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In Retro: The Fifty Greatest Hammers (10 to 1)

Filed: Friday, 31st August 2018
By: HeadHammerShark

And so we come to it. The ten greatest players to have played for West Ham United, and I strongly suspect that you could name most of them off the top of your head.

10. Johnny Byrne (1962 - 1967)

Appearances: 206
Goals: 108
International: England
Other Rankings: BB (9) WHUFC (26) WHTID (17)

The absolute worst ranking in the club's list as they somehow put "Budgie" at 26, despite him being arguably the most complete striker in our history. Part of the issue is presumably that he didn't play for as long as others, but few have scored with the frequency he did and with such all round excellence. Byrne was already an established international when he signed from Crystal Palace, and his influence was soon felt as he won Hammer of the Year in 1964, scoring 33 goals and leading us to the FA Cup Final.

This looks promising

When I mentioned this project to my old coach, Steve Cowley, he told me that Byrne was his favourite player growing up not just because of his ability, but also due to the impact he had on Geoff Hurst. As usual, Steve was right. Byrne showed Hurst how to be an all round forward capable of both scoring and providing, with the irony being that Hurst ended up taking the spot in England's 1966 World Cup squad that would probably otherwise have gone to Byrne. In retrospect it seems bizarre that the latter didn't make it having scored a hat trick in 1964 against Eusebio and Portugal, but he suffered a knee injury immediately before the 1965 European Cup Winners Cup Final which seems to have curtailed his season.

A larger than life character off the pitch, Byrne returned to Crystal Palace in 1967 without too much joy, as injuries and a life well lived took their toll. Footage of him is hard to find but it shows an outstanding finisher with either foot or head, and a clever link man with his team mates, which led Ron Greenwood to call him "the English Di Stefano". Google it, kids.

9. Jimmy Ruffell (1921 - 1937)

Appearances: 548
Goals: 166
International: England
Other Rankings: BB (36) WHUFC (21) WHTID (N/A)

Splendid left winger who remains fourth on our all time goalscoring list today, and sixth in the list of appearances in all competitions. Signed from the Ilford Electricity Board, Ruffell was part of a new wave of players like Vic Watson and Billy Moore who would take the club to Division 1 and also to the famous White Horse FA Cup Final of 1923.

The uneven spread of talent in those days meant that exceptional players could often be found in lower league teams, and West Ham were no different as several England internationals would appear at this time. Ruffell joined the list in 1926, although he had the misfortune to play in the same era as the great Cliff Bastin and thus was limited to just six appearances.

Nonetheless the goals kept coming and Ruffell eventually scored an astonishing 166 from his wide berth, and became our all time leading appearance maker until he was surpassed by Bobby Moore. Comparing across eras is obviously hard and fraught with danger, but I find it strange that a player this good for this long is not remembered with greater affection by the Club.

8. Phil Parkes (1979 - 1990)

Appearances: 440
Clean Sheets: 146
International: England
Other Rankings: BB (8) WHUFC (10) WHTID (10)

Of all the players listed here, I found Parkes the most difficult to write about. I saw him at the tail end of his career, when his knees were gone and his mobility lost, and it seemed hard to imagine that this player could once have commanded a world record fee for a goalkeeper. His last game was the dismal 6-0 League Cup Semi Final defeat to Oldham on Valentines Day 1990, and Parkes left for Ipswich thereafter.

However, such a final act was unfitting for a player of his stature. Remarkably, Parkes was already 28 when he signed for us and still racked up over 400 appearances. An enormous man, he combined surprising agility with fearlessness and a near faultless positional sense. He is widely regarded to have been good enough to have played for England regularly, but was kept out by the Clemence/Shilton duo who hoovered up all the available caps at the time.

Parkes was instrumental in the 1980 Cup winning run, and kept a remarkable 22 clean sheets in the promotion campaign of he following year. Even at the age of 36 and with his knees failing, Parkes was an integral part of the 1985/86 team, as his solidity kept us in the hunt all season. He was also unquestionably beloved by his team mates.

Despite the excellent claims of Ted Hufton, few would argue that Parkes was anything other than our greatest ever keeper.

7. Alan Devonshire (1976 - 1990)

Appearances: 448
Clean Sheets: 32
International: England
Other Rankings: BB (7) WHUFC (5) WHTID (7)

The winger who could run through a puddle and not leave a ripple. It is hard to imagine that the club have ever spent a better 5,000 than that which was laid out to bring Devonshire to East London from Southall in 1976.

The skinny, quicksilver winger would go on to man the left side of our midfield for the next fifteen years and do it so well that there will undeniably be some of you who think he could be even higher on this list. Devonshire won the Hammer of the Year in 1979 and the first of eight England caps the following year. He probably should have won more.

