Tony: Bad Memories

The FA Cup clash with Nottingham Forest brings haunting memories of the 1991 FA Cup semi-final against them in which he was sent off.

Keith Hackett sent Tony off in the first half of a game that the Hammers eventually lost 4-0 - with Gary Charles and Stuart Pearce among the scorers for Forest - and Tony says:

"It seems a long time ago but I do get asked about it all the time.

"Unfortunately, after playing 700 games in my career and winning the title at Blackburn the only thing people remember me for is getting sent off at Blackburn in the semi-final - so it's not so much fame as infamy.

"It was the worst refereeing decision for years and years and hopefully it won't happen to anyone again."

Recalling the incident, he says:

"The ball went over the top and I thought I had plenty of time though I got a little bit outstripped - which West Ham supporters won't be too surprised about.

"Gary Crosby caught up on me and we were both heading diagonally towards the corner flag and ended up in a heap.

"It was the kind of thing where you don't know who fouled who, but having had the foul against me the last thing I expected was to be sent off.

"Unfortunately, the referee at the time, Mr. Hackett, did just that and it must have been the worst decision ever.

"The thing was, he didn't look at it on the video either, and it may have cost us the second division title that year because I missed the last three games through suspension when we were without another centre back.

"It was pathetic - and ironic that he is now on the referees' committee that supervises their decisions.

"I have never spoken to him since, and I think I would find it quite hard to, because I was never a dirty player - and I find it quite unforgivable what he did.

"It ruined my day, the club's day, and the fans' day - and I still think to this day if I had stayed on the pitch we would have beaten Nottingham Forest, ended up in the final, and probably beaten Spurs."

To add insult to injury, Hackett never explained his decision and Tony recalls:

"He wouldn't say anything except 'off' - and that made it even worse.

"He didn't say, for instance, 'it is a professional foul and the rules are the rules', but he was just standing there, looking up at the sky with the red card and giving it the big 'un.

"That was it, you can imagine what I called him, and it was a lonely dressing room.

"But although we kept it to 0-0 at half time after I was sent off on about 22 minutes, it was uphill all the way.

"I watched the second half from the bench and I remember the fans were absolutely fantastic on the day.

"They were absolutely brilliant and I can never express how much it meant to me and to the club.

"I think they realised, like me and everyone else, that the referee had made an awful decision and weren't going to let someone like that spoil their day.

"It is probably the one big regret, other than not winning an international cap, that I didn't win any honours with West Ham as I could have done that year.

"We lost three semi-finals in my time at West Ham - and I must say I think we are due a run this year after the horrendous luck we have had of late."