Keeping It Clean At Manchester City

The newly-published Nearly Reached the Sky is a modern-day history of West Ham United Football Club.

Having written for Hammers News Magazine for nearly two decades, Steve Blowers has left no stone unturned in his intriguing view of events at Upton Park from the moment when John Lyall left in June 1989 through to the sensational 2005 play-off final victory over Preston North End.

Embarking on a comprehensive, memory-jogging, see-saw journey across some 200 players, six managers, three promotions, two relegations and a European sojourn, the 336-page Nearly Reached the Sky weaves together the observations of all the major characters and commentators during those 16 seasons.

With Roy Carroll battling for fitness ahead of this weekend's trip to Manchester City, Blowers looks back to the 1995-96 campaign when Hammers - minus their senior goalkeepers - went into their Premiership clash at Maine Road, struggling to fill the void between the sticks...

Les Sealey headed north for the New Year's Day game at Manchester City all set to make his goalkeeping debut, deputising for the suspended Ludek Miklosko, who had been sent off in his 160th consecutive appearance for the club for bringing down Daniel Amokachi at Everton before Christmas.

But training just 24 hours before kick-off, the veteran stand-in ripped a calf muscle.

Having recently sold understudy Ian Feuer to Luton Town, Harry Redknapp's desperate attempts to by-pass the Premier League's 48-hour registration rule fell on deaf ears, and that meant an emergency call-up for youth-team 'keeper Neil Finn.

Ivana Miklosko hastily sewed a '3' onto one of hubby Ludo's Number One shirts and started stitching on the name 'THINN' before being corrected and sending out the Hammers' No 31 with the right identity thus saving the Club a £250 fine from the men in suits for breaching their tough kit regulations.

"There was no problem getting a goalkeeper. Everyone wanted to help," insisted Redknapp after the 17-year, three-days-old YTS trainee became the Premiership's youngest-ever player in a 1-2 defeat at Maine Road that saw Iain Dowie score for the Hammers. "But the fella at the Premier League was out playing golf and when we finally caught up with him he must have missed a few putts, because he said we couldn't have anybody. I didn't want David Seaman or Tim Flowers and I can't believe they couldn't have shown some common sense."

Finn was soon to discover that those 90 minutes of fame would be followed by two years back in the youth team, ahead of a free transfer to Dorchester Town in Spring 1998.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the experience scale, Redknapp moved to sign goalkeeping legend Peter Shilton, who had been on loan at Coventry City. The 125 times-capped Shilts had 1380 appearances to his name including 997 league outings.

Nearly Reached the Sky (r.r.p. £9.99) is available in the club store or via mail order direct from the publishers - Football World (01708-744333).