Among the 40 players who have been crowned Hammer of the Year, perhaps the unlikeliest winner was a Frenchman Sebastian Schemmel, who celebrated his 43rd birthday on 2 June.
The floppy-haired full-back had spent the first eight years of his professional career with hometown club Nancy, winning promotion from Ligue 2 in 1998, and Metz, for whom he played against West Ham United in the 1999 UEFA Intertoto Cup final.
At that time, Schemmel impressed scout Glenn Roeder – then working on manager Harry Redknapp’s backroom staff – and, after the player’s relationship with Metz soured during the 2000/01 season, the Hammers pounced, signing the player on loan.
“Glenn thought Schemmel was outstanding, one of the best attacking right-backs he’d seen for a long time,” Redknapp said later.
I played two years with West Ham and every minute and every hour was fantastic
The 25-year-old debuted on 22 January 2001, in a 1-1 Premier League draw at Charlton Athletic. In his second appearance, six days later, he helped the Hammers keep a clean sheet in the historic ‘Let’s all do the Barthez!’ 1-0 FA Cup fourth-round win over Manchester United at Old Trafford.
With the likes of Gary Charles, Rigobert Song and even captain Steve Lomas failing to nail down the right-back position during the opening half of the campaign, Schemmel’s place in the starting XI was assured.
Summer 2001 saw Redknapp’s reign end, with Roeder replacing him in the dugout. Unsurprisingly, the new manager made Schemmel’s loan move permanent for what turned out to be a bargain fee of just £765,000.
The 2001/02 season was Schemmel’s finest in a Claret and Blue shirt, with the previously unheralded, virtually unknown Frenchman producing a series of buccaneering displays in Claret and Blue.
The flying full-back started all but three of West Ham’s 38 Premier League matches, helping the Hammers to a seventh-place finish and scoring what turned out to be his only goal for the Club in the Boxing Day thrashing of Derby County at the Boleyn Ground.
While the likes of Paolo Di Canio, Trevor Sinclair, Frederic Kanoute and a young Michael Carrick and Jermain Defoe all impressed, it was Schemmel who edged out Joe Cole to win the ultimate accolade of the Boleyn Ground faithful, becoming just the fourth overseas player to be voted Hammer of the Year.
Sixteen years on, Schemmel, who would play just 19 more games for the Club before being reunited with Redknapp at Portsmouth in January 2003, retains his love for the Hammers in a unique way – he owns and runs a restaurant in Luxembourg named ‘Upton Park’!
“West Ham was fantastic, to be honest,” he confirmed. “It was the best moment of my football career. It was amazing to play for these fans and this Club.
“It was a big mistake for me to leave the Club because if I’d stayed there in 2003 and 2004, I’m sure I’d have finished my career with West Ham.
“I was very pleased to play for this Club. It’s my Club. I have a tattoo of the West Ham crest and it is an honour to have this on my arm! I played two years with West Ham and every minute and every hour was fantastic.”