Gordon Thrower*, when not hailing the creature comforts of London life that made West Ham a happier place than Sunderland for George McCartney, sounds as if he should have a son-of-Percy gardening programme on the telly. Instead, he is a passionate, long-in-the-tooth Hammers supporter, deputy editor of the Knees Up Mother Brown fan site and the bearer of decades of guilt about Sir Geoffrey’s first, a shameless punch of the ball past Jimmy Montgomery, and his team’s first in that 8-0 debacle. Gordon’s also an old Salut! Sunderland friend, albeit only electronically, and a hero of past editions of ‘Who are You?’. We’ve had some cracking Hammers interviews here but, as the rather important fixture at Upton Park looms, it is more of a pleasure to welcome Gordon back than it is to contemplate the match itself …
You are nowhere near sharing our current plight but probably feel too close to the bottom for comfort. Is Big Sam keeping you up – or are you beginning to doubt?
There are worse teams in the league than us and it’s not been the luckiest of seasons so far. We’ve been on the receiving end of some appalling refereeing of late as well. I think we’ll be ok but we need to strengthen the squad in January – the thuggish attack on Downing has added another to the list.
If the worst came to the worst, would you still get healthy crowds at the Olympic stadium in the Championship?
We’d get decent gates as we did the last couple of times we were down there – it’s just that they’d probably look a bit small in that size of stadium.
And should you be leaving the Boleyn at all?
Sadly the Boleyn is pretty much at the end of it’s useful life. We do need a bigger ground if we are to progress. Whilst the ground itself could be extended – a new stand on the Chicken Run and filling in the corners would do the trick – the transport infrastructure can’t cope at the moment as it is. An obvious short term solution would be to re-open the National Rail platforms at Upton Park tube on matchdays but that would involve an application of common sense involving representatives from football, local authorities and transport concerns; it’s never going to happen. Before the Olympic Stadium was a twinkling in Seb Coe’s eye there was talk of us moving to a place by West Ham station and my preference would have been to have gone to somewhere purpose-built. Having said that the transport links at Stratford are second to none – when you lot arrive in 2016 it’ll be a quick walk to St Pancras and you’ll be in Stratford in 7 minutes. Though I expect they’ll have a rail replacement bus on that day.
What did you make of Sunderland’s experiment with PDC, a hero for you as a player, arguably our saviour last season but a disaster in his short spell this season?
Don’t get me wrong, Paolo was that rarest of players for us. The sort that would find you automatically standing up in anticipation every time the ball came his way. However, in his last season with us there were problems. A fall out with Roeder led to a mystery “injury” that prevented him from playing for ages. The “injury” cleared up when Roeder’s illness saw Trevor Brooking take over as caretaker.
So when he started in management at Swindon it was always going to be, er, interesting. The manner of his departure from Swindon ought to have rung alarm bells. There’s probably a decent coach in there somewhere but the best coaches get the best out of their squads by knowing how to treat different types of player to get the best out of them whereas it appears that PDC’s more of a blunt instrument in that respect. It would have been interesting to see how PDC the coach would have handled PDC the player!
When you think back to the players you saw when first attending West Ham games, does the present squad make you shout for joy or squirm in embarrassment?
Neither really. I’m a bit philosophical about that aspect of things (if you’ll allow me to ruin the football fan stereotype by using a big word in context).
I was fortunate enough to see Moore, Hurst, Peters & co in my childhood but apart from an FA Cup, Cup-Winners Cup and a World Cup we didn’t win much in the 60s. As the 60s turned into the 70s & 80s I eventually came to terms with the fact that comparisons with teams of the past are a bit pointless. I do feel sorry though for kids who never got to see the likes of Brooking, Bonds, Devonshire et al. The current squad is not without its class – Winston Reid is a big miss injury-wise and Morrison’s beginning to show what everyone sees in him. I guess I tend to save the squirming with embarrassment bit for looking back at some of the squads of the past – the early 90s is not a period I’m over fond of. And not just because that was when I had the misfortune to meet the now ex-wife!
Who are the greatest players you have seen, or wish you’d seen, in Hammers colours and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
Bobby Moore – obviously. I’m just glad I was of an age to have seen him play – though I was probably a bit too young to appreciate just how good he was. As for people who should never have been seen in our colours there’s any number, though the worst of all from my perspective was John Radford. Signed from Arsenal in 1976, he looked totally uninterested in being at the Boleyn. In a year he looked about as likely to score as I am to run a marathon. After a year we flogged him on to then (old) 2nd Division Blackburn. For whom he scored on his debut. Obviously.
What was it about your club that George McCartney play so much better for you that he did, certainly in his second spell, at Sunderland?
