Playing against West Ham as a Manchester United player was unbelievable – Particularly after the controversial move when the Daily Express printed a picture of me in the United kit before the deal had gone through in the summer of 1989! Luckily when I did move, West Ham were in the second tier so it was OK for a year or so. When they did get promoted all I could think about was when I was going to have to go to Upton Park and face 25,000 angry fans. But it’s a situation that happens and you know what you’re going to get.
The night McClair saved my life
There’s one game I remember vividly at Upton Park. After being 1-0 ahead through Mark Hughes we went 2-1 down until the 88th minute. The ball came in from the right and bobbled around, and as one of their defenders went to clear it I ran in and stuck my boot up to deflect it into the net and equalise. I was just about to run over to the West Ham fans and give it to them and Brian McClair grabbed me. He pulled me away by my collar and told me not to be so silly! Probably stopped me getting my head kicked in to be honest. It was nice to get one back after 90 minutes of stick though. I had been booed relentlessly every time I touched the ball.
Hammers fans got their revenge a year later. United needed to go to Upton Park and win if we wanted to win the league title, with Blackburn travelling to Liverpool. Rovers got the result they needed but we just couldn’t beat West Ham. We had chance after chance, but we couldn’t get that goal and the game finished 1-1. I got plenty of abuse that day as well, and to lose the title at the final hurdle was soul-destroying.
Time to step up
Some teams probably look at themselves before the start of the season and think, ‘We’re too good to go down’. West Ham probably did it with talent like Dimitri Payet and Michail Antonio in their ranks. But if you keep losing games it’s harder to get out of that rot. Sunderland have won back-to-back games, Hull are only a point away, and now West Ham are panicking. Now those players have to step up. It’s far easier playing in a team that is in the top five than playing for one in the bottom three.
They were in complete control in last week’s game against Tottenham, and if you’re 2-1 up in the 88th minute you should be seeing the match out. That’ll make it even harder for Slaven Bilic and the players to take. You can’t keep taking hits like that in the league. Not when you’re a point above the relegation zone.
The new stadium is a hindrance to West Ham. Unless you’ve played at Upton Park you don’t understand. The pitch is tight, the fans are on top of you, and the place is electric. I scored two goals there as a teenager as we beat reigning League Cup champions Liverpool 4-1 and it is one of my fondest memories of my West Ham days. Of course they have to evolve as a club, but in the new stadium they’re losing the atmosphere that makes Upton Park so intimidating. Their best performances have been away from home – most notably last week’s defeat to Spurs – and that should give them confidence going to Old Trafford.
But football is about momentum, and West Ham simply have to start picking up points if they want to avoid the drop. They have the quality to stay up but results are key.
It’s sad to see because they’re a great club, but a great club that’s struggling.