The 52nd annual Hammer of the Year award was officially launched on Tuesday evening at West Ham United's inaugural end of season Gala Evening.

The hugely successful event was hosted by comedian and lifelong Hammers fan Phill Jupitus and featured a special guest appearance from BBC television and radio commentator John Motson. With the first-team squad in attendance, manager Gianfranco Zola thanked fans for all their support during an appearance on stage prior to dinner being served.

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The evening also featured a tribute to the 33 previous winners of the prestigious Hammer of the Year award, which is being sponsored for the first time by Vantis Business Recovery Services. Special mention was also given to the achievements of Tony Carr, who was honoured on stage during a special section hosted by Matt Lorenzo.

Since its launch at the end of the 1957/58 season, Hammer of the Year has become an integral part of West Ham United. Launched by the club's Supporters' Club 51 years ago, the award is voted for exclusively by the club's fans.

One player, Sir Trevor Brooking, has been named Hammer of the Year on five occasions, in 1972, 1976, 1977, 1978 - making him the only player to win three consecutive awards - and finally in 1984.

Bobby Moore OBE, Billy Bonds and Julian Dicks all lifted the award four times, while Geoff Hurst and Alvin Martin were recipients three times each. Steve Potts is the only player to have won the award twice.

The first winner, in 1957/58, was wing-half Andy Malcolm. Born just a short distance from the Boleyn Ground, Malcolm joined West Ham in 1948, signing professional forms in 1950 before making his first-team debut in the 2-1 home Second Division defeat by Notts County on 5 December 1953.

Four years later, Malcolm was part of the Hammers side that gained promotion to the First Division under manager Ted Fenton. That season, he missed just one of the 48 matches played, scoring three goals in the process.

Malcolm's consistency in neutralising the threat of some of the country's finest forwards earned great respect from the club's supporters, who responded by voting him as Hammer of the Year.

As it is today, the award was considered a special accolade by the players lucky enough to have won the acclaim of the club's supporters. That was never more evident than in 1958/59, when another of the promotion-winning squad, central defender Ken Brown, flew back from the Hammers' close-season tour to Germany to collect the award.

Brown was part of a 16-player squad that travelled to Germany on a 'Continental tour' in late April 1959, following the end of the First Division season. The team played five matches in the space of nine days, beating Dutch side Fortuna, drawing with Belgian outfit Charleroi and losing to German teams Rot Weiss Rot, Borussia Dortmund and Aachen.

Despite the club's packed schedule Brown, who started all five tour fixtures, found time to fly back to London to receive the award, the voting for which had been organised that year by the Straford Express and the Supporters' Club.

Vantis Business Recovery Services, who are sponsoring Hammer of the Year for the first time this season, are delighted to be associated with such a prestigious award. Client partner Ray Brooks said the company's hierarchy were all staunch West Ham supporters.

"The management at Vantis Business Recovery Services are, to a man, West Ham United supporters. We have all, at some stage, been regular attendees at home matches. My first game at the Boleyn Ground was back in 1957 and I have enjoyed watching so many fantastic West Ham players since then.

"It makes perfect sense for Vantis Business Recovery Services to sponsor an award that rewards players for their hard work over the course of a season."

Ron Bickles, who has been a Supporters' Club member for 25 years, is the nephew of former West Ham defender Dave Bickles, who was made his debut the last time the Hammers beat Liverpool at Anfield in September 1963.

"Hammer of the Year is a special award for any West Ham player to receive," said Bickles. "It is a privilege for any player to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst, not to mention the likes of Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking. For any player to emulate them by winning Hammer of the Year award is truly special."

In recent years, the Hammer of the Year award has been shared around, with the last eleven seasons producing eleven different winners from six different countries.