayew (55, 65) Ogbonna (70) - Sissoko (6), Alli (37))

Perhaps a League Cup 4th Round tie shouldn't be featuring quite so highly on this list, but to counter that argument I would ask how often you go to Wembley, are two down at half time and come back to win? 

We came into this game on the back of a truly awful 3-0 defeat at home to Brighton, in which we allowed Glenn Murray to score twice and as a result should probably have been relegated there and then. Slaven Bilic was under huge pressure having spent all his summer transfer budget on the players who could easily have been cast in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and speculation was rife that he was about to be sacked. 


Adrian auditions for A Hobbit's Tale

Those calls only got louder when we allowed alleged footballer Moussa Sissoke to run straight through our defence after just six minutes here to open the scoring. Spurs had a number of other chances before Delle Alli scored a second courtesy of a big deflection off Declan Rice, and at that point most of us in the away end were pondering at what point it was socially acceptable to leave. 

At half time, my old school friend and OLAS contributor Dave Terris produced a Galaxy bar and we tacitly agreed that when it got to four we'd probably start tunnelling our way out. 

But somewhere in the bowels of a half full Wembley, Bilic was casting some sort of magic spell. I don't think that it was much more meaningful than "Abracadabra, give it to Lanzini", but it worked a treat as the Argentine was suddenly everywhere and Spurs were all at sea. We pulled one back after fifty five minutes when an Edmilson Fernandes drive was only parried by Michel Vorm to Andre Ayew who made no mistake from eight inches out. Ten minutes later, Lanzini got in behind the Spurs defence and picked out the Ghanaian again with a beautiful flick and just like that we were level. I should add that the scenes in the away end when this one went in were pretty reminiscent of a rave I once went to in Majorca. 

The comeback was complete just five minutes later when Angelo Ogbonna headed in a Lanzini corner and just like that we had turned it around. Spurs chucked back a few tame counterpunches but we held on to complete a remarkable, thrilling, life affirming win. 

For Bilic, this was his last hurrah as we would next throw away a two goal lead at Crystal Palace and then attempt to play Liverpool without a defence and lose 4-1. He was sacked after that particular nightmare, but on this cold October evening at Wembley everything was just about perfect. 


7. Everton (a) 3-2 : 2015/16 Premier League
(Antonio (78), Sakho (81), Payet (90) - Lukaku (13) Lennon (56))

A recurring theme of the Slaven Bilic era was the team coming back from two goals down to earn points. On the face of it, that's not a bad habit to have although it's also probably true that a tendency to concede two goals all the time probably isn't the hallmark of a good team. But in 2015/16, no rules seemed to apply; Leicester could win the league, Spurs could have an actual title run and West Ham could win on Merseyside. 

We entered this game in 6th place but without a win against Everton in the Premier League in sixteen attempts. The reverse fixture had been highlighted by us going a goal ahead and Everton midfielder James McCarthy then kicking Dimitri Payet out of the game. That one foul probably ended up costing us a Champions League place as Payet would miss the next seven games, of which we would win only one.

But on a spring afternoon on Merseyside we - eventually - got some retribution. Before we got to that point, however, like with all epic tales things would have to get pretty bleak. Romelu Lukaku opened the scoring, as required by law, by rolling teenager Reece Oxford far too easily and slotting home after just thirteen minutes. Things then went a bit weird as Kevin Mirallas was sent off for a poor tackle on Aaron Cresswell. Instead of spurring us on, however, it seemed to inspire Everton who continued to be the better team and eventually got a neat second through Aaron Lennon. A dismal day was then compounded when they were granted an incorrect penalty. As Lukaku stepped up it seemed like our propensity to fall behind in games had finally caught us up. 

Adrian, however, had other ideas as he saved both the penalty and later  another breakaway effort from Lukaku. With just twelve minutes to go our right back - Michail Antonio, if you're still trying to solve the puzzle as to why we were so bad defensively - popped up to head a consolation. Rather enjoyably, Everton then collapsed like American democracy, and Diafra Sakho soon headed an equaliser. We piled forward, with Andy Carroll barrelling around like a possessed bowling ball, and with just seconds remaining Payet latched on to a Sakho flick to poke home a wonderful winner. A moment to savour in a season of them. We left Goodison in fifth place and would then watch our season dissolve in a flurry of poor refereeing decisions, bad luck and the stupidity of not buying an actual striker in January. Plus ca change. 


6. Spurs (a) 3-0 : 2013/14 Premier League
(Reid (66), Vaz Te (72), Morrison (79))

Another trip to White Hart Lane and a thoroughly enjoyable Sunday in the early season sun. Having won against Cardiff on opening day, we had gone winless while Spurs were unbeaten at home and had only conceded two goals all season. 

Big Sam Allardici, however, is not a man to worry about such niceties and decided to shake things up and employ the "False Nine" system popularised by Spain at the recent World Cup. This involved having Ravel Morrison and Mohamed Diame rotating in and out of the striking role, and leaving the notorious high defensive line of Andre Villas Boas without anybody to mark. 


What could have been

For an hour the system worked excellently, as our extra numbers in midfield crowded out the home team, and allowed us to break forward from time to time with purpose. We took the lead from a corner when Winston Reid headed goalwards, had the ball rebound back to him from Kevin Nolan and then poked home. Six minutes later, Ricardo Vaz Te broke on to a Mark Noble through ball, shot against Hugo Lloris, fell over and then scored as the ball bounced back and hit him mid fall. Lovely stuff all round as we rode our ricochets into a two goal lead. 

The general shittiness of our opening two goals was cancelled out, however, by the brilliance of our third. Nomadic wunderkind Ravel Morrison picked up a pass inside our half and dribbled through the Spurs defence - it contained Michael Dawson but it was still impressive - and then lifted it over Lloris to seal our victory. A fabulous goal to seal a fabulous win. 

Sadly, Allardyce was so pleased with his tactical innovation that he persisted with it for a further five winless games, until someone eventually told him that strikers were for life and not just for Christmas. We would beat Spurs twice more that season whilst losing 5-0 to Championship side Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, and 9-0 on aggregate to Manchester City in the League Cup semi finals. Say what you like about Allardyce but he didn't do anything to change our reputation as a side you should never, ever include in a bet. 


5. Ipswich Town (h) 2-0 : 2003/04 Play Offs
(Etherington (50), Dailly (71))

If you know - you know. 

I don't think I'll forget this night as long as I live. 

Alan Pardew had taken over from Glenn Roeder with the club not so much in a state of flux as occupying the centre of a black hole with no laws of physics applying. The stars were mostly gone, and even those who had stayed such as David James and Jermain Defoe would leave by January. In their place was a transitional mix of the young and talented types like Michael Carrick, Matthew Etherington and Bobby Zamora alongside older heads such as Steve Lomas and Andy Melville - the slowest man I have ever seen play football. 

The side was a bit of a patchwork, with no recognised left back meaning that Hayden Mullins was needing to be deployed there by the end of the season. We looked for a while like we might struggle to make the play offs but ended up in fourth, which gave us a trip to Ipswich Town who had finished a point behind us. They won a nervy and underwhelming first league 1-0, leaving everything riding on the return fixture. 

But West Ham under the lights is a different kind of ask altogether. From the moment the first leg finished Pardew was stoking things up, telling Ipswich that they would be facing an altogether different challenge when they came to East London, and he wasn't wrong. Spurred on, the crowd had the old place shaking like it hadn't done for quite some time and when the players emerged there was a mild concern that the roof wasn't going to survive the aural assault. 

We started like a lightning bolt and Ipswich soon looked like they had channelled their inner Spurs as they froze in the face of the onslaught. Kelvin Davis made a number of outstanding stops in a one way first half, but there was a sense of inevitability about the opening goal. Carrick took a short corner to Etherington, everybody groaned, and he duly smashed it in the top corner to take the pin out of the grenade.

Twenty minutes later the oft vilified, but never shirking Christian Dailly got hit in the nuts at a corner, stood up long enough to poke in the second goal and then collapsed in agony. It was a peculiar moment as the players couldn't celebrate while the crowd were blissfully unaware and re-enacted the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

We held on, even as Ipswich hit the post late on, and a play off final was sealed. That ended dismally, but on this particular night, when the ground shook and the night was filled with song, West Ham was the only place to watch football. 


