50 years since he signed for West Ham

There are important landmarks in any club’s history…and then there’s the day Billy Bonds arrived at West Ham. They don’t come much more important than that.

Bonds arrived at West Ham 50 years ago tomorrow --May 13th, to be exact--tall, slim, shy, clean shaven then, and set to become one of the greatest players in the club's history.

Ron Greenwood paid Charlton just shy of ?50,000 for him, hard to argue that being the best bit of business West Ham have ever done. The fee was ?48,500 to be precise, and they'd have got another ?2,000 if he played for England. Amazingly that never happened.

That figure doesn't sound much by modern standards, but it was a big outlay for a 21-year-old in those days. Some clever mathematician will tell me how much that is worth at today's rate, but I don't need to be told his worth.

Bonds went on to become a true West Ham legend, player, coach, manager and he holds an appearance record for the club that will surely never be broken.

SIGNED! Bonds' arrival announced, from the author's own scrapbook

It's generally accepted that Bobby Moore is the greatest player in our history on a global scale, but Bonds pushes him very close when it just comes down to the club achievements of both. There are even some who believe his contribution far outstrips the Moore legacy.
It's a nice discussion to have, not an argument!

Moore became probably bigger than the club, a glamorous international figure and of course captain of England in '66 when the World Cup was won. That gives him an world-wide aura greater than Bonds, obviously.

But somehow there's a different sort of legacy with Bonds. The unflinching standard bearer, the protector for Trevor Brooking and Alan Devonshire, you didn't mess with Billy. Moore of course captained us to FA Cup final glory and the European Cup Winners' Cup triumph. There was also a League Cup final and a shared Charity Shield.

He also became an iconic figure for all that is good in football, with class, composure and sheer cool skills.

Bonds was a different sort of icon. He twice captained us to FA Cup final victories, was a Cup Winners' Cup final runner-up, a runner-up in the League Cup and also captain of the promotion side of 80-81. His spell as manager also produced two promotions.

Don't ask me to pick one over the other, it's hardly fair. We all love them both.

Bonzo was never capped--an outrage really--but he played for West Ham until he was 41, a club career of 20 years 9 months and 12 days to be precise, and with 793 games, the club's appearances record. In fact he was 41 years and 225 days old on his final appearance against Southampton at the Dell on April 30, 1988.

To many, Bonds was the true Mr. West Ham. I am not trying to belittle Moore's contribution, but we know now he wanted out long before he finally left for Fulham in 1974, and would have worn a Spurs shirt at the end of his career if Greenwood had allowed him to leave earlier.

That he didn't get his wish was a cloud that hung over his final years at Upton Park, even though his brilliance and desire for his local team never abated.

Moore was a master of his craft, he led by example, a cool, majestic captain. An inspiration. Bonds was a leader of men in a very different way. A fearsome swashbuckling hero, bearded by then and a true warrior in midfield. "6ft 2, eyes of blue, Billy Bonds is after you" we all sang. And you'd better believe it.

I was fortunate to see Moore's career at West Ham start in 1958, and to witness Bonds' debut against Sheffield Wednesday on the first day of the 67-68 season, Of course West Ham lost that day, but nobody there left worrying about whether young Billy--playing at right-back-was good enough for the top flight.

Greenwood used him later in central defence and then more effectively in midfield. That he never played for England is laughable now looking at the current crop of so-called England stars.

He was never lucky with England. Even when Greenwood, then national manager, named Bonds in one of his squads--and made it clear he would play--Billy managed to get injured in an end of season game at Hillsborough. Funny how Sheffield Wednesday keep cropping up--and that ruled him out of the England squad.

I was there that day in Yorkshire, and he was obviously playing in pain after a collision with Phil Parkes. You just knew watching him troop off that his international chance had gone.
His arrival at Upton Park was typical of a bygone age. No agents, just accompanied by then Charlton boss Bob Stokoe, the pair having watched West Ham's final game of the 1966-67 season against Manchester City.

A couple of weeks earlier Bonds had played for Charlton in the Wembley fives--I used to love that night out--and West Ham won the trophy that night with a squad that included Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Johnny Byrne, John Sissons and Colin Mackleworth.

The following day, so the story goes, Hurst said to manager Ron Greenwood that if he was looking for a new right-back, the kid from Charlton was a good bet.

Greenwood went to watch Charlton's last game of the season against Birmingham and spoke to Bonds--again with Stokoe--at the Valley after the match. Bonds says in his autobiography that he tried to tell Ron that other clubs were interested!

Ron is supposed to have left the room, Stokoe coming in to give Billy a rollicking for messing West Ham about. That was the end of the bartering, and Billy got a contract that doubled his wages to ?60 a week and a ?2,500 signing on fee.

The contract was actually signed in Ron's Upton Park office after that Man City game on May 13. Both Dennis Burnett and Trevor Dawkins were suggested as part-exchange, but both declined and Ron said: "Don't worry Billy, we'll just pay cash."

His first game for the club came two days later with a first-half performance in Ken Brown's testimonial. There was around 15,000 there to see the new recruit.

The rest is history. A wonderful club servant, tireless, magnificent captain and to my mind part of the five-strong group of players who are the best in our history: Moore, Peters, Hurst, Brooking and Bonds.

That quintet only played for three seasons together, 67-68, 68-69 and 69-70. Just what would they be worth in today's current transfer market?

We've all got our own special Bonds memory, mine came just days after he had taken over as manager in 1980.

Lou Macari had left between the two League Cup semi-final games against Oldham, the first being that infamous 6-0 defeat on the plastic at Boundary Park. Not the best West Ham performance I've seen!

Ronnie Boyce did a caretaker stint and Bonds took over ahead of the thankless second leg. Nobody in my company's London office was bothered about covering the second-leg, so I volunteered to come down from Manchester. A chance for the firm to pay for the petrol to visit my parents!

I did the pre-match press conference at the Boleyn and afterwards introduced myself, told Billy I was a West Ham fan and wished him all the luck in the world. Bonzo took me up to his office, we had a cup of tea and chatted about the Hammers for 20 minutes. Enough material for a feature piece after the 3-0 second-leg win.

He had enough on his plate at that point, with all the fuss about Macari and the cup tie debacle. But he was as good as gold that day and had time for a chat with someone he had never met before.

A gentleman then. A gentleman throughout his West Ham career. Fifty years ago? It seems just like yesterday. We were lucky to have him.

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