WE HAVE SEEN A LOT OF NEW FACES AT UPTON PARK THIS SEASON, AND NOT JUST LINING UP FOR THE OPPOSITION. THERE ARE A WHOLE HOST OF FRESH NAMES EMBLAZONED ACROSS THE BACK OF THOSE CLARET AND BLUE SHIRTS AND I LIKE TO THINK POSITIVELY AT A TIME LIKE THIS AND WONDER WHICH OF THEM IS GOING TO BE REMEMBERED IN 10 YEARS TIME AS BEING THE INSPIRATION FOR THE WEST HAM REVIVAL.
What prompted me into my daydream, and at the same time tore me away from trying to explain the new directive on the offside rule to yet another confused caller, was a question from a colleague on the paper: “Is Nigel Reo-Coker related to Ade Coker?”
Ade Coker. A name I’d not heard for a decade or more and a player whose time at West Ham was relatively brief, but memorable for anybody who is old enough to have watched Catweazle or the dubbed, black and white version of Robinson Crusoe on Saturday morning TV.
Coker was a 17-year-old Nigerian who made his debut for West Ham in October 1971. An hour before the game against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, Coker was told he would replace the injured Geoff Hurst. “He looked as if he’d seen a ghost,” said Hurst at the time. “He sat there in disbelief for about 10 minutes with his eyes wide open and aghast.”
For most West Ham fans it was the first time they had ever heard of Coker, let alone seen of the slightly built striker, but seven minutes into the game he lashed a left-foot volley into the top corner of the Palace net to create one of those moments you never forget as a fan.
West Ham went on to win 3-0 and, being an impatient eight-year-old at the time, I remember the tortuous wait to see the highlights on Sunday afternoon’s Big Match on ITV. What a lot of Hammers supporters also recall from that game was Coker’s nifty footwork and I’d swear at one stage he did the ‘stop the ball, spin 180 degrees, take it with you’ trick thirty years before Joe Cole ever attempted it.
Coker was perhaps a little too lightweight to combat the likes of a Norman Hunter or a Ron Harris, and after 10 or so games for the Hammers he moved on to Boston and the North American Soccer League.
No relation to our modern day midfield dynamo then, but playing alongside Coker during the 1971-72 season was full-back Clive Charles, younger brother of John Charles, another West Ham full-back, who had departed the previous summer. Clive went on to become a successful coach in America before his death last year.
Keeping Charles junior out of the first-team a lot of the time was Frank Lampard, one half of probably the most famous father-son combination to have appeared for the Hammers. Don’t forget too a certain ‘Arry ‘arry ‘arry ‘arry Redknapp on the wing, though son Jamie moved straight from Bournemouth to Liverpool for some reason, rather than the more familiar career path from the south coast to West Ham. No ambition obviously.
In 1978, a second Billy Lansdowne was introduced to Upton Park, the younger version not getting as much opportunity to shine as his father Billy senior had done as a wing-half in the late 1950s, but he still managed a spectacular hat-trick against Southend in the League Cup of 1979.
Since then we’ve had Lou Macari in charge while his son Mike was a trainee, the Sealey dynasty, with much-missed Les and sons George and Joe in goal, though they had been preceded by cousin Alan, who had scored both of West Ham’s goals in the 1965 Cup Winners’ Cup final. There’s been a trio of related Allens – Clive, Paul and Martin – in recent years and carrying on the tradition today are brothers Michael and Graeme Carrick and Anton Ferdinand, younger brother of you know who.
Maybe there’s something to that ‘family club’ label after all.
© Jim Munro, March 27, 2004