4. Metz (a) 3-1 : 1999/00 Intertoto Cup
(Sinclair (23), Lampard (43), Wanchope (78) - Jestrovic (68))

If you're a West Ham fan of a certain age then you'll know what I mean when I say that Metz is a word you hear whispered on the wind. Fans talk about it all the time, and it resides somewhere within the fabric of the club simply because of how great this particular night was. 

It's easy to mock the Intertoto Cup, and many do, but we finished in 5th place and should have gone straight in to the UEFA Cup but instead were made to play in this new, and curiously constructed, competition. So, in July we played FC Jokerit of Finland and SC Heerenveen of the Netherlands to qualify for this - bizarrely one of three finals taking place that night on August 24th 1999. The others were won by Montpelier and Juventus, but we went in to our game 1-0 down having disappointingly lost at home to a Louis Saha goal. 

I think part of the allure of this game is that the conditions, in a foreign country, in glorious sunshine, in a totally different atmosphere against players and clubs we'd never see before - all of that felt like it belonged to other clubs. Certainly we had seen it on TV but it had always seemed so out of reach. The very notion that you could go to watch West Ham in a competitive match in France in a place called the Stade Saint Symphorien seemed like the kind of thing that belonged to a bygone era. And thus thousands of West Ham fans made that trip and turned the night into quite an event. 


Visiting diplomats

We started well, even though we had only two available defenders, and actually had two goals ruled out before Trevor Sinclair cut in and fired in a great low left footed shot to give us the lead. The excellent Frank Lampard then freed Paolo Di Canio down the right hand flank a minute before half time, surged into the box and finished off an elongated one-two by volleying home the Italian's cross.

As the night drew in and the sun went down, the atmosphere cranked up further and when Metz scored an excellent goal of their own through Nenad Jestrovic it seemed like we would be in for a nervous last twenty minutes. That feeling was only exacerbated when there were clashes in the crowd, but thankfully Paulo Wanchope skipped past the keeper in typically inelegant style to score our third and seal the tie. 

As with so many things connected to West Ham, this was a missed opportunity. Rather than being the building block that we all hoped it would be, this game stands as a kind of high water mark - Di Canio in his pomp, Ferdinand and Lampard happy and outstanding, Cole and Carrick on their way and a selection of young, excellent professionals around them. It wouldn't last. It never does.


3. Manchester United (a) 1-0 : 2006/07 Premier League
(Tevez (45))

Has any game ever been so memorable while being quite so unmemorable? This was a match that was solely about the result, and everything else was just ballast. Going into the game we were in 17th, but with an inferior goal difference courtesy of a first half of the season where we played with a rush goalie. With our two main rivals - Wigan and Sheffield United - facing each other, we knew that a point would definitely keep us up, but a defeat could easily send us down. 

Not only that, we faced the daunting prospect of having to win at Old Trafford, where Manchester United had lost just once in yet another title winning season. In retrospect, it can't be denied that the hosts were focusing on their FA Cup final to be played the following week as they left Giggs, Ronaldo and Scholes on the bench. With that said, they were still fearsome and we relied on Robert Green to make a string of fine saves to keep us in the game. 

We also lost quietly underrated left back George McCartney early in the game, but didn't miss a beat as Lucas Neill continue to marshall our back line superbly. And then, and then....

With half time imminent, Carlos Tevez played a one-two with Bobby Zamora, watched the ball skew up into the air from a defensive challenge, and calmly slid the dropping ball past Edwin van der Sar on the half volley. It was a wonderful goal, not least because it also helped to ratchet up the tension at Brammall Lane, where Sheffield United were losing to Wigan. 

We held on, not without incident but also not without a sense of purpose and steel, and in the Manchester drizzle we celebrated a remarkable escape and a dismal season. Tevez would never play for us again and our Icelandic owners would soon go bankrupt, leading us on a journey that would end with David Sullivan and David Gold purchasing the club as a distressed asset a few years later. Whether you think Tevez should have been playing, or whether you believe Neil Warnock's relegation was really underserved, you can't deny that the miracle run-in of 2007 was an extraordinary sequence of performances for which Alan Curbishley probably deserves far greater credit. 


2. Spurs (h) 4-3 : 1996/97 Premier League
(Dicks (20, 72 p), Kitson (22), Hartson (38) - Sheringham (8), Anderton (29), Howells (53))

By the end of February 1997, West Ham were going down. We hadn't won in eight games and prior to the arrival of Spurs had lost five in a row, including a cup defeat at home to Wrexham that was so bad the video is probably used by the CIA in torture sessions. 

Harry Redknapp had begun to notice that his strike force of Iain Dowie and Mike Newell was a tad unthreatening, and in fact no striker had scored for us that year, forcing him to shell out £7m for Paul Kitson and John Hartson. 

Both would start this game, and score, on a night when it felt like the wind and rain was moving horizontally across the pitch. Things started poorly, however, when Teddy Sheringham opened the scoring with a smart header. We were indebted to talismanic skipper Julian Dicks for our recovery as he thumped in a header from a Michael Hughes corner after twenty minutes to equalise. Just two minutes later, a second Hughes corner got held up on the wind and Kitson ducked underneath it to nod home. 

The lead held for seven minutes before Darren Anderson lobbed Ludek Miklosko to equalise - a status quo which held for all of nine minutes before Hartson demolished Sol Campbell to crash home a Dicks free kick. We led at the end of a crazy first half, but David Howells would soon restore parity with the best goal of the night from outside the box. Amid the madness of this game I always think it's worth remembering that Howells played despite his father dying earlier that day. 

As misfortune would have it, it was cruelly to be Howells who then fouled Hartson to give Dicks the chance to put us back into the lead from the spot. To say that he smashed it home would be to greatly understate the violence of his penalty. The appropriate term would probably be whatever one uses to describe the action of a bazooka. 

We held on and stayed up, and that game remains indelibly inked in my mind. Those lights, that pitch, the rain, that performance. I doubt there have been many more entertaining games of football ever played in this country.  


1. Manchester United (h) 3-2 : 2015/16 Premier League
(Sakho (10), Antonio (78), Reid (80) - Martial (51, 72))

Is there such a thing as destiny? Whenever we're about to play a team who haven't won in a while we all seem to think so. And so, maybe that's what this was. I don't know but it was a game unlike any other. There is nothing quite like saying goodbye, after all. 

A confession - I didn't go to this game. I had no season ticket this year, but I did have a new phone, which proved terribly unhelpful when a mate messaged me on my old one to ask me if I wanted his spare ticket. He still sends me a screenshot of that from time to time, if he thinks my mental health seems too stable. 

I had made my peace with leaving, and had made my last trip on a frigid February afternoon to watch a tepid 1-0 win over Sunderland. But on this night I felt the pull. I almost went down to the ground just to stand outside, which was an urge that several thousand others chose not to ignore. This had the knock on effect of delaying the kick off as the Manchester United team bus couldn't get through the throng outside having seemingly asked my wife how long they would need to get there, and duly left half an hour after they were supposed to have arrived. 

When the game got going it was...perfect. A balmy night for shirt sleeves and raised hairs alike, and the lights beating down one final time. Diafra Sakho - a madman - opened the scoring after just ten minutes and to be honest, it felt like there was an inevitability to everything that followed. Of course we would dominate and miss lots of chances. Of course they would equalise just after halftime, and then accidentally score to take the lead with just twenty minutes of football left at our home. 

You beautiful bastard

From there, of course we wouldn't buckle and of course Michail Antonio - a consistent scorer of important goals - would head our equaliser. And of course, with ten minutes to play, Dimitri Payet would conjure one last assist and Winston Reid would write one final line on the bottom of the script. 

In some ways, I still feel emotional about that night and that season. Riven throughout this series of articles is a lament for what we gave up in leaving Upton Park. For all those dreadful home performances - and there were many, lest we romanticise it too greatly - there was also something buried under the surface that could be mined by the right players or managers. When the lights were on and the mood was with us, we could move mountains at that place. We could rise above the natural limitations of our station and become something better. The harsh truth is that the London Stadium has no such seam to mine, and indeed was supposed to be the thing that made us better. It has not. We must build something different so that when somebody writes this equivalent piece in fifty years time, when Brexit has started paying dividends, it can be filled with amazing nights from that stadium. Over to you Moyesy. 


