‘A useful acquisition’ – Billy Bonds' first games for West Ham United
The 1966/67 season was one which most West Ham United supporters of a certain vintage will have almost instantly forgotten.
After three straight years of success, during which the Hammers had won the FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup and the trio of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters had inspired England to FIFA World Cup glory, the Irons endured a disappointing campaign.
Despite the presence of ten FA Cup winners, 41 goals from Hurst, 16 more from Peters and a total of 80 scored in the old Division One, Ron Greenwood’s side finished in a lowly 16th place, have won just 14 of their 42 league matches, conceding 84 goals in the process.
There was further frustration in the League Cup, where West Ham reached the semi-finals, only to be thrashed 4-0 at West Bromwich Albion in the first leg to scupper their hopes of winning the competition for the first time.
And it was that defensive frailty that saw Greenwood spend £135,000 on reinforcements, signing Scotland goalkeeper Bobby Ferguson from Kilmarnock, his fellow countryman and centre-back John Cushley from Celtic, and a 20-year-old full-back named Billy Bonds from Division Two side Charlton Athletic.
All three made their competitive debuts in Claret and Blue when Sheffield Wednesday visited the Boleyn Ground on the opening day of the 1967/68 season, exactly 52 years ago today on 19 August 1967.
Unfortunately, despite the trio’s presence in a defence that also comprised Moore and left-back John Charles, and a team that also included FA Cup winners Hurst, Peters, Ronnie Boyce, John Sissons and Eddie Bovington and a young winger called Harry Redknapp, the Hammers were breached again in a 3-2 defeat.
John Fantham had ghosted in to put the Owls ahead at half-time, but a quickfire double from Hurst and Peters appeared to have turned the game in the hosts’ favour, only for goals from John Ritchie and Jim McCalliog to condemn West Ham to an opening-day defeat.
Thankfully, Bonds would have to wait just over 48 hours to get his debut disappointment out of his system.
Greenwood kept faith with all three debutants for the visit of Burnley to the Boleyn Ground on the evening of Monday 21 August 1967.
The Hammers again fell behind before Peters and Hurst once again turned things around. Burnley levelled at 2-2 through Frank Casper, but this time the east Londoners would show greater resilience, as Sissons set up Hurst and Redknapp to score, to the delight of the home fans among the 30,414 present.
In his match report for The Times (pictured, above right), Barry Davies wrote that £50,000 signing Bonds had ‘looked a useful acquisition’.
21 years, 799 appearances, 61 goals, two FA Cups and four Hammer of the Year awards later, he proved to be a fair bit more than that!