'TONKA' THE SPOT-KICK KING
WHEN John Lyall made 19-year-old Ray Stewart Britain's costliest teenager in September 1979, he knew that he was acquiring one of the most promising right-backs around. But whether the Hammers' boss realised that the record £430,000 fee would also get him the most fearless penalty-taker in Hammers' history is anyone's guess.
Indeed, 'Tonka' went on to drill home 76 - plus another two rebounds - of the 86 spot-kicks that he took during his 431 league and cup outings for the club.
Although the 10-times capped Scottish international had already netted seven spot-kicks following his arrival, the Upton Park jury was still out on his penalty-taking pedigree as Hammers battled out a fiercely contested FA Cup quarter final against First Division Aston Villa in March 1980.
With the tense goalless tie looking all set to go to a daunting Villa Park replay, Division Two West Ham were awarded a 90th-minute penalty when defender Ken McNaught, under pressure from Alvin Martin, inexplicably handled Trevor Brooking's last-ditch corner into the heart of the injury-hit Villa defence.
Suddenly, the pressure was on the youngster as 36,393 pairs of eyes focused on the young Scot placing the ball on what was left of the muddy spot.
"I had missed a penalty at Luton the week before and although I had followed up the 'keeper's parry to score, I knew that if I messed this one up, too, I would probably never be asked to take another spot-kick for West Ham United ever again," revealed Stewart who was the calmest man inside the nerve-wracked Boleyn Ground.
"But I still had no hesitation in grabbing the ball and while the buzz of anticipation among the crowd was incredible, I knew that I had to block that - and all the arguing that was going on around me as the Villa players disputed referee David Richardson's controversial award - out of my mind.
"Their 'keeper, Jimmy Rimmer, was one of the best in the business but the thought of missing never entered my head." insisted Tonka who duly sent his kick ripping into the South Bank net to secure a semi-final meeting with Everton.
"That was at the moment that I felt I had truly been accepted by the West Ham fans and I was treated like a hero. Afterwards, we celebrated at Frank Lampard's pub - The Britannia - in Stratford and everyone in the place wanted to buy me a drink. It was unbelievable!"
And after the Hammers subsequently saw off the Toffees to lift the FA Cup with an unforgettable Wembley victory over Arsenal, Stewart was back at the Twin Towers just ten months later where he again showed nerves of steel.
This time he converted an equalising 119th-minute, League Cup Final penalty against Liverpool in front of 100,000 fans to force a Villa Park replay.
Add in a string of vital league conversions down the years and it can be seen that Ray's contribution from the spot was immense.
But that kick against Villa was still the one that topped his list.
"Sure the Liverpool kick was the most crucial but, for me, the one against Aston Villa was my greatest-ever penalty," concluded the Club's undisputed spot-kick king.