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The full-back's curse

Filed: Wednesday, 23rd February 2011
By: Staff Writer

With the news that the once-reliable Herita Ilunga is considering a loan move to the third-tier of English football with Sheffield Wednesday, we ask: 'just what is it with full-backs at West Ham?'

It was less than two years ago that the Congolese left-sided defender, who arrived in a £2.2million switch from Toulouse was voted runner-up Signing of the Year by Hammers fans here on KUMB.com.

Yet little more than 18 months later Ilunga has been consigned to the scrap-head by virtue of being omitted from Avram Grant's 25-man Premier League squad for the final half of the 2010/11 campaign.

Whether it be injury, dire loss of form, domestic unrest or fighting a battle with the bottle West Ham's full backs have experienced the lot over the years. Join us as we take a look back at what could have been...

Curse: Inexplicable Loss of Form

Sebastien Schemmel

We should have feared the worst when, upon signing on loan for West Ham, the president of his former club described Schemmel as 'phenomenally unstable'. However that particular insult appeared to have been wide of the mark when the Frenchman was voted Hammer of the Year in 2001/02 having been signed on a permanent deal the previous summer by Glenn Roeder.

But instead of inspiring, the accolade appeared to have the opposite effect and coincided with Schemmel going bonkers. Following a string of minor injuries, rows with his mother-in-law, the return of his wife and kids to France and an ill-advised anti-Roeder tirade on SkySports he was swiftly sent packing - to Portsmouth and a rendevous with Harry Redknapp who initially brought him to West Ham.

Herita Ilunga

A summer 2009 bargain basement signing by Gianfranco Zola, the previously unknown Ilunga spent his first season at West Ham on loan - and performed, for the most, more than competently as he helped the Hammers to a top ten finish. However it all started going wrong last season when, like Schemmel some years before, he turned a loan deal into a permanent arrangement when signing a four-year contract.

Following indifferent form, rumours regarding his personal life began to emerge. Whatever the reasons, Ilunga was never the same player again and was delivered the ultimate snub when being left out of Avram Garnt's Premier League squad for the latter half of the 2010/11 campaign.

Nigel Winterburn

West Ham have had mixed luck when signing ex-Arsenal players. For every Liam Brady there's been a John Radford - and it's therefore fitting that Winterburn, depending on which of his three seasons at West Ham you assess, could be placed in either camp.

Signed for £250,000 from the Gunners by Harry Redknapp in 2000, the-then 36-year-old left back enjoyed a superb first eighteen months in east London. But as the legs aged further so came a string of minor niggles with which followed a sudden - and permanent - loss of form, so much so that Rufus Brevett was drafted in as emergency replacement in January 2003 after which Winterburn never played for the club again.

Curse: Career-Ending Injury

Clive Clarke

A slightly tenuous one as Clarke only played three games for the Hammers, although as one was in the 3-2 win at Highbury that made West Ham the last away team to win there he's well deserving of a mention.

A year after leaving West Ham, Clarke collapsed midway through a Carling Cup tie between Leicester and Nottingham Forest and was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack. Although thankfully that proved to be a false alarm Clarke has never played professional football since.

John Lyall

A left-sided full-back, Lyall had been at West Ham since impressing Ted Fenton as a 15-year-old. However disaster struck in 1964 for the promising defender when aged just 23 - and having made less than 40 first team appearances he suffered a serious knee injury that was enough to end his playing career.

The news represented a huge blow for Lyall at the time, but had his playing days not not been curtailed it's extremely unlikely that he would have gone on to become arguably the club's greatest manager ever.

Julian Dicks

One of West Ham United's favourite sons, Dicks' 14-year pro career was plagued by injury but it was one knock to a troubled knee too many that did for him during his second spell at the club, leading to him missing the entire 1997/98 season.

A brief return lasted just eight matches before the club terminated his contract in the summer of 1999; Dicks has recently been linked to the vacant reserve team manager post.

Curse: Domestic Unrest

David Unsworth

The name 'Rhino' isn't a moniker you'd perhaps attribute to someone also accused of being wholly under the thumb. But they were indeed the facts in the curious case of David Unsworth, who joined West Ham from Everton in a £3million switch in 1997.

After a successful season in which he became something of a crowd favourite due to his no-nonsense style - on the pitch, at least - stories emerged claiming that Liverpool born-and-bred Mrs Unsworth was unhappy in London. A few days later and the Unsworths were on their way to the Midlands and Aston Villa, who repaid United the £3million they had furnished Everton with just 12 months earlier.

But the story didn't end there; the still-homesick Mrs Unsworth decided that the 100-mile trip to Merseyside was also too much and after just ONE MONTH with Villa, Everton completed the circle by paying the Villains the obligatory £3million to take Unsworth back to Goodison Park. His wife was happy, at least.

George McCartney

Irish defender McCartney joined United on a four-year deal from Sunderland in 2006 and, like many of his fellow ex-players in this list, initially exceeded expectations having finally become a regular fixture in Alan Curbishley's side following the sale of Paul Konchesky.

However his sudden departure two years later - in the most mysterious of circumstances - also signalled the end of his manager's reign, after Curbishley resigned in protest at the sale of McCartney and fellow defender Anton Ferdinand to Sunderland.

The official line was that McCartney requested a transfer after claiming that his wife couldn't settle in the south; an explanation angrily refuted by the player who, whilst admitting that his wife had been unhappy in the past, revealed that he was simply pulled aside during training one day to be told that he was being sold.

Curse: Alcoholism

Gary Charles

Harry Redknapp, that former wheeler-dealer (or so he says) loved a gamble when managing West Ham - and there were none greater than when he paid £1.2million back in 1999 for troubled left back Gary Charles, whose penchant for a tipple was well known before he left England to try his luck with Benfica in Portugal.

However Charles was too much for even Redknapp to handle and he wasted no time in hitting the bottle upon returning to Blighty - a situation almost certainly assisted by the fact that Charles was sidelined for the first four months of his Hammers career through injury. The own goal that led to a 2-1 defeat at Southampton on his debut didn't help either.

It all came to a head for Charles in 2001 when his crashed car - complete with half-empty bottle of scotch on the passenger seat - was discovered empty after he had done a runner from the scene. A year later - and after only six games for the club - he announced his retirement, citing a 'persistent knee injury' as the cause.

Curse: Major (Yet Not Quite Career-Threatening) Injury

Julien Faubert

Although signed as a right winger, it is at full back that Faubert has most frequently operated of late. Less than a month after joining West Ham he suffered an achilles injury that kept him out for six months.

Stuart Pearce

At the tender age of 37 the England stalwart suffered two broken legs within a season (1999/2000) - yet came back in record time from both.

Mauricio Taricco

Signed by Alan Pardew on a short-term contract, his Hammers career lasted just 27 minutes - at Millwall, of all places - before he sustained a torn hamstring that effectively ruled him out for much of the remainder of the season. Six days later Taricco, rather sportingly, agreed to terminate his contract 'by mutual consent'.

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.

Your Comments

by Brian Evans
10:31PM 23rd Feb 2011
''I had completely forgotten Taricco - and I was at that game. Can't fault him doing the honourable thing with regards his contract though - a pity a certain Benni Mac won't do likewise.''

by Graham
10:06PM 23rd Feb 2011
''Some exceptions, Jack Burkett, Frank Lampard Snr, Ray Stewart, Steve Walford, Billy Bonds, John McDowell...''

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