Arise Sir Billy

It's been a long time coming, hasn't it? But at last Billy Bonds will receive the acclaim and adulation we all know he so richly deserves.

A stand at the London Stadium named after him, something first muted back in the days at the old gaff, has finally arrived.

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Bonds, I am sure, knows the esteem he is held in by Irons fans. But in front of the newly named Billy Bonds Stand, he will feel it, see it, have no doubts that his name will be immortal. Like Sir Bobby before, like Sir Trevor after him. Now it is Sir Billy's time, if somewhat out of order.

Moore never got his knighthood, but we all just call him Sir anyway. Trevor got his, more for his achievements with England and football administration. Richly deserved.

Bonds is modest enough to probably not see himself bracketed with Bobby and Trevor, old team mates, who achieved fame on an international level. But he is up there alongside them, we all know that.

But just as I never thought I would see the day when fans openly discussed who was the greatest, most influential West Ham star., openly making a case for Bonds ahead even of Moore, I can now see how time passes and time changes everything.

My old fella would talk about Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Billy Wright and his own West Ham hero, Len Goulden, of whom there is an excellent book by Brian Belton. But they are gone now, of a different age, an age that is impossible to define by a modern generation. Replaced by different heroes.

I suppose West Ham is no different. I was fortunate enough to see Moore play in 1958 when he made his club debut, I was at Wembley when he captained Fulham in the 1975 FA Cup Final. I had watched, unknowingly at the time, his final first team game for West Ham against Hereford in 1974.

He was my boyhood hero, unsurpassed. But now, as time has eroded the rosy glow around the man, I can see that there were flaws. Over 100 England caps and a World Cup winners' medal as captain automatically puts Moore above everyone else. He was the greatest defender I have ever seen.

But we all know now he wanted out when Derby came calling, he wanted away to Spurs and he was reluctant to sign a new contract in 1966 ahead of the World Cup finals. Of course he was a national icon and deservedly so.

But time and history eventually makes folk look at situations in a more considered view. Like Winston Churchill's pre-war political career, or John Kennedy's private life. It does not stop them being the iconic heroes they became, but you are able you make a more considered view.

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Moore comes from a slightly different generation to Brooking and Bonds. Debut in 1958, I started to see how he is viewed now by a different generation recently. A good example is the new chairman of the OSB, David Baker. In his programme notes he said he had never seen Moore play. Just too young.

My own son and his mates know only the mythology of Moore, and the bits of film we see of England heroics and West Ham's finals of 64 and 65. That lack of personal connection sees people view players slightly differently.

I am not trying to devalue Moore's contribution, for me he is still the greatest ever. But as time erodes, younger fans remember their own heroes. My lot will not hear a bad word said about Paolo Di Canio, for example. But he doesn't hold a candle to Moore, Brooking and Bonds. And they have never heard of Goulden.

But Moore was gone from West Ham in 1974, he finally retired in '78, never to return to our club. And the reasons for that are as disgraceful as they are well known. His passing was 26 years ago last month, and he would have been 78 now. It puts him slightly ahead of Brooking and Bonds in the great order of things.

Our current board, whether you like them or not, deserve great credit for the way they have tried to show how much the club should value our old heroes.

David Sullivan and David Gold, I do believe, understand and appreciate our heritage. That's why Moore's legacy at West Ham has been treated with more respect now than when he left. That's why Bonds will be standing in front of a stand named after him.

Bonds is 72, two years older than Brooking, who made his debut in 1967 and that final match against Everton in May '84. A reluctant hero that night, he had to be persuaded to come out at the end to do a lap of honour. He had two short spells as caretaker, maybe the best manager we never had.

But he was too sharp to take it on full time, his wife is believed to have asked him whether he wanted to throw away all the esteem he had acquired with West Ham fans. Because as night follows day, he would have been sacked eventually. They all are.

But Bonds. Well here is the genuine working class hero. Moore, I felt, was always just that little too aloof, on a different achievement level world wide, to be considered that at West Ham.

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Brooking, nicknamed Hadleigh after a suave TV star of the time, was too bright, too clever, too much of a born diplomat to ever be considered working class. Ilford High School and all that.

Bonds. Well here was the hero covered in mud and blood, who led our club through good And bad times as player and manager.

His debut in 1967, a raw full back recruited from Charlton for ?50,000. He continued playing until 1988, having captained the side twice to FA Cup Final glory, as well as skippering us to runners-up spot in the European Cup Winners' Cup Final of '76.

He first retired in May '84, but because of an injury crisis came back for 26 games in the following season. He finally called it a day against Southampton in April 1988, 41 years and 226 days old. After 799 games for the club, still our record appearances.

But he came back as manager in February '90, replacing Lou Macari, having failed to get the job when John Lyall left. He won two promotions in 90-91 and 92-93.

He admits he never really liked management, a poor substitute to playing. But he still had that intense loyalty to his club. I never heard of any time that he wanted out, or was a transfer target. There may have been occasions, but Bonds' loyalty is unsurpassed in my book.

And that's why he resonates with a younger generation. Nobody under 40 ever saw Moore play. Nobody under 30 saw Brooking. But my son and his mates remember Bonds as a manager, and if you are around 38 now (my son, I suppose) then you might recall his last days as a player.

But to that generation, Bonds is a genuine hero of their time. He finally resigned at West Ham in 1994, Harry Redknapp taking over. And we all know that story.

So what I am trying to say is that Bonds unites generation. They know his spirit and ferocious desire, they are grateful that he gave his whole career to this club.

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Your time has come, Billy. Your time is now. You are the epitomy of this club, it's heritage, it's legacy. It took this board some time to persuade Bonds to come back to the club, such a private man and with the shadow of that departure still there. But he is here now, here to be our hero for ever.

Enjoy your time, Billy, you deserve it. Arise Sir Billy.

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