As a young man in the 1970s, the record producer Pete Waterman was working as a talent-spotting A&R man for an American music company when he came across a band called Blondie. “You can all play brilliantly,” Pete told Debbie Harry and the boys. “Just not necessarily in time with one another.” He might easily have been talking about West Ham United Football Club at any time over the past 50 years.
The Hammers have always possessed great players, but they have always seemed to under-achieve. When Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters ruled the roost at Upton Park, they may have won the World Cup but they never once challenged for the league title. And when I was transferred from Tottenham to West Ham at the end of my career, they told me I’d be going to the Academy of football but – in truth – it was like leaving the SAS to join the Girl Guides.
At Spurs, I was taught about hard graft and teamwork. At West Ham, I learned about deodorant and shampoo for men – two concepts that had been alien to me up until I arrived at the Boleyn Ground. It’s often been said of me that I never trained hard, but that’s not true.
It was always tough work on the training ground at Spurs. But on my first day at West Ham’s Chadwell Heath training HQ, I had only jogged a couple of times around the pitch when the coach and former goalkeeper Ernie Gregory tapped me on the back and said “You don’t want to be doing this, Jim. Let’s go and have a fag behind the canteen.” Mooro was probably my closest mate in the game – but he hardly ever discussed football. Perhaps part of the reason was the free-and-easy culture he’d always enjoyed at West Ham.
Not a lot seems to have changed in the East End. The Hammers are bottom of the Premier League, yet they still managed to thump Manchester United 4-0 the other night. They have four England internationals in Robert Green, Matt Upson, Scott Parker and Carlton Cole and plenty of other talented players in their squad. And I honestly thought that owners David Sullivan and David Gold would turn things around this season – despite inheriting a difficult financial situation. The two Davids are proper fans of the claret and blue persuasion, but they are not young men any more. Had they bought West Ham instead of Birmingham City back in the 1990s, it might have done the club a world of good.
They are right to pursue a move to the Olympic Stadium. A fresh start could do the club a world of good as Upton Park seems tired and isolated from the core support. It is essential for the club’s future they are not relegated this season, and they certainly showed the other night against Sir Alex Ferguson’s men in the Carling Cup what they are capable of – but consistency has never been in the club’s vocabulary. Perhaps Avram Grant could bring in Debbie Harry to help out. Blondie certainly got their act together in the end.