Tc Calls It A Day

Hammers legend Tony Cottee went back to Upton Park today . . . to finally hang up his boots after an 18-year career that included two successful spells with his beloved Hammers.

Media representatives gathered in the Bobby Moore Stand - at the end of the Boleyn Ground where he scored his first goal against Spurs on his debut at the age of 17 on January 1, 1983 - to hear Cottee bring down the curtain on a playing career that made him an all-time favourite at West Ham, where he scored 147 goals in 337 League and Cup appearances.

Only Vic Watson (326), Geoff Hurst (248), Johnny Dick and Jimmy Ruffell (both 166) have scored more goals for the Irons.

TC hopes to resume day-to-day involvement in football by taking up a coaching or management role at some stage in the future. In the meantime he will stay in touch with the game through TV and radio work plus a development of his journalistic talents. He will be writing a regular monthly column for Hammers News, the official club magazine.

Tony, who celebrated his 36th birthday yesterday, was surprised to be presented with a commemorative silver salver by West Ham United Chairman Terence Brown, in recognition of his loyal and distinguished service spanning nine years.

After a career total of 712 League and Cup appearances, Tony says: "When you start your career you have half an idea how, in an ideal world, you'd like it to end.

"My dream was to play in front of 40,000 fans at Upton Park, score a hat-trick for West Ham and walk off to a standing ovation - a bit like Frank McAvennie did.

"Instead, I came on as a sub for Millwall, played only four minutes and, with my only two touches of the ball, gave it away to the opposition!

"I made up my mind to retire from playing, I wondered where I could announce my decision and Upton Park just seemed the logical choice.

'This is where my career started, so it's like going back to my roots, and I'm just grateful to the Club for giving me this opportunity."

Tony reveals that he turned down offers to extend his playing career. He had approaches from one English second division club, two from the third division and a couple in the Vauxhall Conference. He also declined the chance to join top clubs in South Africa and Australia.

He explains: "Once I decided I didn't want to go abroad, I looked at the English offers again. Although, to a certain degree, some of them were appealing to me, after 17 years in the top flight I didn't want to play in the lower divisions simply for the sake of playing.

"I always said that I didn't want anyone to say: 'Oh look, there's Tony Cottee. He used to be a good player'. The time is right for me to hang up my boots, close that chapter in my life and open a new one."

But West Ham United will always remain dear to his heart. Tony looked out of the hospitalty box where his press conference was held and marvelled at the changing shape of the Boleyn Ground and, in particular, the transformation of the West Stand, where he used to stand as a schoolboy fan.

Says TC: "I'm excited about the Club - the new stand and the redevelopment. Once a fan, always a fan.

"I'm going to be ticking over doing my media work and after I've had a bit of a break fom the day-to-day involvement of football, who knows what the future holds.

"When I do want to get back into the game on a full-time basis, if I got a call from West Ham, or Everton, or whoever it might be, I'd listen to it and be available if it was the right offer to go back there.

"I've learned that in football, you never know what's around the corner. But with my West Ham connections and love of the Club, I've always made it clear that I'd never turn them down if they wanted me again. They know my phone number and if they needed me in any shape or form - even as a ballboy! - then I'll come and help them out.

"I'd like to thank all the West Ham fans for the many happy years I've had here - both while at the Club and when returning with other clubs. They have always been very fair to me and always seemed to appreciate what I've tried to do."