Honourable Mentions:

Arsenal (a) 1-0 : 2006/07 Premier League
Wigan (h) 3-2 : 2009/10 Premier League
Manchester City (a) 2-1 : 2005/06 FA Cup
Chelsea (h) 1-0 : 2002/03 Premier League
Sunderland (a) 1-0 : 2000/01 FA Cup
Spurs (a) 2-1 : 2013/14 League Cup
Manchester United (h) 2-2 : 1996/97 Premier League


In Retro - The 50 Best West Ham Games of the Premier League Era (20 - 11)

20. Chelsea (a) 3-2 : 2002/03 Premier League
(Defoe (40), Di Canio (49, 84) - Hasselbaink (21 p), Zola (74))

In 2001, popular and populist manager Harry Redknapp was sacked by chairman Terry Brown and eventually replaced by lugubrious coach Glenn Roeder. Despite a drastically low set of expectations, Roeder steered us to a seventh place finish and in truth it looked like there were a lot of building blocks for the future. Youngsters Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe were emerging, Glen Johnson was on the way and England internationals Trevor Sinclair and David James were in place to complement the excellent strike pair of Paolo di Canio and Frederic Kanoute.  

The idea that we could get relegated in 2003 with that squad still seems absurd, but we somehow managed it, and an entire generation of outstanding youth players was wasted. However, one of the few bright spots in the season came in September when we travelled to high flying Chelsea, bottom of the league and still searching for our first win. 


Not pictured - Gary Breen, supreme

Things started poorly when Scott Minto conceded a ludicrously soft penalty and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored his customary goal against us. Substitute Defoe snuffled an equaliser just before half time and then shortly after the interval Di Canio scored one of the best goals I've ever seen when he flicked up a loose ball with his right foot and smashed it home from thirty yards with his left. Even now, it perplexes me why that goal doesn't feature in more Premier League "Best of..." compilations. 

Minto carried on his tremendous day at the office by needlessly fouling Gianfranco Zola with a quarter of an hour to go and the Italian punished him with a glorious free kick. Di Canio, however, was not to be denied and with minutes to go he profited from some marvellously Mighty Ducks style Chelsea defending to pilfer a winning goal. This match was also notable for being the only time that Gary Breen would ever play well for us. What. A. Day. 


(Lanzini (3), Noble (29), Sakho (90))

When looking for reasons why Slaven Bilic remains so beloved by West Ham fans despite presiding over some truly abysmal football teams, I think you have to look at games like this. West Ham, incredibly, had not won at Anfield since 1962 before this game, which is the kind of losing record that you typically only see in wrestling where the matches are actually fucking fixed and one party isn't trying. 

But in 2015/16 both ourselves and Liverpool were different animals than we'd seen before or after. We had Dimitri Payet, while Brendan Rodgers was trying to mould a team while Simon Mignolet was in goal for him. Tough gig. 

We started brightly with Manuel Lanzini scoring after just three minutes on his full debut, and Mark Noble adding a second on the half hour after a wonderfully slapdash bit of defending from Dejan Lovren that was part falling over and part performative dance. Philippe Coutinho was then correctly sent off for a stupid lunge on Payet, which referee Kevin Friend decided to even up by sending off Noble for a perfectly fair tackle later on. It seems you still have to knock the big boys out to get a draw in the Premier League.

Diafra Sakho then broke away to score a last minute third and seal a 3-0 win at Anfield, which is the kind of sentence that thousands of West Ham fans thought they would never see in print. 


(Jones (37), Morley (60 p, 73), Marsh (80) - Sheringham (66 p))

Another day, another highly enjoyable visit to White Hart Lane. I think this Easter Monday victory lives long in the memory as it allowed thousands of teenage Hammers like me to strut around the various schools and workplaces of Essex and East London for quite a while, such was the comprehensive nature of our win. 

Things started cagily, with West Ham probably needing a win to be sure of avoiding relegation in our first Premier League season, and Spurs dangerously close to being pulled into the dogfight themselves. Peter Butler was injured early on and replaced by Steve Jones, which proved to be the turning point as he quickly ran on to an Ian Bishop through ball and smashed home his most famous goal for us. 

On the hour mark, Trevor Morley conned Kevin Scott into fouling him in the area and picked himself up to give us a two goal lead from the spot. Feeling the game needed an injection of life, Morley then went up the other end and gave away a penalty of his own to allow Teddy Sheringham to pull one back for the home team.  


I'm pretty sure this is Mike Marsh

However, with Bishop having a masterful game in the middle we never really looked like losing and Morley soon added a second after some more Ardilesian defending from Gary Mabbutt. Mike Marsh, another underrated signing, would add a late fourth as Spurs simply abandoned the notion of defending and we coasted to a thumping victory that left Spurs in 15th place and just three points above the relegation zone. Sadly, they would survive but it was enjoyably close for a while there. 



Back in 2001 the footballing world was a vastly different place. A year earlier Manchester United had withdrawn from the FA Cup in order to play in the FIFA World Club Championship and been pilloried for the decision. Unpopular anyway, this was seen as the ultimate snook cocking and a bridge too far for the English media. In typically modest fashion, United continued to refer to themselves as the holders of the trophy having won it in 1999 and their reputation was further enhanced when it emerged that they had already booked their favourite hotel in Wales for May, in anticipation of making the final again in Cardiff. 

When we were drawn against them in the Fourth Round it was a genuinely huge game, shifted to the Sunday to be covered by ITV and West Ham were given 9,000 tickets for the match. Alex Ferguson picked his strongest side, which was borderline unbeatable at the time, while we sweated over injuries to Shaka Hislop and Frederic Kanoute. The Mali striker was crucial as without him we tended to all but disappear in away games. 


Paolo, relaxing

Still, the omens weren't all that great with our back five containing the octogenarian pairing of Stuart Pearce and Nigel Winterburn, and Hislop patently unable to kick a ball. With United hammering at us early on, it never really felt like we were going to win and indeed most fans were having post traumatic flashbacks to our 7-1 defeat there a year before. 

However, the key to the victory was our brilliant homegrown midfield of Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. As Jacob Steinberg observed in The Guardian when he described this as his favourite West Ham game, the great sadness was that this performance heralded an end and not a beginning. The young trio controlled the game and gave us the platform to grow into the game and eventually steal a late winner. 

The goal itself is pretty famous, as Kanoute freed Paolo di Canio who ran into the box, ignored Fabien Barthez trying to tell him he was offside and slotted home the winner. We would be drawn away at Sunderland next, who were actually second in the league at the time, and beat them too before losing a borderline Shakespearean home quarter final to Spurs. 

I actually didn't even bother to apply for a ticket to this game, such was my pessimism, and I got what I deserved as I had to watch on TV with the rest of the world. When we were drawn at Old Trafford again a couple of years later I made sure I didn't miss out. 

We lost 6-0. 

Sometimes God is a little too on the nose, you know. Still, Let's All Do The Barthez.


(Antonio (67))

It's not often that football games live all that long in the memory. They feel important and substantial and then another one arrives five days later and suddenly that's the only game that matters. The value we ascribe to certain fixtures is rarely, if ever matched by their real life impact. It's therefore sometimes the case that you need a bit of history alongside the actual game to make it truly stick in the mind. 

So, what sets this 1-0 victory at White Hart Lane apart from the equivalent Dani game in 1996? Well, for a start this game was played in a totally different stadium. Having "lost" their attempt to win the Olympic Stadium and then benefitting from a weirdly fortuitous set of fires on land where they wanted to build, Spurs then spent $1 billion on building their new, incredible home. It might feature a cheese room, and ludicrous, unnecessary extras but it is undeniably an astonishing place to watch football, and will stand as an eternal monument to the half arsed job that was done on our new place. 