Never a great goalscorer, he took over a year to bag his first goal, but the genius of Devonshire was more in his ability to create for others. It is amazing to see how many goals of that era began with a jinking Devonshire run on the left flank, and there are probably none more famous than the 1980 cup final winning goal as an example.

Despite knee injuries in the two years prior, Devonshire was back in full flow in 1985/86 and was the main creative drive behind our title push, capped with a virtuoso performance and goal in the 4-0 win at Chelsea. Sadly he was never fully fit again after that and eventually moved to Watford in 1990 shortly before retirement. As naturally talented a player as there has ever been at West Ham.

6. Martin Peters (1962 - 1970)

Appearances: 364
Clean Sheets: 100
International: England
Other Rankings: BB (6) WHUFC (6) WHTID (8)

The junior partner of our iconic World Cup winning trio, although there are plenty around who felt that the excellent Peters was every bit as worthy of acclaim as the Moore and Hurst.

Versatile enough to have played every position for the first team, Peters eventually nailed down a midfield role that would showcase his intelligent runs and perceptive passing. By the time he moved to Spurs in 1970 he was one of the best in the world in his position, and would win over sixty caps for England.

Top ten player, bottom ten hair

Peters was famously dropped for the 1964 FA Cup Final, but recovered to play in the European Cup Winners Cup Final the following year, and then forced his way into the World Cup squad for 1966. As a goalscoring midfielder he was pre-eminent, and scored 75 goals in the four seasons between 1965 and 1969. In joining Spurs he became the first British player to ever be valued at over 200,000, and Peters should probably be included in the best all time English XI.

5. Geoff Hurst (1958 - 1972)

Appearances: 503
Clean Sheets: 249
International: England
Other Rankings: BB (5) WHUFC (4) WHTID (4)

Remarkably, Geoff Hurst began life as a midfielder and was very nearly the bait in the deal which brought Johnny Byrne to Upton Park. As it was, Hurst was pushed further forward to partner with and learn from Byrne and eventually became West Ham's greatest post war goalscorer.

After just one goal in his first 39 games, his break through season came in 1963/64 when he scored 26 goals, including one in the FA Cup Final. He maintained that prolific rate of scoring throughout the decade, with a brief detour as he became the first man to score a hat trick in a World Cup Final. As I feel like I have written about so many players on this list, he was equally adept with his head or feet, and scored all manner of goals on his way to second on our all time list behind Vic Watson.

Hurst moved to Stoke in 1972, and as with others there is a palpable sense of "what if" when I look at his career. Quite how Greenwood never engineered a better league campaign out of these players is a bit of a mystery.

4. Vic Watson (1920 - 1935)

Appearances: 505
Clean Sheets: 326
International: England
Other Rankings: BB (4) WHUFC (7) WHTID (N/A)

A goalscorer of mythic proportions, Watson's record is unlikely to ever be surpassed for the simple reason that anyone scoring goals so prolifically in this era would be gone before you could say the word "Galactico".

Arriving in the Second Division team of the early Twenties, Watson soon fired West Ham into the top flight, where he continued scoring goals at an absurd rate for years. His bravura year came in 1929/1930 when he scored 50 goals in all competitions and Watson smashed four hat tricks. At this stage Watson was essentially playing FIFA in cheat mode.

Remarkably he was only capped five times for England, scoring four goals, as he had to play second fiddle to the brilliant Everton striker Dixie Dean. Watson scored a remarkable twenty two goals against Leeds in his career, including six in an 8-2 win over them in 1929. Just to highlight that old football was mad, we lost the return fixture 4-1.

Watson remained with West Ham until 1935 when he moved to Southampton. It is very hard to imagine we will ever see his like again.

3. Billy Bonds (1967 - 1988)

Appearances: 799
Clean Sheets: 61
International: N/A
Other Rankings: BB (1) WHUFC (2) WHTID (5)

For many this will be sacrilege as, for them, Billy Bonds is West Ham, but I feel I must point out that we have reached a point in proceedings where the difference between the players is negligible.

A man of endless running and relentless determination, Bonds played until the age of 41 and forged a legacy that will echo around the club for decades to come. It would be a very unworldly West Ham youngster that didn't know who "six foot two, eyes of blue" was sung about.

He signed originally from Charlton, and would be so good that he won his first Hammer of the Year award in 1971 and his fourth in 1987. Looking back, the one great sadness is that he missed the entirety of the 1985/86 season with injury. One wonders how much his legendary fitness and will to win would have helped in that late season fixture pile up that denied us the title, even allowing for the fact that Bonds had officially retired by then.

Bonds began life as a right back, before moving infield to partner Trevor Brooking in midfield. The idea that he just kicked people and just did Brooking's running is a myth, as Bonds used his physicality and underrated passing to become a highly regarded player in his own right. The midfield trio that he formed with Brooking and Graham Paddon strikes me as being among the best the club have ever had.

Later in his career, Bonds also played at centre half and it is a testament to his brilliance that he could fit into an all time West Ham XI playing in any of his three positions.

