Hammer Howe's Seattle salute

Former West Ham United player and Seattle Sounders player/coach Bobby Howe, who has lived in the Seattle area for nearly 40 years and is coaching director for youth soccer club Emerald City F.C., reflects on his career with US-based journalist Robert Wickwire…
Bobby, let’s start with how you joined West Ham in the early 1960s…

“West Ham allowed me to train on Tuesday and Thursday evenings for players like me that were in the broader youth program. I hadn’t signed at that time. It was a way of getting you interested in the club. Then obviously they invited me and me and my Mum and Dad to a couple of first team games.

“One thing and another, I was able to sign for West Ham and that was great. It was 1962, I signed in August to apprenticeship forms. So, I was 16 when I signed, but in December on my 17th birthday, I signed professional forms for West Ham for a massive 12 pounds a week. (Laughs) From which I had to give my parents three for living at home.

“When I went to train at West Ham I was still at school. Most of my contemporaries had already left school and were already at West Ham because you could leave school at 15 at that time. I left school at 16 because I was taking some levels or certificates of education called GCEs.

“During that year, I was going to train at West Ham in the evenings and playing for them on Saturday mornings with players like Harry Redknapp and John Sissons.”

You were part of the 1963 FA Youth Cup-winning side, who came from nowhere to beat Liverpool 5-4 in the final?

“The second leg of the final was on FA Cup final night. We were watching the cup final in the afternoon. It was that late, it got backed up because of the weather. The weather in January was really bad, it was awful.

“We played Wolverhampton Wanderers in the semi-final and we won that fairly well, but the final was a classic because we went to Liverpool and lost the first leg 3-1. So, we come back home and we’re drawing at half-time 2-2 at Upton Park and we had to score three goals in the second half and did it!”

In your days in the youth set up at West Ham, were you always slotted in at the same position?

“Yeah, I played in what was called the wing-half position, which is basically midfield now. The system that we were playing was called the W-M formation. The system was an exact matchup, so you knew exactly who you were marking. In those days I was more of a defensive midfield player.”
After a few years in the ‘A’ and reserve teams, you made your debut alongside Moore, Hurst, Peters and Byrne in a 2-2 draw with Southampton in September 1966 – that must have been a thrill?

“My debut was out of the blue. As you can imagine, I was very nervous. It was the biggest crowd I had played in front of up until that time. It was ten minutes and I didn’t do anything really wrong. I felt like a million dollars afterwards. It was terrific.”

Was it exciting to think about playing alongside the World Cup heroes at West Ham?

“Yes. Obviously, they had to integrate back into the club spirit. Winning the World Cup gave those three players a tremendous amount of confidence as you can imagine. Bobby Moore and Martin Peters were really natural soccer players anyway, but Geoff Hurst scored lots of goals after the World Cup for West Ham. And for two or three seasons after that, maybe more, he was really on top of his game. It was tremendous.”

You’ve said before that Bobby Moore was the quintessential captain, what do you mean by that?

“He was such a good player and had wonderful technique. He was able to read the game extremely well. He had a good presence on the field, a good command and really was a person everybody looked up to. He was in all sense of the word, the captain. He was very hard to emulate because he was a person you wanted to be but you couldn’t be that good.

“Bobby Moore was in the England squad in Chile in 1962. He would have come on in his own right anyway, but he got moved to a leadership position in the England National Team setup because Duncan Edwards had passed away [in the Munich Air Disaster]. So Bobby Moore was the next Duncan Edwards so to speak.”

West Ham had one of its best seasons in many, many years, what are your thoughts on the current team and manager Slaven Bilic and what he’s doing there?

“I think he’s done a fabulous job. He’s got players with varying skills that complement each other. He’s got Dimitri Payet who is a fantastic distributor of the ball. Noble is an excellent player. And then he’s got these people who can just really run.

“Their counter-attacking ability is just fantastic. They can present a different style when necessary, like when Andy Carroll comes on they can play balls into the air. He’s doing a good job. I like watching West Ham; they’re really exciting to watch now.”

What do you think of the move to the new Stadium?

“I think it’s fantastic. It’s in a better area, only because the area was upgraded because of the Olympics. It’s only three miles away, but it’s in its own grounds, it has the infrastructure, a train station, a parking lot.

“Somebody sent me a link the other day to a time-lapse. It’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s completely enclosed with a roof over the entire seating area.”
Let’s talk about your move to the States – how did you come to work for the Sounders in 1977?

“I went to Bournemouth in January of 1972, and Harry Redknapp and Jimmy Gabriel came in the summer at the end of the season and played the following season. The three of us would go into training together, come back afterward, go to the local pub, talk about soccer. It was brilliant. So we became very good friends.

“In 1974, Jimmy came over to the United States. He was asked to come over and play with the Sounders. John Best was the head coach and Jimmy was his assistant/player coach. Jimmy brought Harry over here to play in 1976 and Geoff Hurst came over as well at that time. Then when Jimmy became head coach in ’77 and he asked Harry and I to be assistant coaches.

“I was coaching at Plymouth Argyle at the time and it was fantastic. When Jimmy was with the Sounders he flew me out in ‘76 from London to have a look at Seattle and get to know everybody.

“I had been here twice before but only for a couple of days. I came here with West Ham in 1969 when we played Hibernian at Memorial Stadium. It was like playing on concrete. Then two years later in 1971, we played Rot-Weiss Essen from Germany in the same place.

“He brought me over to get to know the Sounders’ organisation and I thought ‘let’s go for it’. So we came over, but I didn’t know how long it was going to be for.”

In 1977, your Sounders lost to Pele’s New York Cosmos in Soccer Bowl ’77 in Portland. What are your memories of that match?

“It was a fantastic game, a terrific experience. You’re disappointed at having lost the final, but by the same token fairly pleased with the performance of the players. And to have got so far given the start that we had.

You had two very memorable seasons following the success of 1977?

“In the ’80 season, it was a very exciting team. It was the semifinal we lost. It was one of those silly situations where you had to play two games and then had to play a mini game. We beat L.A. 4-0, but we’d lost away so we had to play the mini game. They scored early in the mini game and won. That was ridiculous.

Then ’82 was another very, very good season. The highlight of that was the Fort Lauderdale series in the semifinals. We had to go there and score. It was unbelievable, it was tremendous. Then, of course, we got the Cosmos again in the final and they scored early in the game and then wouldn’t give us the ball again. That final wasn’t as exciting!”

Robert Wickwire (@rwickwire) has worked the past 20 years as a digital sports producer in the U.S. at MSNBC.com, NBA.com, ESPN.com, ESPNSoccernet.com (now ESPNFC.com) and Seattletimes.com.