Filed: Monday, 24th September 2012
By: Rich Hobday
Central midfielders are the engine of the team. The heartbeat. The vital organs, without which the team doesn’t function. ‘Fifty Shades Parker’ remembers 10 favourite central midfielders, who brought passion, commitment and flair. They were the spark that lit up Upton Park.
My memories may be clouded by nostalgia but most of my favorite Hammers are from the 1980s or 1990s. It could be a wistful fondness for terraces and sunny summers, when games were held on Saturdays at 3.00pm and not at times to suit Sky’s schedule and advertiser's demands. Or maybe players connected more with the fans. And fans with them.
Maybe we saw players grow and flourish over many seasons. We could grow to love them. To feel they were one of us. That West Ham really mattered to them. In the 1980s the same players played season in, season out. Maybe one or two changes a year, but the core side remained. The FA Cup-winning team of 1980 played nearly 4,600 games for West Ham – an average of 418 games each. The average number of seasons at West Ham was 13. Admittedly that team included Bonds, Brooking and Alvin Martin, but never the less, eight of the team played for over 10 years.
In 1990, the average games per player dropped to 230 with the average seasons being eight. By 2000 the average games for West Ham was less than 100 and the average time with was only three seasons. This will drop still more as players come in on loan, and others quickly move on.
Too many clubs change whole sides overnight. This year, QPR have randomly bought anyone and everyone, with little regard for team needs or balance. QPR fans must have to stick names on the back of the shirts with Velcro, so they can add a new name, each week. The new name of a temporary ‘hero’ - a panic buy as the window was slamming shut on their fingers. Maybe they’ve bought so many players just to fill up a few empty rows at Loftus Road.
Alan Pardew used over 60 players in a couple of seasons, trying to find the right players to move the club forward. The gates to the training ground must have been changed to revolving doors (with plastic turrets). Fans can’t connect with players who are merely passing through. Many looking for a final payday on their way to retirement in the sun. Despite this, a few players remain loyal.
Mark Noble is a one-club player, making his debut in 2004. He has, I’m sure had offers to leave, but has always remained loyal to West Ham. I like to think that he genuinely feels affection for us. He is currently the club's longest serving player, and last season's Hammer of the Year. He has played over 200 games and scored 27 goals, but more importantly he is one of us. A fan, acknowledged in the famous, but not very creative terrace chant.
"Mark Noble (whooaaoo),
Mark Noble (whooaaoo),
He's West Ham through and through,
He plays for the claret and blue."
Making his debut at 17 he has been a mainstay of the Hammers team over the last few years. Not quick or creative but he is full of running and would do anything to ensure West Ham win. His passing can be frustrating but at least he wins the ball back. He may never play for England, unless they bring him on for penalties, but he should always be in demand by a top 10 club.
I have met him on a few occasions and his love for the Hammers is clear. I met him and James Tomkins after the 2012 play-off Final win at Wembley. They were heading on the back of a couple of taxi-bikes to the airport – ready for Noble's stag weekend in Dubai. He was excited about his holiday and wedding – but more excited about helping West Ham back to the Premier League. "The best day of my life", he said.
Trevor Brooking, an elegant master of passing. An eloquent master of football. A master of headed FA Cup-winning goals. Sir Trevor could see passes, long and short, no-one else would. He would glide across the pitch, cool and calm, while all around him panicked. He had an air of control and gravitas, which he has carried into the highest levels of football administration. He outshone opponents, leaving them for dead with a change of pace and a drop of the shoulder.
A creative talent - he played with grace on the field but tackled like Gracie Fields. No petulant kicks or foul-mouthed abuse - no bookings or sending-offs in a career spanning 17 years and 636 games. Sir Trevor saved his aggression and anger for when he was caretaker manager. Thumping and kicking his way along the touch line, he looked like he was made to manage. Another one-club man, born in the heart of the east end. With 636 games, 136 goals, and four times Hammer of the Year, he is right up there as a Hammers legend.
Alan Dickens scored on his debut, a 2-1 win at Notts County in December 1982. Although a central midfielder, Dicko had to play most of the 1987-88 season partnering Tony Cottee as a striker following the departure of Frank McAvennie. Classy and bright he should perhaps have achieved more. Certainly his tackling was lacking. He was more Lilly Allen than Martin Allen. He made a total of 231 league and cup appearances for the Hammers, scoring 29 goals, playing his last game in May 1989 against Liverpool, before heading to Chelsea in a £635,000 move. Like so many who leave West Ham for a so called bigger club and bigger stage, their move falls flatter than Steve Bruce’s nose. Rob Green take note.
In the 1980s there were two places to look for news; Hammers News and Huey Lewis. It was exciting to read in the former that we had signed Stuart Robson in 1987 for £650,000. An Arsenal regular, dynamic and skilful. He played for two-and-a-half years, and was Player of the Year for 1987. However, he lost his place after we were relegated in 1989, playing only eight times in the following two years. Although injury meant we never saw the best of him in claret and blue, he gave everything when he did play. Often playing when injured, and perhaps risking longer term damage Robbo never let us down.
You may wince but Paul Ince was a talented central midfielder. Not popular now at Upton Park, but his early days in claret and blue were some of his best. Let’s not forget he was and is a West Ham fan, having been signed as a school boy at 12 by John Lyall. Described by some as arrogant, difficult and confrontational, but a talent who went on to become the first black England captain.
