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The curse of Hackett

Filed: Thursday, 1st March 2001
By: Chris Tye

I note that West Ham have now reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, with a winnable tie at home to Spurs separating us from the semi-final. There is an understandable feeling of 'this could be it', a rising excitement that you hardly dare admit, but it is there.

But, you know what they say about chickens and counting 'em before they've hatched - by my reckoning there have been 7 similar such moments since our last notable achievement - reaching the League Cup final in 1981. 7 opportunities fumbled/p*ssed away, 7 moments of hope dashed, 7 times when opportunity knocked and West Ham did not answer. If you feel even vaguely confident about Spurs, this trip down memory lane will put paid to such ill-founded optimism!

1) FA Cup Semi 1991 Memorable mainly for the show of support from the fans, but who can forget the moronic Keith Hackett, who sent off Tony Gale for the most innocuous challenge on Gary Crosby. I remember being f*cking outraged that it was even a free-kick, but when Hackett got his red card out it was sheer disbelief. This was soon after the 'professional foul' rule was instigated, and naturally we were just about the first casualty in a high profile game. Slater also hit the post when it was still 0-0, but playing for 60 minutes with 10 men was just too much. We missed out on a Cup Final vs. Spurs, even more galling.

2) League Cup Semi-Final The St Valentineís Day massacre. By far the worst I have ever felt after a game of football. There we were in the semi-final of the League Cup, with Oldham supplying the opposition in a 2-legged tie. First leg was away on Oldham's plastic pitch, and we were told that the surface 'would suit our passing style', and surely even a competitive loss would be a decent result with the home leg to come. At least we could have had some vestige of hope to take back to Upton Park. What followed was the most insipid, limp-wristed surrender I have ever seen on a football pitch. Why we didn't try, with a place at Wembley beckoning is as baffling now as it was then. We lost 6-0 to a team who were no more than a mid-table side, and the semi was over after the first leg.

3) League Cup Semi-Final Oh gawd, not again - another 2 legged semi-final, another farcical first leg ending any hope of a trip to Wembley after the first game. But even worse it was hated rivals Luton who triumphed, and enjoyed a League Cup win over Arsenal as their reward. Two words sum up our 3-0 home defeat: Allen McKnightmare. I remember the first goal as if yesterday: a totally innocuous waist high cross was swung into our penalty box, just outside the penalty spot; a West Ham player waits in order to make the inevitable, comfortable clearance, the nearest Luton player stands, hardly bothering to challenge. Suddenly, out of absolutely nowhere, the horizontal diving form of McKnightmare appears - by straining every sinew he just manages to reach the ball, and with the most delicate of touches he manages to palm the ball away from the West Ham player, cushioning it beautifully for the Luton player to roll into an empty net.

4) FA Cup Quarter-Final 1994 Although only a quarter-final, this was a massive opportunity: not only was the immediate prize a semi-final against Chelsea at Wembley, but success in that would have seen us in the FA Cup final against a Man Utd side shooting for their first double. Not only that, it was a great draw: Luton, then a first division club, at home. But of course we arsed it up: Luton surrendered meekly to Chelsea in the semi-final, and Chelsea surrendered meekly to Man Utd in the final. I bear no complaint about the replay, with the Scott Oakes 'miracle game' and one of only two monstrous f*ck-ups by Steve Potts causing a 3-2 loss (his other was against Steaua). I do recall, however, with the utmost bitterness the feeble timid draw in the home tie when the prize was so big. Once again opportunity had presented itself, but we had no conviction. I thought we'd tear into them for that home leg with such a prize beckoning, I thought we'd at least give that home leg everything we had. Watching the game it actually looked as if we were playing for the draw. Baffling, and infuriating to say the least.

5) FA Cup Quarter-Final 1998 The FA Cup draw had opened up nicely, and successful passage through the quarter-final would have seen us pitched into an FA Cup last 4 containing Chesterfield (I think), Wolves and a soon to be relegated Middlesbrough - surely a trophy to be won from there if ever there was one. We got a tough draw, Arsenal away, but a fine 1-1 draw at Highbury saw us back at Upton Park for the replay. When Bergkamp was sent off after half an hour we had the game, and the Cup, at our mercy. Anelka scored, but we pounded away for an hour with Hartson netting a late equaliser. Surely our time was now, with Arsenal demoralised and tiring from playing so long with a man short. But Arsenal survived extra time, and we were into a penalty shootout. Even here opportunity presented itself with Arsenal missing first, but we matched them miss for miss, and the moment Abou strode up for a sudden death kick the opportunity had all but gone.

6) League Cup Quarter-Final 1998 Same year, same opponent - Arsenal, and Chelsea waiting in the semis. Arsenal's form was rocky at the time, but this win was the catalyst that sparked them into that double winning surge late on. Had Hartson stuck away that early penalty the story would have been very different. Opportunity came knocking once more, and once again we let it slip.

7) Mannygate I need say no more really. A miracle win in a crucial game at last: with a last second equaliser and a penalty shootout win, this was surely it - the team waiting in the semi's we did the double over that season, and first division opponents waited in the final. Deadly Doug's hard done by posturing will cause me to hate him forever. What rubbed it in was that Manny made no telling contributions to the game, yet in an FA Cup tie a few weeks later Tranmere had an extra player illegally on the pitch that headed away a last minute free kick and did not have to replay. My thoughts after Mannygate: we will never win anything again: whatever we do, something will rise up from nowhere to prevent it.

There you have it: 7 opportunities blown by a refereeing debacle, 2 Hartson penalty misses, 2 abject surrenders, an admin cock up and a complete failure to play in a winnable home leg.

Can you say, with any certainty, that Spurs won't be number 8?

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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