Poor old Linda – he hasn’t had much luck with injuries over the past few year or so with us. Presumably he feels more at home at the Boleyn than he does up in the North East – I mean we’ve got electricity and stuff down here so there’s an obvious attraction in the form of creature comforts. On a more serious note sometimes it just happens that way – players sometimes just feel more at home in certain places.
Remind me: are you too young to recall the 8-0 game and how guilty do you feel about Sir Geoffrey’s first goal?
I was really concerned when you mentioned the change of format of this thing to a Q&A. In the past I’ve managed to slip in the odd subtle mention of this match when you’ve asked me to write something for you and I was worried that I’d have to think of some clever way of shoehorning it into the conversation. So thank you for asking! As for Sir Geoffrey’s first the fact that he punched it in has kept me awake at night for the past 45 years obviously.
Well it’s either that or the thought of John Radford in a West Ham shirt. Actually it’s definitely the thought of Radford in a West Ham shirt that sees me wake up screaming. Incidentally, since you mentioned the match (thanks again), did you notice that seven of the goals were scored by two future knights of the realm? And, had Bobby Moore – a mere OBE – survived long enough it would have been all eight. Which might be some sort of record. Probably.
Any other memorable encounters – for good, bad or amusing reasons – between our clubs, home or away?
Having mentioned the 8-0 I’ll mention a match you actually won for once. In the Championship a few years ago (29 April 2005 if you’re that anal, which, obviously, I am) you came down on a Friday night and won a decent game of football 2-1. It was a warm evening and we ended up drinking outside the Earl Of Wakefield Pub (which closed down last week). Some ale was supped and, the following day, I discovered a photo of me taken outside the pub with a not unattractive young lady outside the pub (photo attached!). Which went down well with the then other half. Not. Still it all ended happily enough. Wolves beat Reading the next day, we got through to the playoffs and beat Preston in Cardiff. Eventually the then other half relented and decided she would speak to me after all. You can’t have everything I suppose.
What have been you personal highs and lows as a Hammers supporter?
Highs – the 2006 Cup final up to stoppage time was an experience I’ll never forget. Actually that whole day was a high – despite the result. It took typical Scouse gamesmanship (chasing the ball down when we’d put it out for an injury is pretty low, even for them) and Reina being allowed to stand on the edge of the six-yard box for the penalty shoot out to beat us. Another high was 19 October 1968. We beat someone 8-0. I forget who.
Lows? Well the relegation in 2003 seemed to hit me more than the others – possibly because we hadn’t been down for a while and possibly because we still had an outside chance of staying up on the last day. Losing the playoff final the next year was a low too – mainly caused by Graham Poll’s admission that he had deliberately not given us what he knew was a penalty because our appeal had lacked conviction. I’d like to meet Mr Poll one day.
What most inspires you about the modern game and which feature most appals?
At the risk of sounding like an old git there’s not a lot about the modern game that I actually find inspiring. Every so often you see a bit of breathtaking skill that reminds you that it can be the beautiful game but it’s a bit like hanging the Mona Lisa in an abattoir – it’s beautiful but there’s a lot of stuff around it that stinks. Stuff that appals – well diving gets right up my nose. And the organisation of the upper echelons of refereeing is a scandal – the fact that in 13 years only 5 referees have ever been demoted from the select group should get alarm bells ringing somewhere.
Are you already excited about Brazil 2014 or too obsessed with the Hammers to think about it?
It seems a bit far away at the moment. The draw hasn’t helped – the prospect of watching Suarez dive to get a penalty against us is not a pleasant one. Still it’ll be interesting seeing the Scousers having to slate him for doing what they defend him for every week.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
Yup I’ll be there. For my sins. I think we’ll win (ref permitting). I reckon 3-1 to us. But not 8-0. We’ve done that one.
What will be the top four, in order, at the end of the season and who – being as blunt as you wish – is going down?
Top Four: Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd (I still think they’ll sneak into 4th).
Going down: Palace, Fulham, Sunderland (sorry)
If one or both of our clubs is not in either (!) list, where will we finish?
I think we’ll end up in 15th place.
Gordon Thrower on himself: I’m a tax specialist currently working for an American bank in Canary Wharf. Which is nice. I spent my early years in Plaistow in E13 just up the road from the Boleyn Ground and saw my first match in the 1967/68 season. A certain 8-0 win was about the second or third game I saw. Kumb has been going since 1997 (29 years after a certain 8-0 win) and following a long spell of writing match reports, articles and generally helping out about the place I gained the title of Deputy Editor. Which means I do stuff like this and turn up on the odd podcast when they can’t get anyone interesting in.
Interview: Colin Randall
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