Idle thoughts on the Gunners…

Idle Thoughts

When the draw was made for the next round of the Carabao Cup, pairing us with Arsenal, away, I was not best pleased. But, upon reflection, although the draw could have been kinder, history tells us that the Hammers have, over the years, put in some excellent performances against the Gunners, so all need not be doom and gloom.

My all-time personal highlight where the Gunners are concerned was way back in the Ted Fenton era, when a hat-trick by ex-Spurs player Dave Dunmore contributed to a 6-0 win for the Hammers at the Boleyn, but even if we concentrate solely on matches away from home, I have been fortunate enough to enjoy some great Hammers’ moments against the Arsenal.

Of all the London grounds apart from the Boleyn, the ones I have the fondest memories of are Highbury, a great stadium with a great history, and Craven Cottage, with its unique position by the Thames. I’m not entirely sure which was my first ever visit to see the Hammers play at Highbury, but I was certainly there when they won 3-0 in November 1964, the start of a sequence of four straight wins, the win against Arsenal being followed by a 3-1 home win over Leeds United, a 2-0 home win over Sparta Prague in the Cup Winner’s Cup, then a 3-0 win at Chelsea, all achieved without the presence of Bobby Moore, who was sidelined by what was reported at the time to be a groin strain.

Away games at Highbury gave one the chance to see the Hammers in my all-time favourite claret-and-blue strip; the light blue shirt with two claret bands around the chest. That strip had an ethereal quality and under floodlights, the players seemed to glow!

The Hammers had a good record at Highbury in the sixties, with two wins and six draws in ten League fixtures, fifteen goals scored and only 12 conceded. The following decade was not so good and in 1976 I witnessed a 1-6 thumping, which could have been worse had the late Alan Ball, having scored twice, not contrived to miss a penalty. That defeat could, perhaps, be forgiven, coming only three days after the Hammers had secured a place in the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup by beating Den Haag in a really hard-fought tie at the Boleyn. And, of course, West Ham had, in qualifying for the Cup Winner’s Cup, defeated Arsenal 2-0 at Highbury in the 6th Round of the FA Cup a year earlier.

The latter tie had been remarkable for the contribution of 21-year-old Alan Taylor, playing his first full game for the Hammers after joining from Rochdale for £40,000 the previous November. Interviewed by Bernard Joy for the ‘Evening Standard’, Taylor recalled that, prior to stepping out in front of 56,742 spectators at Highbury, his previous cup tie had been in front of 1,266, when Rochdale had hosted Grantham. A few years earlier, he had been rejected by Preston for being too small; now, he said, ‘if I keep my place, I’m one game away from Wembley’. Keep his place he did. Having scored the two goals that saw off Arsenal, Taylor scored twice more against Ipswich in the Semi-Final replay, repeating the feat in the Final against Fulham.

By the time of the Hammers’ next Cup meeting with Arsenal, Alan Taylor had moved on to Norwich. Indeed, only Frank Lampard, Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking played for the Hammers in both the 1975 and the 1980 Final. Since then, West Ham and Arsenal have been drawn against one another three times in the FA Cup, Arsenal progressing twice (once on penalties after a replay) and the Hammers once (after a replay).

One statistic that cannot pass unnoticed is that the Hammers were the last visiting team to win at Highbury and the first to win at the Emirates. Facts like that help make me more optimistic than I was at first about the Hammers’ prospects in their forthcoming tie with the Gunners.