Welcome home, Joe, you have been missed

Forgive me for being all misty-eyed for a moment, but one of the lost generation is coming home, and he couldn't be more welcome in my eyes.

We are forever seeing lists of our academy graduates who have had to be sold to keep us afloat, and we all do that ' they're our boys' look whenever an England side takes the field will a majority of former Irons stars in their ranks.

Now I know Joe Cole wouldn't be here if he'd manage to impress Brendan Rodgers enough to get a regular Liverpool spot. But impressing the Anfield boss when he's been told to slash the wage bill is a pretty tough task.

So after almost ten years away, and a couple of Premier League title medals in his locker (no, none at Liverpool, stop making me laugh) my favourite old boy from the ranks of that lost generation, is back in claret and blue.

Now I've already seen nonsense on message boards about Cole being a mercenary and a traitor. It only underlines my belief that we do have some real muppets as fans.

The vast majority of Irons fans accept Cole as one of us, a youngster with genuine stunning ability that we nurtured. A teenage that filled me with joy when I watched his skills on the pitch.

And I hope we played just a small part in convincing Joe that he would be welcomed back. Far too many of our ex-players fear the backlash and abuses that may follow a return to the Boleyn. The distasteful treatment of Paul Ince and Frank Lampard underlines that point.

We really should be above all that nonsense, and understand that young players will always move on from a selling club, and that's what we are and what we have been for many a year.

When Joe came on as a sub for Liverpool at our place last month, he was greeted by a genuine, heartfelt welcome. Applauded from all four sides of the stadium, he must have realised the warmth and even sympathy from Irons fans.

He has had a tough time with injuries, and tried his best to make the move to Liverpool work, even accepting a loan move to Lille, where he did pretty well last season.

Cole responded that day by scoring a fine goal for Liverpool but refused to celebrate, even pushing Jonjo Selvey away - another ex-Hammers youngster - who understood immediately that his team mate was trying to show respect for his former club and their fans.

Now, a few weeks later, Cole is back in the fold. And even if he is now 31, probably past his magical best, and more than happy with a lengthy new contract at Upton Park, he's still very, very welcome back in my book and I will be more than unimpressed if there is a peep of antipathy towards him now.

When he left back in 2003 after our shattering relegation with a record 42 points, this club had no choice but to cash in. We were in a terrible financial mess.

I clung on all that summer, admittedly with my fans' hat on rather than the realistic journalist one, hoping Joe would stay. I felt that if he did and gave us one season in the Championship, we would be promoted straight away.

And we got to the last week of pre-season before we sold him. I remember vividly where I was, although my long-suffering wife was none too pleased.

We had just touched down in Jersey for a short break and had found our way to our hotel. We walked into our room and the first thing I did was turn on the TV. Not a good move. The first news item hit me like a bolt of lightening. We had sold Joe Cole. My good lady really could have done without the sullen, sulking that followed from her old man that day.

The reality was that Joe's departure was just as inevitable as the rest of the fire-sale that summer. We were in a terrible financial situation. I believe that the ?6m we got from Chelsea a few weeks earlier for Glen Johnson avoided administration.

Things were that bad. And selling Joe to the same club was as obvious as night following day. The reality is that young talent always gets sold when a club goes down these days, such is the vast difference of wages caused by the Sky Sports League (sorry, I mean Premier League.)

Michael Carrick gave us another season, Jermain Defoe kept getting himself sent off and had too be sold, while David James survived until the January window and then both were gone.

Carrick stayed until the bitter end of that season and the play-off final defeat by Crystal Palace. Mind you, had referee Graham Poll given on obvious penalty in the final stages of that match in Cardiff, we may well have turned the final around and Carrick would not have had to be sold to Spurs the following August for a derisory ?3.5m.

They also got Freddie Kanoute back in the summer of 2003 for ?3.5m, they really are the nastiest of predators when we are concerned. We actually lost Cole and Kanoute inside a week for a total of ?10m. It was all so inevitable, so you should not blame the young players because they have their futures, their families, to think about. And we had to sell because we could not afford them. That's the reality.

So when the Cole story broke this week, I had a wistful look at You Tube and the 1999 Youth Cup Final, when we beat Coventry 9-0 over two legs in the final. I hadn't realised that Chris Kirkland was in goal for Coventry's youngsters for the final.

We'd all heard plenty about Joe before that, but the rest of the world got a look at the little star that night on Sky, Carrick too.

Cole was stunning and Carrick sprayed passed around just like the modern day star he has become at Manchester United. We all felt, then, that the club had the basis of a really fine side for the future.

Sadly it never happened. Four years later, due to rank bad management and financial rubbish from our owners, we were relegated. Defoe, Johnson, Cole, Carrick and David James were all in that relegated side on the last day at Birmingham.

Paolo Di Canio also came on as a sub to score the equaliser. He had barely been around in the months beforehand, after falling out with boss Glenn Roeder.

It's strange that Di Canio, despite all the stress he caused the boss and club in that traumatic season, is still seen as a mystic hero, while our home-grown youngsters who eventually left the club, get so much grief. If Di Canio had knuckled down and played his heart out for the club that season, we may have avoided the drop.

But that's all history now. We are about to see Joe Cole again in a West Ham shirt, and I for one could not be more pleased. I don't expect to see all the circus tricks that the boy produced as a teen star, but I'm just glad to see one of our own back in the family.

He's missed out on all the fun of the last decade, another relegation, a cup final, and a promotion. Plus one financial crisis after another.

It's just nice to see you back where you belong Joe, welcome home.

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