England: another way forward?
It pisses other clubs supporters off enormously, of course, but West Ham fans have always claimed more than a bit of credit for England’s solitary World Cup victory in 1966. To be fair, even West Ham fans are aware it does appear a bit of nonsense sometimes, but then fans of the East London club don’t always get much opportunity to crow about anything any more so I think its fair game to don a pair of rose-tinted ones every now and then.
Now, everybody knows of course, that apart from providing the Captain and the best defender that England has ever produced, the final’s hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst and the fourth goal-scorer Martin Peters also plied their trade on the training ground at Chadwell Heath. Any statistical analysis would reveal that. What isn’t made clear from the history books though is how the tactics employed by West Ham under Ron Greenwood at that time also helped in the make-up of the World Cup winning side.
Moore’s quick free-kick that led to England’s second goal in the final, Martin Peters’ ability to ghost in from midfield to become an extra forward and, more importantly, the long pass forward from defence that found Geoff Hurst for England’s fourth were all torn from the pages of West Ham’s coaching manual. In fact, if you look at what happened at Wembley in ’66, you’ll see a trend started just a few years earlier when Greenwood joined the East London outfit from Arsenal and started a revolution that culminated in West Ham’s Cup Winners Cup victory at Wembley in 1965.
Alf Ramsey’s new ideas on overlapping full-backs and breaking midfield players all had their association with Greenwood’s. In fact, one of the great fallacies about Ramsey’s ‘wingless wonders’ is just that; Alf tried several wingers in the group games leading up to the quarter-final against Argentina and it was only the fear that the South Americans would dominate his midfield that made Ramsey switch his tactics. Once England had claimed victory with Hurst’s solitary goal, it was easy for Ramsey to keep the same line-up for the following matches. The rest, as they say…
Many current West Ham fans don’t realise or understand it, but the Hammers were a glamour outfit at that time and there would be few players at the ’66 World Cup who wouldn’t be aware of the profile of one of England’s foremost club sides. Now, it’s true that by the time of the next World Cup, West Ham’s heyday had not only well and truly passed but some of Greenwood’s passing football had been outdone by a form of the game that was an anathema to the purist ideas of the manager. It’s also fair to say that the dreams of winning the English league with a side playing joyous passing football had hit a brick wall and would never recover. However, West Ham’s association with producing young players and developing them to play the ‘right way’ is something that never lost its association with this unfashionable corner of London.
Tony Carr has been Director of Youth Development at West Ham since 1973 and ‘The Academy’ over which he presides has produced many fine players for West Ham and England over the years. Most recently, current England squad players like Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Glen Johnson, Joe Cole and even, to a certain extent, Jermaine Defoe have come under Carr’s guiding hands and, although the club never reaps the full benefit of their investments – on the pitch at least – it is a fact that many players find their way to Chadwell Heath because they know they will get their opportunity in the first team if they are good enough.
It is a tradition long associated with a club that has produced some of the best young players seen in England since 1966 and, bearing in mind the current state of the Premiership, English football and the national side itself I think it’s something that West Ham should be seriously looking at exploiting further.
Like them or not, new owners Messrs Gold and Sullivan are talking the talk on West Ham’s virtues. There is no doubt they are steeped in the history of the club, its association with the 1966 ‘Holy Trinity’, the Academy and the wealth of talent that has found its way out of Upton Park to the benefit of some of the biggest sides in Europe. It would be a big step to back up that talk with some action but, in many ways, what is there to lose?
Trevor Brooking has been bemoaning the lack of opportunities for young players at clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea and I think it’s something the Hammers should be exploiting. Even the most dyed-in-the-wool claret and blue supporter doesn’t expect West Ham to be worrying the Champions League any time soon and some of us aren’t even particularly bothered about it, we just want to see entertaining football with occasionally – just occasionally mind we don’t want to get too excited – the opportunity of a bit of cup success somewhere.
So why don’t we take the opportunity to shake up the current squad and also, perhaps, give ourselves the opportunity to congratulate ourselves again some time in the future when another England captain gets to emulate a feat last seen in ’66? After all, it’s not as if West Ham’s recent transfer policy has seen us rampaging through Europe – for the most part the only areas of Europe that have been keen to see us are spots like Burnley, Hull, Stoke and Wigan!
Here’s my plan: West Ham should try and tempt some of the up and coming English players who look like they have what it takes to go all the way. I don’t suppose Arsenal will initially agree to sell Keiron Gibbs for example but how long does the left-back intend to sit behind the long queue of French defenders in front of him? I don’t pretend to have in–depth knowledge of every young prospect in the country and I’m sure players like Rodwell at Everton and Wellbeck at Manchester United are probably happy enough where they are and have decent prospects of breaking into the first team, but its clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea that West Ham should be targeting as well as keeping an eye out at clubs like Norwich and Crystal Palace where, in my opinion, they missed out on not going for young winger Victor Moses who would have fitted in well at Upton Park. Not a youth product by any means but Carlton Cole is another player who was long touted as a prospect but who wasn’t given opportunities at other clubs. It could be argued, had it not been for injury, then Cole could have been the option for the misfiring Heskey.
The argument against developing young talent is that no clubs want to risk a player that may cost them a couple of league places and the associated payments made by the Premier League. But I’d argue that doesn’t apply at West Ham where, provided we’re not relegated, most are not bothered if we finish tenth or thirteenth providing the football is good and we’ve got good prospects to cheer. It may sound revolutionary but I honestly think that West Ham fans would welcome bringing through some exciting England prospects and give themselves at least a shot at some future glory than pay £16m for a Mexican or Brazilian import who may be traumatised by homesickness and end up being sold on eight months later. In any case, how many fans want to provide a 12 month home to the next Pelé and become a feeder club for Chelsea? I can think of nothing worse.
The great thing about West Ham is that we don’t have to do too much to start this revolution. Everybody knows about the Academy and admires what it does and players like Carrick and Defoe have long admitted they came to West Ham because they knew their chances of breaking into the first team were better. We continue to develop as we have but also supplement from elsewhere; just asking at first, offering a good fee here or there and then keep coming back as the young England prospects find themselves strangled out at their own clubs by another French or Italian import who has found their way in front of them on the team sheet. Chase every good English player who we think can make the grade – we’ve done it successfully for the past three decades so why stop now? – and try and resurrect the traditions of a club built on doing things the right way.
My dream is somewhere down the line another Moore is unearthed in the back streets of Barking but there’s no reason why he can’t be found in the reserves or youth sides of some of the lumbering giants of our Champions League sides and given an opportunity they’re not going to get if they stay where they are.
Of course, if they make it at West Ham then those same sides that ignored them at first will be back in and common-sense says they will move on for a fat fee and the promise of playing Barcelona every Wednesday fortnight. But what have West Ham to lose? There’s just a chance we may build up a good young side of English players, sprinkled with a few imports that actually win us something sometime, but if they don’t it will still be good for English football and, by definition, the West Ham tradition.
Obviously it would never be the same as ’66 but I’d have been as pleased as punch if a fit Rio Ferdinand had lifted the World Cup this summer flanked by Cole, Lampard and Johnson. Time will probably show that this ‘Golden Generation’ lacked the substance to go all the way but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and provide the next one.
We’ve had a few scrapped blueprints recently at Upton Park but I think this is one that would work to everyone’s benefit and it’s surely better than chasing the CL pipe-dream and ending up nowhere. I'm sure Sir Trevor would approve too!