But if the stadia aren't comparable then all that remained was for us to go and make the pitch our own. And with Spurs unbeaten in their new home with no goals conceded, that looked a pretty formidable ask for Manuel Pellegrini's new look West Ham, who had picked up just one point from their previous eight away games and were struggling to cope with their managers indecipherable prognostications about having a "big club mentality". 

However, with Spurs focusing half an eye on their Champions League semi final with Ajax, it's also true that this was a good time to be playing them even if they did play their best available team. The game started in a characteristically frenetic style and Spurs edged a first half in which our influential forward Marko Arnautovic touched the ball just seven times. He would make up for this in the second period however, alongside Mark Noble who simply took the game over and began to pull the strings in the same way as Bishop in 1994. 

Eventually, on 67 minutes, Arnautovic got free on the right, picked out Michail Antonio and the striker smashed home the first opposition goal at the new White Hart Lane, and then celebrated by pretending to hump a donkey on a space hopper. As you do. 

Things got a bit Twilight Zone thereafter when the two best chances in the rest of the game fell to our marauding centre back Issa Diop and an enthusiastic amateur footballer by the name of Vincent Janssen who won a competition to play up front for Spurs for the final twenty minutes. 

Still, we held on and, as with The Emirates, planted an eternal flag as the deserved first winners at the new North London stadium. We were all also introduced to those to two Spurs lads who film themselves watching matches and, well, more from them later. 


(Boa Morte (30), Benayoun (57), Harewood (82))

I don't know if you guys recall this, but there was a stage in the 2006/07 season when it seemed like we might go down. In fact, after a Wes Craven directed last minute defeat to Spurs in March we were bottom of the league, 11 points from safety, without an away win all season and facing a run-in that involved trips to Arsenal and Manchester United. So, in summary, we were fucked. 

To add to the mess, controversial summer signing Carlos Tevez had still not scored all season and his pal Javier Mascherano was apparently stuffing his face with pizza in a Docklands flat having failed to displace Hayden Mullins from our midfield. Still, by the time we got to Wigan, things were slightly brighter after unlikely wins over Blackburn Rovers, Everton and Arsenal, sandwiched around a truly awful defeat at relegation rivals Sheffield United. 

At one point it looked as though Tevez might not play in this game as the club had to mount the first of several legal defences regarding the validity of his registration. They emerged triumphant - in a fashion - with a record £5.5m fine, and the Argentine played and starred in this remarkable win. 

Things began with a huge army of Hammers heading north on coaches paid for by the players, at the arrangement of Lucas Neill and Nigel Reo-Coker. With around 7,000 fans packed in behind the goal there was a tangible fission of excitement on the air. A win would pull us level with Wigan and put increasing pressure on the likes of the faltering Sheffield United and Fulham. 


Boa Morte scores. Horsemen of the Apocalypse on their way

After an opening half an hour where we were well on top, Neill launched a through ball for Luis Boa Morte to run on to. Wigan keeper John Filan weighed up all possible options and chose the worst one available by running directly at Boa Morte, who lobbed him for his first goal in claret and blue. He would literally have been better off doing The Barthez,

Bobby Zamora could have made it two before half time, but we would soon seal the win with a fabulous breakaway goal where Tevez, Zamora and George McCartney would combine to set up Yossi Benayoun. Substitute Marlon Harewood added a late third, and The Great Escape was well and truly on. 

In the end, Sheffield United would end up being relegated, which I'm sure everyone would agree was a shame. Oddly, the long trip home was punctuated by seeing demoralised Charlton Athletic fans who had travelled to watch their team play at Blackburn Rovers as part of Alan Pardew's inspired "Operation Ewood" escape plan. They lost 4-1. 

Our karmic retribution would come in the summer when Henry Winter, Neil Warnock and a confused judge would request we pay £25m to Sheffield United over the Tevez affair. Still, we'll always have that goal from Luis Boa Morte. 


(Kouyate (43), Zarate (57))

Back to 2015/16 and back to those improbable away results conjured up by Slaven Bilic. On the opening day we made the short trip to The Emirates where it was reasonable to assume that we were going to get our usual hiding at the hands of Arsene Wenger's men, especially as we had only just returned from being dumped out of Europe at the hands of Romanian powerhouse Astra Giurgiu, or Astra Fucking Goo Goo to give them their full title. While it's true that the Arsenal of 2015 wasn't the Arsenal of 2005 it is also true that they weren't the shower that we've seen parading around the Premier League recently, so we were heavy underdogs.

The game was an entertaining affair, played out in bright sunshine and with a pleasing flow. New signing Angelo Ogbonna was rock solid at the back, while 16 year old Reece Oxford made Mesut Ozil disappear long before it became as fashionable as it is now. But the real star was new boy Dimitri Payet, who played in a nominal left wing role and was simply majestic. He crossed just before half time for Cheikhou Kouyate to give us the lead, while Petr Cech conducted an experiment in finding out exactly how badly a goalkeeper could misjudge a dive. 

The Czech's misery continued later when Mauro Karate fired past him from twenty yards and we hung on to seal a comfortable win. Notably Matt Jarvis and Kevin Nolan appeared as late substitutes, signifying a kind of handover from the old Allardyce era to what seemed like it might be a sun drenched modern adventure under Bilic. We lost 4-3 to Bournemouth a week later. Never change, lads. 


(Son (1), Kane (8, 16) - Balbuena (82), Sanchez (OG 85), Lanzini (90)) 

Oh baby. Lanziniiiiiiiiiiii!

You shouldn't really have a draw this high in a list of your greatest games, but then again you shouldn't draw a game where you are three goals down with eight minutes to play. For all those hundreds of games we watch and attend, for all those insipid defeats and tedious draws that we immediately consign to the wastepaper bin of history, it only takes one game like this to make you remember precisely why you first fell in love with the game. Football, bloody hell. 

To the neutral this must have been a bizarre match to watch. Spurs opened the scoring within a minute when we decided not to bother tackling Heung Min-Son, and Harry Kane soon added another couple. All three goals were brilliantly conceived and executed and at that point for West Ham fans it was simply a case of how many more they would score, and how much longer we would be able to keep watching. 

But Jose Mourinho isn't a coach to ever let loose the handbrake and David Moyes has imbued his team with a steel that hasn't been seen in a West Ham team for quite some time. Even at 3-0 we were still playing alright, with the obvious caveat that the home team had mostly gone into a mode of containment and were content to wait for chances to hit us on the break. As it was, Kane was denied a perfect hat trick by the post, and then everything went...nuts.


Manuel Lanzini. I love you

First, Fabien Balbuena made up for some questionable defending on the Son goal to head a consolation, and then Andriy Yarmolenko and Vladimir Coufal combined to force Davinson Sanchez to head a bit more consolation into his own net, and suddenly we had five minutes of hope left. The pivotal moment arrived when keen golfer and amateur footballer Gareth Bale went through and ruined his coming home party by shooting wide with the goal at his mercy. Reprieved, we went up the other end and with four minutes of added time already in the book Manuel Lanzini smashed home a thirty yarder off the underside of the bar, Moyes did a little jig on the touchline, we all felt extremely consoled and Mourinho took it all with the customary good grace for which he is famous. Oh, to have been in the away end when that went in. 

Better still, whenever I think of this game I am reminded of this - the best, and most dramatically executed headphone push of all time. 


No. No. No. No. NO. NO!


(Reo-Coker (25), Zamora (32), Etherington (80) - Henry (45), Pires (89))

Another entry into the history books and arguably the most unlikely victory on this list. In 2006, Arsenal were in the middle of Arsene Wenger's reign and as strong as ever. Filled with world class superstars, they were especially formidable at Highbury in their final season there before moving to The Emirates. They would lose just two home league games all season and this, famously, was one. 

We weren't in great shape going in to this game as we had no right back, with Tomas Repka having headed  back to the Czech Republic a couple of weeks previously, and were thus forced to deploy the extremely left footed Clive Clarke there. Things began predictably as Arsenal swarmed all over us, and Robin van Persie slammed a strike against the woodwork, but having battled through the initial flurry we broke away and took the lead as Sol Campbell channelled his inner Gary Breen and Nigel Reo-Coker snatched an opener. Seven minutes later Bobby Zamora slapped Campbell around like a piรฑata and curled home a beautiful second and all of a sudden it was one of those nights. 

