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In Review: Scoring - an experts guide

Filed: Thursday, 28th August 2003
By: East Stand Martin

Frank McAvennie/Reg McKay (Canongate)
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"After the match we headed to the clubs. In the early hours of the morning I spotted Mo Johnstone in the company of a good looking woman. Right there in view of everyone else he had slipped her top up and was stroking her naked breasts. Not one to miss an opportunity I immediately joined them and started feeling up her free breast. Mo kept grinning saying 'she's lovely isn't she?' And I had to agree..."

Once upon a time in the East End, a long, long time ago, there was this peroxide-challenged Scottish striker no-one had heard of who turned up to ply his trade. 9 months later he was on the verge of taking the golden boot and helping West Ham to within an ace of winning the old First Division.

It’s got a Hans Christian Anderson feel to it, but it happened. It was that halcyon season of 85/86 when Frank MacAvennie was scoring goals for fun and the world seemed a better place. Well, it did to me and all my West Ham supporting mates who were giving it large to every fan we met who supported any other London club. We were the top club in London that year and no-one could take it away from us.

Frank got into football pretty late at the age of 20 when some mates intercepted him on the way to the bookies and convinced him to turn out for local team. Someone lent him a pair of size eight boots and before too long he’d been signed by St Mirren, although not before he’d been told by the manager of Partick Thistle that he’d never make it as a footballer.

Frank’s success north of the border caught the attention of clubs in the English First Division, and in 1985 Luton Town approached his agent. But Frank decided he didn’t like the attitude of the Luton Chairman, the obese and arrogant Tory MP David Evans. You may remember him – he later banned away fans. Frank sussed him out right away and told him to stick it where the sun didn’t shine.

A new option immediately arrived in the shape of John Lyall at that clichéd venue for sealing football transfers - Toddington Services on the M1. Frank took to Lyall immediately and £340,000 later, Frank was a West Ham player. As was Lyall’s style, he turned up in his Jag to pick up his new signing personally from the airport and even obliged Frank’s immediate desire to have a look at the King’s Road.

A lot of Frank’s story is about women and nightclubs. Stringfellows was his watering hole of choice although he was a patron of a few others. He was not averse to a line or two of coke as well, although Frank is at pains to say that he laid off the stuff in the run up to a game.

Frank may have had a bit of a playboy lifestyle, but he was never a massive earner and his top wage at West Ham of £2,200 per week pales into insignificance against the millions earned by modern Premiership footballers. Look in the car park today at Upton Park and you’ll see the mega expensive German and Italian cars. Frank’s pride and joy was a Ford Capri 2.9.

The women were numerous and the ones that he shacked up with caused him more than a few problems. He’s not boastful about his sexual exploits, but Frank wouldn’t be Frank if he didn’t tell about the regularity in which women wanted to serve it up on a plate to him. One classic story is when Frank went to Australia to play in a Scotland game. Suffering from toothache in the long flight, he visits a dentist on arrival. The receptionist gives him a blow job in the waiting room.

As for the football, it’s there throughout the book, but I guess that Frank took the view that the detail of that momentous year has already been covered elsewhere. The climax of the season we nearly pulled it off was made more disappointing as apparently a cheer in the crowd while we were playing West Brom in the penultimate game had convinced the players that Chelsea were beating Liverpool. The opposite was true and although we saw off the Baggies 3 – 2, Liverpool had won and taken the championship.

Frank’s got deep affection for the East End and clearly had (and has) a deep affinity with the followers of the claret and blue. His thoughts on the fans explain why 17,000 of us still buy season tickets despite the recent dismantling of the team, “It’s the type of club that holds allegiance through thick and thin, a lifetime commitment.” It explains later on in his career why he turned down top of the table Arsenal for relegation threatened West Ham, and yes we did eventually take the drop as well.

Frank left West Ham for the other love of his life, Celtic. This is the team of his family and mates and it was clearly one of the proudest moments of his life to step out at Parkhead. But true to form, Frank was soon in trouble and this time it was a first for football. Following a scrap at the Old Firm game which involved Chris Woods, Graham Roberts, Terry Butcher and Frank, all three ended up being the first footballers in British history to be charged with a criminal offence on a football pitch.

Frank was eventually found not guilty but was less than impressed with the support he had been given by Celtic. In fact, it was Graeme Souness, then player/manager of Rangers who helped Frank ensure he got proper legal representation. Souness later tried to sign Frank for Rangers, but Frank knew that this would be a massive betrayal of his family and friends. He told Souness that he would sign if they gave his a £1 million signing on fee, knowing that they would never come up with the cash. However, he respected Souness for trying to beak the sectarian recruitment practices of Rangers – it wasn’t until years later that the first Catholic player was signed.

Frank eventually fell out with Celtic over the club’s breach of promise over a signing on fee. It led to his return to the East End, but not before he’d been to see George Graham at Arsenal. Frank checked out Graham with his mates and was told that the manager had a good tactical brain but couldn’t handle characters with a bit of individuality. Maybe some of those who think that Graham might be a good option in the wake of Glenn Roeder’s departure might bear that in mind.

The return to Upton Park was never going to be a repeat of the former glory days. Following relegation, Frank got horribly crocked by Chris Kamara early in the season and the new West Ham manager Lou Macari forced Frank on an eight mile run on his first day back in training after a four month lay off. That run led to Frank missing the rest of the season and you get the impression that he’s never forgiven Macari.

Injury put paid eventually to Frank’s career, and his life took a rather tragic-comic turn after that. He became a full time party animal and chose business associates rather unwisely. He mixed with some dodgy characters and eventually ended up on serious charges relating to drug pushing. Frank was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people and he ended up in jail as a result. Fortunately, he was found not guilty, but ended up pretty broke. He seems to have bounced back a bit lately, though, which is good news.

The story of Frank’s life is of interest to all West Ham fans and it certainly brought back some very happy memories for me. Reg McKay, who helped Frank write the book uses a journalistic style which makes the book very readable. Order a copy from KUMB at the special discount rate, you won’t be disappointed. At the end of the day, Frank may be from Glasgow, but deep down he is one of us.

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