Boleyn Memories - Stuart Slater

Academy graduate and former Hammers winger Stuart Slater recalls his favourite moments at the historic Boleyn Ground
For any young player at West Ham United’s Academy of Football, playing at the Boleyn Ground is the ultimate ambition.

Stuart Slater was lucky enough to do so as a teenager, appearing in the FA Youth Cup before going on to forge a successful first-team career in Claret and Blue.

The winger shared his favourite memories of playing at the historic home of the Hammers with West Ham TV ahead of the summer 2016 move to Stratford…
We generally tended to play the FA Youth Cup games at the Boleyn Ground. They were special nights because obviously the Youth Cup was the biggest cup competition for the Under-18s and you knew that if you played well, there were people watching.

At the time, the first-team manager was John Lyall, and because it was quite empty and quite eerie playing in the Youth Cup, all the boys looked up to the stands to see if they could see if John was there.

If John was there, my goodness you had to put on a show. It shouldn’t have made a difference, but if he was there you wanted to put on a show because he had an aura about him. He would come into the dressing room afterwards and, after Tony Carr had said something, he would sit down for about an hour and a half and everything he said made sense, but it put you under so much pressure!

Those were my first times and memories playing at the Boleyn. Without a doubt, there was still a buzz because you thought you were going to play, even though there were no people in the stands, and I still get it working as an ambassador for the club.

It’s just a great, great venue, even though the pitch and stands were a lot tighter back then. It was just beautiful to play in.
For my debut at home to Derby on 3 October 1987, I was on the bench and the nerves before warming up and getting on were incredible. I had a buzz and anticipation of doing well and I got on for 12 minutes, but I was so nervous as I was doing what I had worked so long and so hard for at West Ham. It was my dream becoming real and the hard work then started again to stay in the squad.

It was electric and West ham fans are incredible, the best in the world. They are passionate, knowledgeable and will let you know when you’re not doing things well, as they should.

My first goals at the Boleyn Ground came in a 2-0 win over Bradford City in August 1989, when I got both of them! The first one was going wide and got deflected in, but I’ll take that one! It was early in the season, I played up front and scored two goals. Once again, the buzz to score two in front of your own crowd with expectations high was fantastic.

You had to be real footballers to play for West Ham under John Lyall. If you were run of the mill and a hard worker, John didn’t really entertain you. You had to have skill and work hard as well.

I grew up with Paul Ince, Steve Potts, Kevin Keen and Georgie Parris and all of them came through the Academy and had something to offer, as did all the experienced players from around that era, Billy Bonds, Julian Dicks, Alvin Martin, Ian Bishop, Liam Brady, Alan Devonshire and Ray Stewart, who were brilliant to me, so good.

They were special talents and it was a pleasure to play with them. I knew, wherever I played, I’d get good service and it was an entertaining game. Albeit we didn’t always get the results, but the fans appreciated the football we tried to play.

They didn’t appreciate getting relegated, but at the time they appreciated good football and got entertained!

As for my favourite moments, when I come back everyone talks about the 1991 FA Cup quarter-final against Everton, when we won 1-0 and I got the winner. After that game, Everton manager Howard Kendall said he had seen the ‘next £3 million player’ and I really had a good game that day.

It had to be a ‘scuffer’ to beat a top goalkeeper in Neville Southall. It was a Monday night and it was absolutely electric. We were 1-0 up in the second half and I cut inside and scuffed it inside the near post to put us 2-0 up. The place was absolutely buzzing, they got a goal back but we won 2-1 so I got the winner and we moved onto the semi-finals.

Everton were winning everything back then and were the team to beat in that era, so for me to play so well and tear their back four apart, on the TV, was brilliant.

We also beat Sheffield United 5-0 in March 1990, when I didn’t score but I did set up four goals and in all the papers and in Match and Shoot magazine I got ten out of ten. That was one of the best games I played for the club, I think.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Ham United.