Arsenal, however, remained Arsenal and Thierry Henry snatched one back on the stroke of half time to keep us all fidgeting. On another day the immense pressure applied to us in the second half would have seen a comfortable Arsenal win but between a heroic defensive performance, Shaka Hislop's heroics and some good old fashioned luck we kept them at bay. With just ten minutes left, Reo-Coker won the ball back high up the pitch and set up Matthew Etherington whose shot deflected twice on its way in. Sometimes it's just meant to be. 

Robert Pires did score in the 89th minute because why not, but we held on for a famous win and became the last away team to win at Highbury. Deliciously, we would then become the first team to win at The Emirates where Zamora bagged us a 1-0 win the following season as part of The Great Escape in another game that narrowly failed to make this list. 


(Sinclair (35), Moncur (43), Di Canio (65 p), J Cole (70), Lampard (83) - Windass (30), Beagrie (44 p), Lawrence (47, 51)

I know what you're thinking - just another typical 1-0 down, 2-1 up, 4-2 down, 5-4 victory. But this might be the definitive game of the Harry Redknapp era as it showcased almost everything good and bad about that time. We began the game in 10th position with the sense of yet another lost season hanging over the ground. Our main focus had been on the League Cup where we made a run to the quarter finals and actually beat Aston Villa in a thrilling, pulsating game that ended up being settled on penalties. 

In the purest West Ham fashion imaginable we then ended up having to replay that match after it emerged that substitute Manny Omoyimni, who didn't actually touch the ball while on the pitch, had already played in the competition and was cup tied. Rather than chuck us out of the competition as they probably should have done, the league let us replay the game knowing full well that would be a more painful process, and they were right as we lost 3-1 and Paolo di Canio missed a fateful penalty. 

By the time Shaka Hislop broke his leg two minutes into this game it seemed like more of the same. On came the much hyped young reserve goalkeeper Stephen Bywater, who looked like he was borrowing his big brothers kit, and played like he was wearing his mums oven gloves. 

Incredibly the game was still goalless on the half hour mark when Dean Windass headed in a corner with Bywater rooted to his line. Trevor Sinclair quickly equalised before John Moncur got in on the act with a screamer of a goal to give us the lead and then immediately conceded a soft penalty that Peter Beagrie put away. 

The key observation from those of us in the ground at this point was that in order to win the game it seemed pretty imperative that everybody did their best to ensure Bywater wasn't required to touch the ball for the rest of the match as he appeared never to have seen one before. Sadly this ploy failed as Jamie Lawrence took advantage of two further howlers to give the visitors a (sort of) shock 4-2 lead. 

While all this was going on Di Canio was engaged in a seemingly endless battle with referee Neale Barry as he was denied penalties on at least two occasions where the foul was certainly worse than Moncur's in the first half. After the second of this he ran across to the bench and demanded to be taken off, sitting down on the turf and generally turning in the kind of performance that would get you booed offstage in the West End for being too hammy. Instead of treating this as a shocking lack of professionalism everybody just shrugged and said "That's Paolo" and sang his name. {Insert eye roll gif}

Shortly after, Paul Kitson was fouled and the penalty was finally given. Nominated penalty taker Frank Lampard picked up the ball only to find Di Canio trying to wrestle it off him. Being a well run and thoroughly professional outfit everybody told Di Canio to piss off and reminded him that he'd missed his last penalty and wait, oh no, we let him take it because we're about as professional as your average Sunday League team. 

Anyway, he scored and everyone sang his name so that was great. {Insert eye roll gif}. A few minutes later Trevor Sinclair set up Joe Cole for the equaliser, and with Bradford quite rightly still reasoning that if they could just get a shot on target they'd win, everybody stopped defending and it was all tremendous fun. 

With seven minutes to go, Lampard got some sense of redemption when he picked up a Di Canio pass and smashed home a left footed winner from the edge of the box. What a springboard for the rest of the season, I hear you say. Not really, we lost 4-0 at home to Everton the next week. 


In Retro - The 50 Best West Ham Games of the Premier League Era (30 - 21)

 30Chelsea (h) 2-1 : 2015/16 Premier League

(Zarate (17), Carroll (79) - Cahill (56))

The 2015/16 season remains a curiosity in the Premier League archives, largely because it took the unusual step of actually being interesting. Most West Ham fans look back upon the season as a great success as we marauded to 7th in the league behind the brilliant Dimitri Payet and generally played entertaining football that proved a stunning antidote to that produced by Sam Allardyce.

Personally I felt it was a missed opportunity. Manager Slaven Bilic didn't seem to have much more tactical acumen than just telling his team to give it to Payet whenever possible, and as with so many before and after him, he chose to discard effective combinations elsewhere in order to crowbar Andy Carroll into his side. On certain days however, that strategy was to prove exceptionally effective and this was one. 

Jose Mourinho's side arrived here as champions but finished the day in 15th as Upton Park offered up yet another barnstorming London derby and sent another local rival home sheepish in defeat. We opened the scoring early with a smart strike from Mauro Zarate, and held that lead comfortably as Chelsea then saw Nemanja Matic correctly sent off for two yellow cards. 



Mourinho in repose - 2015, Artist Unknown

At this point Chelsea went collectively mental, everybody got booked and Mourinho was sent to the Directors Box, which produced this absolutely gorgeous Renaissance painting of a photo when we would later score our winner. In the intervening period, however, Chelsea would shape up pretty well with ten men and Gary Cahill bagged a deserved equaliser. 

With time slipping away Bilic sent on Carroll, which is akin to releasing a lion in a classroom to sort out an unruly set of teenagers. Even so, Carroll thunderbastarded an Aaron Cresswell cross into the net with ten minutes to go and the roof nearly came off the ground. We went up to third and then promptly lost 2-0 at Watford a week later to highlight why it would be Leicester and not us who would take advantage of a season of madness. 


(Amalfitano (21), Sakho (75) - Silva (77))

When Sam Allardyce arrived at Upton Park, this was what we were promised. A well organised team, sprinkled with skilful attackers in front of a solid defence and a few bloody noses for the big boys. In truth, he didn't particularly deliver on that but he did briefly stumble upon an exciting looking combination in the first half of the 2014/15 season. 

This game is included primarily because Manchester City were the real deal at this point, and defending champions to boot. They came fully armed with the likes of Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Yaya Toure and this victory remains one of the few times we have laid a glove on them in the modern era. 

This West Ham team was anchored around the wonderful Alex Song, who was magnificent this season, and led by the attacking duo of Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho who feasted on service from a rejuvenated Stewart Downing. 

We opened the scoring here when Song and Valencia combined to set up  Morgan Amalfitano for a tap in. We then rode our luck quite significantly as City did the cross bar challenge for an hour. Sakho seemed to have wrapped it up with a thumping header late on, but a frankly brilliant Silva goal meant the last ten minutes were terrifying. Still, we held on and rose to fourth before Allardyce changed the system to try and get Carroll back into the team. We won just three games after Christmas and finished the season in twelfth. 

Another waste. 


(Zamora (57))

While I don't generally have fond recollections of our Play Off adventures as I think they simply tend to highlight the debacle that various boards have made of running the club, it's also true that as purely theatrical events they can't really be beaten. 

This was no different, although by this stage these games had devolved into paralysing, nervy affairs rather than the free flowing buccaneering matches of old. 


The. Exact. Same. Haircut

This match was particularly tight, as Preston seemed to freeze a little, perhaps wary of the growing tradition for sixth place teams to arrive in the play offs and beat those who had finished above them. We actually started the better team and some unholy combination of events led to Tomas Repka hitting the post in the first half. Preston improved after the break, albeit we continued to look more threatening and it wasn't all that surprising when man of the moment Bobby Zamora swept in a Matthew Etherington cross to give us the lead. 

After that we retreated to defend our advantage and try and hit them on the break, which did wonders for cardiac health in the East End, and also threw in a horrific looking injury to goalkeeper Jimmy Walker as well. 

We clung on, as we probably deserved to, but in truth I think there were very few fans who watched this game and felt particularly confident about Pardew's men in the Premier League. Still, a day to say you were there and it felt like something approaching a catharsis considering that we had lost the equivalent match a year previously with a dismal display against Crystal Palace. 