He came to prominence in West Ham's midfield when Billy Bonds retired in 1987/88. In 1989 he had a memorable season with two sensational goals in a 4-1 win against Liverpool in the League Cup. He showed flashes of brilliance, but in a struggling West Ham team couldn’t stop us being relegated to Division 2. He only played one game in the second division, before his controversial and ill-advised move to Man Utd. Being photographed in a MUFC top, while still a Hammers player (and Hammer of the Year) is hard to condone. Was he badly advised, naïve or arrogant? We’ll never know.
Ian Bishop enjoyed arguably his best football at West Ham between 1989 and 1998. He came to West Ham with Trevor Morley, in a swap deal involving Mark Ward going in the opposite direction. Bishop was the most cultured at the club, but looked like someone from Culture Club. With his long flowing hair, sometimes held in place with an Alice band, and tight shorts, he played over 300 times scoring 17 goals.
Bishop was stylish and classy, with lots of flicks and tricks. He moved diagonally and played killer diagonal balls. He made both the front and back pages in 1991 in a mystery incident, allegedly resulting in Trevor Morley being stabbed. No-one ever got to the bottom of it. I prefer to remember his ball skill on the pitch, where he forged great partnerships with Eyal Berkavic and Martin Allen, among others. Bishop - club captain, Hammer of the Year and frequent winner of Hair of the Year.
At times in the 1990s it felt like the opposition were stampeding towards our goal, like wildebeest across the Serengeti. Only one animal dare get in their way. Martin Allen. The Mad Dog. He stood tall against wave upon wave of attacks, like a lone gazelle trampled under their feet. Whilst others turned and fled, Mad Dog stood and fought. He often ran himself into the ground, covering every blade of grass.
He sometimes overstepped the line with his tackling and was frequently booked. He clattered Carlton Palmer in a two-footed lunge in 1991, which saw him carried off after 20 seconds. Signed by Lou Macari, he made his debut in souring August temperatures in 1989 - his end to end running sapping all his energy. He must have sweated more than Mark Ward going through customs. They say only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun; Martin Allen was both.
Goal scoring midfielders are worth their weight in gold. In Frank Lampard Jnr's case £11million of Roman Abramovich’s gold, which robbed us our last consistent midfield goal scorer. In an era where we were as disappointing up front as Kate Middleton, we needed Frank's goals. Lampard broke his leg early in his career but in 1997-98 he was an ever-present and the following season he finished third top scorer with 14 goals.
Frank got stick from some fans, who thought his family connections pushed his selection. He has gone on to prove for Chelsea and England what an asset he is to a team. He consistently scores over 20 a year for Chelsea – something we could do with. Despite his tender years, he was the butt of terrace songs, pertaining to his love of pies and his fat frame. The popular terrace chant about Frank and a Forklift Truck still resonate around the Boleyn Ground. For a "fat chubster" he has done well with Chelsea (and latterly with Christine Bleakley). He is still one of the best ‘box to box’ finishers – particularly if it’s a Kentucky Fried Chicken box...
Steve Lomas put the fear of God into the opposition. He made 227 competitive and combative appearances for West Ham between 1997-2005. Having made his name at Man City for tough tackling and tough talking, he quickly made an impression becoming club captain. He wore the armband with pride, in a team of characters and livewires – Ruddock, Wright and Moncur. Another midfielder who didn’t score enough and wasn’t very creative but he could tackle. An anagram of Steve Lomas is “leaves most”- and he did leave most players poleaxed. Lomas and Bishop complimented each other’s style – one smooth, one shaggy.
Scott Parker is the epitome of a central midfielder. Strong, energetic, passionate. A leader. Injury delayed Parker’s debut, and he took a while to impose himself in games. However, it soon became clear that he was an inspirational figure, often single-handedly driving the team.
Carlton Cole praised Scott Parker's "inspirational" pep talk at half time after, being 3–0 down against West Brom. Carlton Cole was quoted as saying "If you were there you would have had a tear in your eye" after the half time team talk. I’m not sure whether that’s a reflection of Cole's mental state, or that it was simply a passionate and motivational plea. Either way it worked as West Ham clawed back in the second half to get a 3–3 draw. Scotty did like to keep the ball at his feet and weave seemingly endless and intricate figures of eight. Although he often ended up back where he started , no-one could get the ball off him. It was good for our possession stats.
Following his performances for West Ham and his England recall, Parker was named the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year. In August 2011, after 129 games and 12 goals, Parker left West Ham United and joined one of our fiercest rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. Despite this poor judgment, Scotty cemented his place as one of the best midfielders we have seen and his driving runs and passion will be missed and long remembered. From what we’ve seen so far of Mohamed Diame, perhaps he won’t be missed for all that long.
With over 2,200 games and 11 Hammers of the Year awards between them, they each brought something special to West Ham. Heroic midfield generals – I salute you.
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
08:37PM 26th Sep 2012
''Good point about Billy Bonds but I
Covered him in Fifty Shades of Grey
last week - so I tried to include different players.''
09:02PM 24th Sep 2012
''no Geoff Pike!?''
08:36PM 24th Sep 2012
''Good article but I don't remember Bishop and Berkovic ever being in the same team.''
by Adam Smith
02:39PM 24th Sep 2012
''@Rich: Liked reading your piece but alas you missed off the man that was West Ham... William Bonds MBE.''
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