Moose's Memories - Paolo Di Canio

Ian ‘Moose’ Abrahams hears the great entertainer Paolo Di Canio pay a personal tribute to the Boleyn Ground
Ian ‘Moose’ Abrahams hears the great entertainer Paolo Di Canio pay a personal tribute to the Boleyn Ground...
Down the years, West Ham have some great players who were also great entertainers. When I first started coming here in 1977, there were Trevor Brooking and Alan Devonshire, then there was Wardy, Bishop, Moncur… I hope I haven’t upset anyone by missing them out.

Right now we have Dimitri Payet. Prior to Dimitri, was Di Canio who, like Payet, was a magician on the ball, a genius of a player.

It would have be criminal in our last season here not to have spoken to Paolo, so without any further ado, this is what happened when I caught up with the eccentric Italian, who always wore his heart on his sleeve.

“I have fantastic memories of Upton Park, it was an amazing period of my life, not only as a footballer but as a person,” he told me. “I have fantastic memories to keep with me for the rest of my life.”

Paolo can be prone to the odd exaggeration, as you’ll no doubt see as you read through the rest of the interview.


NOW, if I asked what was the best goal in Premier League history, there’s a fair chance you’d say Paolo’s against Wimbledon here – an amazing volley in front of the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand back in 2000.

I’ll let Paolo tell you all about it…

”I remember we moved the ball across with Foe, our friend who is no longer with us, for Sinclair on the right side. He delivered the ball across with a fantastic delivery and I remember this ball, for an instant I wasn’t sure what I would do. Kennedy from Wimbledon was in front of me, but in an instant I decided to go for a bicycle kick that I also used to try in training. This time I was very lucky because the technique was perfect. It wasn’t easy and I think it was an amazing goal.”

Paolo said he tried it in traning, but what gave him the confidence to do it in front of 30,000 fans in a game?

“I have very high self-belief, sometimes the madness you have got in the brain, because if you kick the ball in the wrong way probably the people are going to laugh for two years but this time I did very well. It was perfect, with my style and balance it was a perfect shot, a perfect moment of technical ability in my opinion but difficult with both feet off the ground in a wide area. The angle was tight and the ball finished in the net without bouncing on the field, so it was a perfect shot. It was a perfect angle with a perfect goal, impossible to stop for any goalkeeper, I think.”

Last week we were drawn away to Manchester United in the FA Cup. That game will be on Sunday 13 March and it rekindles memories of another iconic moment for Paolo – that FA Cup goal at Old Trafford when Fabian Barthez tried to outwit him, standing in front of him with his arm raised in the air.

“I didn’t respect the policeman that tried to stop me and I broke the rules in this moment,” Paolo told me. “There were 12 minutes to go I remember and there was a good, good play by Kanoute. He kept the ball. The defensive line from United came up to make an offside but I was too clever and I made a movement to avoid the offside.

“The pass from Kanoute left me one on one with Barthez. He tried to play a game, but I was more clever than him because I pushed the ball in the net. I thought if the referee gave offside there is no problem, so I pushed the ball in the net. We went off to celebrate. There were 9,000 people at the stadium and they followed us from London. West Ham fans were amazing in this day and it was an amazing day. We won 1-0 and went through in the FA Cup, it was another day to remember.”


THE only predictable thing about Paolo is that he is unpredictable. For example, who would’ve foreseen his amazing act of sportsmanship at Everton, when he caught the ball in the box from a corner to allow the injured goalkeeper Paul Gerrard to get treatment?

I wondered what made Paolo pass up the chance of a goal that day when at Old Trafford he went on to score.

“At Old Trafford there wasn’t any player down injured, there was a player who tried to play a game and to cheat in some way because the referee didn’t stop the game,” he explained. “At Everton it was clear the ‘keeper was injured, we had the advantage of the ball with Trevor Sinclair but when he tried to get up everybody had the sensation that something big had happened, because he collapsed and in his legs he was screaming in pain.

“Sinclair delivered the ball but for me in this instant the game was stopped because it wasn’t fair, even if it wasn’t illegal to score a goal, for me in this moment, it wasn’t possible to keep going. I stood there and the ball arrived at me. I wasn’t a saint in this moment, like I wasn’t a devil when I pushed the referee, that was wrong, but I wasn’t the devil.”

And he received an award…

“Yes, thanks to the people, but I did something natural from my point of view. The people exaggerated in this point of view, but it is good they exaggerated in this way to try to show me as a good person.”

Paolo’s last appearance at Upton Park came a few years ago now in Tony Carr’s Testimonial and he told me he had no hesitation in taking the chance to play in front of you the West Ham fans that night.

“I came for Tony Carr because he is another symbol of West Ham, because he worked for many, many years behind the scenes, improving the squad and the club with his quality as a scout and a coach,” he explained.

“It was amazing to feel again the atmosphere of Upton Park and of the fans, and it was amazing again to wear that shirt. It was fun, it was a reunion with my family that I can’t see every day, but are still in my heart every single moment.”


I ASKED Paolo if, of all the clubs he played for, West Ham meant most to him.

“Of course, of course, it’s the only club tattoo that I got because this is what I felt when I did that and I did that many years after I left West Ham, not when I was there, which shows West Ham is still in my heart and my blood and nobody can cancel this cord.

“The fans felt I gave all my soul, all my blood for this club, but what I did is nothing compared to what I got from the fans. I will be a fan of this club for the rest of my life.”

So, that’s a yes then!

I ended my chat with Paolo by asking what his funniest moment as a West Ham player was. Perhaps it is no shock that it involves Razor Ruddock and Wrighty.

“When I arrived at West Ham, I met Razor Ruddock and Ian Wright and the other senior footballers. Some weeks before they had celebrated a goal and recreated my situation with [the referee] Paul Alcock, reminding everyone of it.

“Once I met them and joined the club they were amazing with me. They tried to let me integrate with the rest of the group quicker and since then I have thought of this dressing room as my home, so thanks to them I understood straight away what it means to wear this shirt.”