(Soucek (45), Antonio (51), Yarmolenko (89) - Willian (42 p, 72))

Ah, the London Stadium! There aren't too many matches from the Indian burial site on this list, largely because we've been almost unrelentingly shit since we've moved there, but this one from the middle of a pandemic makes the cut. 

At the start of the day we were out of the bottom three solely on goal difference and seemingly staring relegation in the face after an especially insipid 2-0 defeat to Spurs. However, the arrival of Tomas Soucek and Jarrod Bowen had given an added thrust to our attack while Michail Antonio was about to go on one of those red hot streaks that make him such a favourite for Fantasy League managers. 

Here we were mugged initially, when a Soucek goal was bizarrely ruled out by VAR on the grounds that Antonio was lying down in an offside position, and made to pay immediately when Willian gave Chelsea an undeserved lead. However, the Czech midfielder wasn't to be denied and headed us level right on half time. Antonio soon gave us the lead before Willian smashed in a fantastic free kick to leave us staring at a, frankly, not terrible point. However, Andriy Yarmolenko got free in the last minute to run on to an Antonio through ball and steal all three points and, essentially, seal our survival. The Ukranian is a bit of a poster boy for the stupidity of the Pellegrini/Sullivan axis but there's no doubt about him on two fronts - firstly, he should never be given any defensive responsibility, and secondly, he is deadly if you let him on his left foot. 

For all that I think we have actually benefitted from not having to play in front of crowds, I can't help wishing I had been there to see this particular last minute winner. Not that I don't generally enjoy the fruity conversation while we all stand aimlessly at a Stop/Go sign in the middle of the set of 28 Days Later but it would all have felt just a touch more romantic on this balmy July evening.  


(Moses (6), Sakho (31) - De Bruyne (45)

In truth, the reverse fixture from this season was a better game - a pulsating 2-2 draw that saw a Dimitri Payet masterclass at Upton Park. However, it also worth remembering that this was a win against the then most expensive starting line up in Premier League history, and the first defeat of the season for the unbeaten City. This remains our only league win at the Etihad and for that reason I have included it here - you just don't win there very much these days. 

Things began well when Victor Moses beat Joe Hart low to his left from long range (who knew?), and got even better when Diafra Sakho added a second on the half hour following a goalmouth scramble. Kevin de Bruyne pulled one back on his home debut but Adrian was unbeatable in a lively second half and we hung on for a remarkable victory. 

This win actually took us into second place but we would draw the following match at home to Norwich which was entirely in keeping with our wildly unpredictable form this year. I can't think of many sides who could win successive away matches at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City and still lose 4-3 at home to Bournemouth but that was to be our lot this season. I don't think Slaven Bilic was a great manager, but you can't deny that he managed some great results. 


(Carragher (OG 21), Ashton (28), Konchesky (64) - Cisse (32), Gerrard (54, 90)) 1-3 on penalties

Too soon? It's too soon, right?

I still can't really talk about this game. Objectively it's probably the best Cup Final of the modern era and subjectively, the bravest West Ham performance I've ever seen, but I still can't even really devote any emotional real estate to it. It simply makes me sad. 


Yes, it's too soon

We had some luck in the semi final when we were drawn against Middlesbrough and Liverpool were left to deal with Jose Mourinho's borderline invincible Chelsea, a team we had little chance of beating. As it was, Rafa Benitez took care of his long time nemesis and we met in the match that was once the highlight of the English season. 

Truthfully, we should have won - even Alan Hansen was to admit as much in his BBC column - but were denied by the force of nature that is Steven Gerrard. I can't deny the brilliance of the man but I begrudged him that day. He won plenty in his career. This one was ours. 

Things began brightly when Dean Ashton and Lionel Scaloni combined to force Jamie Carragher into putting through his own net. Ashton followed up with a second shortly after and I admit that I foolishly began to dream. Gerrard, however, was just revving up and he soon set up Djibril Cisse for the first Liverpool goal and then smacked home an equaliser. Boyhood Hammers fan Paul Konchesky then fluked a cross into the net to put us 3-2 ahead and it seemed that he would be the hero of the day until a moment of oft overlooked controversy. 

In injury time, with West Ham in possession we put the ball out to allow a Liverpool player to receive treatment, but when the ball was thrown back to Scaloni he was immediately pressured by Liverpool players. It's not a huge scandal - it was the last minute after all - but faced with that pressure the Argentine miskicked it aimlessly to the middle of the park. From there the ball was headed out to an exhausted Gerrard who, well you know. 

Extra time continued in the same vein and despite our evident physical superiority we couldn't snatch the winner we deserved. In a moment of huge pathos, our own brilliant skipper Nigel Reo-Coker headed against the bar and the rebound fell to the injured Marlon Harewood who screwed the ball wide with the goal gaping. On such moments do cup finals hang, and we then took the worst set of fucking penalties in history and that was all she wrote. As a game this should be higher, and as an emotional experience this probably shouldn't be on the list at all. I'll let you decide whether this rating feels right. 


(Zamora (61, 72))

Context needed. 

In 2004 we had powered into the play offs, lost our first leg game at Portman Road and then simply blown Ipswich away in the return leg. This time around we needed a final day victory at Watford to edge out Reading and claim sixth place, and in truth while there is often a narrative around destiny that is attached to teams who finish sixth, we were a nervy bunch heading into the 2005 iteration. 

In a twist of fate we faced Ipswich again, but this time with the first leg at Upton Park. We blitzed them once more to go two up before collapsing and letting them get away with a slightly undeserved draw. Much of the pre match discussion therefore focused on whether we would crumble as Ipswich had done a year earlier in the second leg - traditionally games that end up being on the insane side of mental. With a younger team featuring Elliot Ward and Anton Ferdinand at centre back, I suppose that wasn't completely crazy but we made a mockery of such fears with a splendid display. Again, Tomas Repka was an unlikely early threat but the real damage was done by Bobby Zamora who scored two second half goals, with the second being a fantastic first time cushioned volley, off an inch perfect through ball from strike partner Marlon Harewood.

Actually, both goals were created by Harewood who was in fine form, while Matthew Etherington was sublime and for a second consecutive year we brushed Ipswich aside pretty easily. They must hate us down there. 


(Sheringham (46), Reo-Coker (62), Etherington (80) - Todd (18))

Just a few months after that victorious night at Portman Road we were back in the Premier League after a two year absence. These days I think there is an acceptance that the gap between the bottom of the top flight and the top of the Championship is pretty minimal. However, in 2005 we snuck up with a squad of players picked up from other Championship teams and then supplemented them with a number of other largely unproven types like Danny Gabbidon, James Collins and Yossi Benayoun. 

Over time those fears would be dispelled, and probably should have been dispensed with the minute we saw that Blackburn were captained by Andy Todd, but after we went one down in the first half (to a goal by Todd, naturally) there was a communal sense of nervousness. 

With the rain falling, and the team kicking towards the Bobby Moore end, there was a general feeling on the air that something special needed to happen.  Teddy Sheringham got things going by rolling in an equaliser after Todd turned back into a pumpkin, and then Nigel Reo-Coker smashed home a fabulous second just after an hour. 


Better than we remember, I think

We extended our lead with a late goal from Matthew Etherington and everyone went home feeling pretty good about our newly minted young side, except for Mark Hughes, which just added to the glorious sense of occasion. 


(Dicks (55 p), Kitson (68, 90) - Vialli (26), Hughes (87)) 

Upton Park under the lights, man. Was there anywhere better to watch football? Well, yes, when you're watching your team lose to Stoke, but on other nights you'd swear the place was doused in magic. 

By March 1997 we were slumped in the bottom three and desperately pinning our hopes on the newly arrived strike pairing of John Hartson and Paul Kitson. The squad was a slightly strange mix of the old - Dicks, Potts, Bishop, Dowie, Breacker - and the new - Porfirio, Lampard, Ferdinand, Williamson - and while that may have looked good on paper, it was turning out to be pretty shit on actual grass. 