Criminally overlooked at international level, he was an unused substitute for a game against Italy in 1977, and missed a full debut in 1981 when he broke two ribs and had to withdraw from the team to play Brazil. He remains one of the best uncapped Englishmen ever.

Bonds returned to the club as manager in 1990, beginning a four year stint of mixed success that ended with a Borgia-like turn of events that saw his not-for-much-longer best mate, Harry Redknapp, end up with the job. It was a shabby end for a man who remains revered by West Ham fans.

2. Trevor Brooking (1967 - 1984)

Appearances: 643
Clean Sheets: 102
International: England
Other Rankings: BB (3) WHUFC (3) WHTID (2)

By choosing Brooking over Bonds, I suppose I reveal my preference for the cavalier over the roundhead. It should be acknowledged that Brooking could not have done the things he did without Bonds there to give him the licence, but let us all also acknowledge the remarkable things he did.

I think Brooking was a wondrous player. He was deceptively big, but what stands out is his grace and composure amid the helter skelter madness that was football in the Seventies, where pitches were terrible and tackling was fine so long as you left the limb attached.

Brooking was a beautiful passer with either foot, and as well as being a great goal scorer he was a scorer of great goals. One need only look at the second leg of the 1976 European Cup Winners Cup semi final at home to Eintracht Frankfurt for a demonstration of his poise and high class finishing.

As with so many others listed here, he demonstrated admirable longevity in playing for as long as he did, before retiring in 1984 when it seemed like he could have easily gone on. For the aesthete, Brooking was everything a footballer was supposed to be, and to watch him play in midfield was to see an artist stood before a blank canvas. That looked like Ypres.

If I could go back and watch just one player on this list who I never saw play in the flesh, at the peak of their powers, I would choose Brooking.

1. Bobby Moore (1958 - 1974)

Appearances: 647
Clean Sheets: 27
International: England
Other Rankings: BB (2) WHUFC (1) WHTID (1)

The easiest decision of the lot, and the person who needs the fewest words written about him. While I understand the emotional pull of Bonds and Brooking, to my mind it's not even really a debate about who is our greatest ever player.

Of the thousand or so men to have played for our club, only one - Moore - could be reasonably considered in any discussion about the greatest ever player at his position in history. Whether he was better than Scirea, Beckenbauer, Maldini or Baresi is up for debate, but there is no doubt he belongs in that discussion. In that sense he is unique among West Ham, and indeed England, footballers.

Diverting slightly, I think there is a slightly odd, reverential tone that has sprung up around Moore at West Ham, primarily because the Club feel a sort of institutional guilt about how he was treated after he left. As such, he has now transcended being a mere player and at this point exists as a type of deity, whose name is invoked whenever the Club want to let us know they haven't forgotten the past. Unlike others on this list, I can't imagine Moore's legend ever fading away.

The sad thing is, they never put a decent team around him when they had the chance, and as such he was denied the league honours he deserved. Despite that, there is nothing much more to be said that hasn't already been said a million times elsewhere.

The greatest.

And there you have it. That's my list, or at least it is for today. Please feel free to tell where I have got it wrong, and who I have missed out. I am sure there are plenty. For ease of reference and abuse, here it is in full:

The H List

1. Bobby Moore
2. Trevor Brooking
3. Billy Bonds
4. Vic Watson
5. Geoff Hurst
6. Martin Peters
7. Alan Devonshire
8. Phil Parkes
9. Jimmy Ruffell
10. Johnny Byrne
11. Frank Lampard Sr
12. Tony Cottee
13. Syd Puddefoot
14. Alvin Martin
15. Steve Potts
16. Julian Dicks
17. Ronnie Boyce
18. Len Goulden
19. Scott Parker
20. Ted Hufton
21. Paolo Di Canio
22. Mark Noble
23. Trevor Sinclair
24. Ray Stewart
25. Clyde Best
26. Ian Bishop
27. Bryan Robson
28. Ken Brown
29. Ludek Miklosko
30. Danny Shea
31. Joe Cole
32. Graham Paddon
33. Geoff Pike
34. John Dick
35. Pat Holland
36. Ernie Gregory
37. Rio Ferdinand
38. Noel Cantwell
39. Jim Barrett Sr
40. John Bond
41. David Cross
42. Malcolm Musgrove
43. Tony Gale
44. George Foreman
45. Frank McAvennie
46. Eyal Berkovic
47. Frank Lampard Jr
48. Jack Tresadern
49. Dimitri Payet
50. Vic Keeble

The H List - In Retro - The Fifty Greatest Hammers - 50 to 41
The H List - In Retro - The Fifty Greatest Hammers - 40 to 31
The H List - In Retro - The Fifty Greatest Hammers - 30 to 21
The H List - In Retro - The Fifty Greatest Hammers - 20 to 11

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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