This was shaping up to be another typically disappointing night when a Bishop mistake allowed Gianfranco Zola to slip in Gianluca Vialli for an opening goal. This held until the 55th minute when Julian Dicks nearly took the net off when he smashed home the equalising penalty. Not long after, Kitson smartly gave us the lead but we seemed to have blown it when Mark Hughes headed an 87th minute equaliser. Undeterred we went up the other end in injury time and Kitson smuggled in an Iain Dowie header to give us a deserved, and vital, win. 

I once wrote of Upton Park that as Neil Young said, "when she danced we could really love", and this was one such night. Songs rising up to the roof and then bouncing around the place and seemingly dragging the team forward like an invisible magnetic force. Looking back, Kitson's winner wasn't so much an event at a football match as it was a cosmic certainty. It's not that the London Stadium can't offer up such moments but they seem totally out of place when they arrive. At Upton Park they were constantly hovering just out of sight, permanently imminent like a song you hear in the back of your mind, or a fight in a McDonalds. God, I miss that place. 


(Antonio (7))

Some games of football carry a weight. From the day I got up on the March 2, 2016 until the moment the final whistle blew I carried a lead lined blanket on my chest. This was the last time Spurs would visit Upton Park, this was their first chance of going top of the league in March since 1964 and it's not an exaggeration to say that this felt like the pivotal game in the title race so far. A win was really the only acceptable outcome. 

We were battling injuries, and indeed finished this game with a back three of Cheikhou Kouyate, a hobbling Angelo Ogbonna and teenager Reece Oxford. It didn't matter, as we dominated from start to finish and totally outplayed a Spurs team who didn't manage a shot in the first half and did nothing to dispel the myth that they tended to bottle the big occasion. 


Would I let him drive me home? No, but the man scores big goals

From the moment that Michail Antonio headed in a Dimitri Payet corner in the 7th minute, the away supporters were forced to stand in silence and watch as Slaven Bilic wrung yet another manic performance from his charges. Payet was supreme but so too were Mark Noble and Manuel Lanzini, while the famed Tottenham pressing game foundered repeatedly on a rock solid backline. 

It's true that when I researched this piece I could have picked about twenty games with Spurs. The really sad truth is that for all the drama and late goals, for Spurs they have generally been winners and for us they've typically been equalisers. But when we've won games, they've really meant something in terms of stopping Spurs. I'd really rather that these matches were about our success rather than their failure but I suppose that's the truth of the era we're currently in. So yeah, fuck it, we derailed their first title bid in years and it was really rather enjoyable. 



In Retro - The 50 Best West Ham Games of the Premier League Era (40 - 31)

 40. Derby (a) 5-0 : 2007/08 Premier League

(Bowyer (42, 59), Etherington (51), Lewis (OG 55), Solano (69))

Any assessment of this game needs to acknowledge that this Derby County side was - quite literally - the worst to have ever played in the Premier League. They won one game all season, mustered just eleven points and generally played with all the natural athleticism and skill of the prison guards in Mean Machine

That said, when we played them we had most of the first team out injured because it was November and that's the law, so the context was that Derby were pretty optimistic about beating us that day. As things turned out, they were suitably crap and Alan Curbishley's reserves were well organised enough to take the lead before halftime with a smart Lee Bowyer goal. Thereafter we went mental, scoring four times in twenty four minutes after the interval before everyone agreed that things were getting embarrassing now and we took pity on Derby and declared. 

The rare, contented Bowyer

Upon reflection this game might be most remarkable as the day we finally saw what we had in Bowyer, whose signing caused such controversy at the time and who never really captured the form that had made him such an electrifying player for Leeds in earlier years. On his day - and this was his day - he was an excellent midfielder. 

As far as away days go, I'm not sure they come much more fun than this. 


39. Manchester United (h) 4-0 : 2010/11 League Cup

(Spector (22, 37), C Cole (56, 66))

Now this was a weird game of football. By early evening most of East London was under snow so my dad and I agreed that given West Ham's state of the art pitch defrosting system consisted mainly of pouring hot water on the lines, we could safely assume the game was off. I went to the pub and was fairly surprised when I found out the game was going ahead, and then absolutely fucking startled when Jonathan Spector scored twice inside 37 minutes to put us two goals up. Carlton Cole added a pair of his own in the second half and in general we absolutely battered the visitors. 

There is no doubt that the Manchester United side was missing most of their stars but it's also true that we fielded such legends as Pablo Barrera, Tal Ben Haim and Radoslav Kovac. Looking back it's not all that hard to understand how we were eventually relegated in last place. 

Still, under the astute tactical guidance of legendary manager Avram Grant, we actually advanced all the way to the semi finals of this competition and were somehow 3-1 up on aggregate with just 31 minutes to go in the second leg, before collapsing and getting knocked out by Birmingham City. 

In the darkness of an exceptionally bad season, this result was a tremendous bright spot. 


38. Charlton (a) 4-4 : 2000/01 Premier League

(Kitson (3, 30, 64), Defoe (84) - Euell (21, 28), Johansson (51, 90))

It's possible that there has been a worse defensive performance than this in the Premier League but click on the link above and check this one out so you have a baseline, at least. Quite how our back four didn't involve a juggler on a unicycle, a seal balancing a ball on his nose and a real life actual clown remains a bit of a mystery. 

For all that, terrible defending can often lead to fun games and this was no exception. We scored early through Paul Kitson and then stood spraying water out of plastic flowers as Jason Euell scored twice in quick succession. Kitson equalised with the best goal of the night and had to do so again just after the hour once we'd allowed Jonathon Johansson to run unmolested through what we were at that point laughingly calling our back line. 

Glenn Roeder then brought on Jermain Defoe to a chorus of boos as a result of him having left Charlton for us as a kid and he looked to have snatched victory with a fine late volley. Sadly, we couldn't hold on as Johansson scored a last minute overhead kick, despite the best efforts of our defenders on unicycles, to cap one of the most entertaining games in Premier League history. 


37. Southampton (h) 3-3 : 1993/94 Premier League

(Williamson (11), Allen (62), Monkou (OG 90) - Le Tissier (45, 65 p), Maddison (52))

One of the great unspoken joys of being a football fan is that from time to time you are able to experience opposition players at the height of their powers. The real pleasure is in being able to beat them, of course, but from time to time it's enough to simply luxuriate in their presence on your patch of grass. 


Not the sturdiest looking wall I've ever seen

Matthew Le Tissier was one such player. It helped that he played for Southampton and not one of the bigger teams, where he would have inevitably become hated. Instead he stayed on the south coast and spent his career performing miracles to keep a generally limited team in the league. On this afternoon, yet another final day extravaganza, Saints needed points to stay in the division as one of four teams facing the drop, while Upton Park was packed as fans took the chance to say farewell to the old North Bank. In many ways this was the end of a very specific era - this was a farewell to terracing and the English game and welcome to Sky, globalisation and the gradual removal of football from the place it previously existed in our society. 

So we scored early through home debutant Danny Williamson, before Le Tissier began bending the game to his will. He equalised with a sumptuous free kick, and then set up Neil Maddison to head the visitors into a vital lead. As the heavens opened Martin Allen levelled things up before Le Tissier scored his second from the spot. With just seconds remaining and chaos in the ground as fans were again spilling on to the pitch, Ken Monkou headed an own goal to briefly threaten Saints attempt at staying up. 

As it was, their point was enough, and we all got to witness a bravura performance from a giant of the era. It's a rare day when opposition fans truly enjoy an enemy player but I loved watching Le Tissier and I greatly respected the loyalty that tied him to his first club when he could really have gone anywhere. Perhaps that is why he was so widely admired - because at heart he did what all fans would love to have done. He played for his hometown team, become their best ever player, turned down millions elsewhere and retired a legend. For Matt Le Tissier, read every kid in the country. What a player. 


36. Spurs (h) 2-1 : 2005/06 Premier League

(Fletcher (10), Benayoun (80) - Defoe (35))

More final day drama and this time it is one of the few Premier League games that can be summed up with a single word. And with this being West Ham, that word naturally is...lasagne. 

With Spurs a point ahead of Arsenal heading into the final game of the season, and with us a week away from our first cup final for twenty five years, there was a lot of trepidation heading into this game. As much as it would have been delicious to deny Spurs their first Champions League campaign, most fans were adamant that the first team needed to be rested to avoid inevitable injury. 

In the end, Alan Pardew mixed and matched playing his first choice defence but resting most of his attacking options. The real drama, however, was taking place off the pitch as the Spurs squad was struck down with a dose of food poisoning and spent most of the morning of the match throwing up. Despite their best efforts to get the fixture postponed, the Premier League were having none of it and the game went ahead at the same time as Arsenal were facing Wigan in the last ever match at Highbury. 


Chefs Kiss

We started the brighter, unsurprisingly as most of the Spurs players were on their knees, and Carl Fletcher smashed home the opener after just ten minutes. In truth, Spurs put on a pretty brave display in the circumstances and former Hammer Defoe burgled an equaliser before half time. The second half started with Teddy Sheringham missing a penalty against his former side (notice the difference there?) and continued manically amid the news that Arsenal were somehow contriving to lose to Wigan. 

The universe righted itself, however, and the Gunners were soon in front and then Yossi Benayoun crafted an outstanding winner with just ten minutes to play. He latched on to a back heel from Marlon Harewood - which was hard - drifted past Michael Dawson - which was not - and then lifted the ball into the roof of the net. Cue pandemonium and the possibly apocryphal tale of Arsenal fans singing "Bubbles" at Highbury. 


35. Blackpool (N) 2-1 : 2011/12 Play Off Final

(C Cole (35), Vaz Te (87) - Ince (48))

I debated for a long time about including this game. In some ways it is more a monument to the club's failures than a moment of glory, but I suppose that at times it is worth acknowledging that winning big games at Wembley isn't something that happens every day. 

We found ourselves in the Play Offs courtesy of too many draws over a long campaign, but it's worth acknowledging that Sam Allardyce did a terrific job in taking the wreckage of the Avram Grant era and moulding it into something half decent. Facing us were Blackpool, who had played pretty well all season under Ian Holloway but actually finished eleven points behind us in the league, while we won the two league fixtures against them by an aggregate score of 8-1. It felt like a game we couldn't really lose, whilst also feeling exactly like a game we would lose. 

In truth the match was pretty scrappy, but Carlton Cole scored an excellently crafted goal before half time to give us the lead. 


Tom Ince, son of noted Hammers enthusiast Paul, then scored an oddly similar looking equaliser, and when Kevin Nolan thumped a fabulous volley against the bar in the closing stages it felt like extra time was inevitable. As it was, Nolan and Cole combined to set up Ricardo Vaz Te to slam home an 87th minute winner and spark wild scenes in the West Ham end. The play offs are tremendous - now let us never play in another again. 


34. Bolton (a) 3-0 : 1994/95 Premier League

(Bishop (46), Cottee (68), Williamson (89))

An esoteric choice perhaps, but a personal favourite. Back in the Nineties it felt to me as though we won away games with the same frequency that bands I liked appeared on Top of the Pops. In the three year period from 1993 - 1996, for example, we played 59 away games and won 11. So those victories became important due to their scarcity and this is one that lives in the memory of the frozen teenage me who watched this from the open terraces next to the supermarket that occupied the corner of Burnden Park. 

Bolton, in truth, were not very good and ended up being relegated after finishing bottom. However, at the point we played them in November we were in our usual bottom half strife and coming off a thumping 4-1 home defeat to Villa. 

However, we exploded into life here as three excellent goals from Ian Bishop, Tony Cottee and Danny Williamson sealed a comprehensive win. The latter, in particular, was an outstanding solo effort whereby Williamson picked up the ball in his own box and ran the length of the pitch before smashing it home with his left foot. Nary a tackle to be seen, of course, but like I said - Bolton were pretty crap. A rare Northern foray where we returned with the points, and to punish us we have not won at Bolton since. 


33. Manchester City (a) 1-0 : 2002/03 Premier League

(Kanoute (81))

Hmm. Should any game from this dismal season really be making this list? And if it's going to be any then shouldn't it be the nails-to-the-quick home victory over Chelsea a week later? Perhaps, indeed probably yes, but I've gone for this simply due to the madness around the game. A week earlier we had snatched a 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough, only for manager Glenn Roeder to then be admitted to hospital with a serious blockage to the brain. In addition, I can't quite divorce my recollection of that Chelsea game from the news later that night that Bolton had got a point at Southampton and we were probably going down. 

Into that breach stepped Trevor Brooking as caretaker manager, while alleged club legend Paolo di Canio pondered whether to return from a self imposed strike in Italy to play for the club. First up was a trip to mid table Manchester City, who were a long way from being the Manchester City we know and hate today, but were still much better then us. 

In a tense, end to end affair we eventually snatched a late winner when Don Hutchison hit the post from about four inches out only for the ball to fortuitously rebound to Freddie Kanoute who tapped in the winner from two inches. In the end, it wasn't enough as we famously went down with 42 points and half the England team. But still, for a few minutes in Manchester it seemed we might escape. 


32. Blackburn Rovers (h) 2-1 : 2007/08 Premier League

(Ashton (39), Sears (81) - Santa Cruz (19))

Much of the Alan Curbishley era was characterised by a kind of stolid nothingness that seemed designed to tempt fans into wishing for something more. And so it was, and I'm not sure we ever really appreciated quite how hard it is to stay in the Premier League without an Eastenders style drama every single season. 

By the time this game rolled around in March 2008, we were firmly stuck in 10th place and never destined to move from it. With Craig Bellamy having moved on, much of the buzz among the fanbase was around the prospective arrival of some young players from the Academy at last. Jack Collison, James Tomkins and Freddie Sears would all debut that season, with the latter causing the greatest excitement with his remarkable goalscoring feats in the youth set up. 

A moment - an undeniable moment

At the point we played Rovers we were coming off three consecutive 4-0 defeats to Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs, and Curbishley was given what I believe I am contractually obliged to refer to as "the dreaded vote of confidence" by the Board. It seems odd to say now but the clamour for the inclusion of Sears was rapidly becoming a crescendo. Fans were demanding that the 18 year old be given his chance. 

However, when Roque Santa Cruz smartly gave the visitors an early lead it looked like Curbishley was on the ropes again before Dean Ashton equalised with a typically excellent goal just before half time. 

The second half was pretty even before Sears entered the fray with a quarter of an hour to go. Within just 6 minutes he ran on to an Ashton backheel and although his shot was saved, the rebound popped up perfectly for him to head in a debut winner. Generally this would be considered an unremarkable, unnoticed game in a typically grey season but on that day, in that moment when the crowd seemed to suck the ball into the net it seemed like substantially more. 

Sears would end up forging a solid career with Ipswich Town, while it was actually Collison and Tomkins who would go on to be excellent Premier League performers, but his debut was an electric lightning bolt across the sky. Anyone who was there will never forget it. 


31. Middlesbrough (N) 1-0 : 2005/06 FA Cup 

(Harewood (78))

I'm not sure exactly what this game is best remembered for. 

Perhaps it was the emotional pre match tribute to the recently deceased John Lyall, when a minutes silence became a stadium wide chant of "Johnny Lyall's claret and blue army". Or maybe it was the moment when goalscorer Marlon Harewood was asked in his post match interview whether he felt West Ham had really only turned up at half time, and he replied by saying "No, we've been here all day"

Instead, it's probably true that a largely forgettable game is best remembered for the moment that Dean Ashton headed on a long ball and Harewood controlled it, held off Gareth Southgate and smashed home a glorious winner. Fittingly this game took place at Villa Park, which was famously the site of our last FA Cup semi final twenty five years previously. On that day a Tony Gale red card had ended a glorious cup run, but instead here we prevailed and advanced to a memorable, yet traumatic final with Liverpool. 

The hangover from this cup run continues to this day. It doesn't help that everybody rotates their team for cup games these days and with bigger teams now having such large, strong squads that the gap between us and them is now a canyon. But fans still fixate on this season, and argue that the couple of league places that we sacrificed to have this cup run were completely worth it. And maybe they are right, because there haven't been many better feelings in the last thirty years than watching Marlon Harewood smash that fucker in and send us to a cup final.