Billy Bonds: A life in Claret and Blue
A club-record 799 first-team appearances. Four Hammer of the Year awards. Two FA Cup triumphs. One West Ham United legend.
The numbers surrounding Billy Bonds’ unique, unforgettable Hammers career truly speak for themselves.
Few players in the history of the sport have played as many games – or been as successful – with a single football club as Bonds did for West Ham, and the mark he left is an indelible one.
An inspirational figure, Bonds was born just across the River Thames in Woolwich in September 1946, joining Charlton Athletic as a teenager. He made 95 senior appearances for the Addicks before making the short journey through the Blackwall Tunnel for £50,000 in May 1967.
Despite being just 20, Bonds immediately established himself as a first-team regular in Ron Greenwood's side, making 42 appearances in his maiden season at the Boleyn Ground.
A player of great strength of mind and body, he would make more than 40 appearances in each of his first eight seasons in east London, capping that run by captaining West Ham to a 2-0 FA Cup final victory over Bobby Moore’s Fulham at Wembley in May 1975. The following season, he led the Irons to the European Cup Winners’ Cup final.
Amazingly for a player filling a predominantly defensive role, Bonds had also topped the club's goalscoring charts in 1973/74, netting 13 times, including a hat-trick in a First Division victory over Chelsea at his beloved Boleyn Ground in March 1974.
Bonds' versatility and selfless team ethic were illustrated again when manager John Lyall moved him to a new position at centre-half in 1977 – the same year he was named on the substitutes' bench for England's FIFA World Cup qualifier against Italy – amazingly as close as he got to earning a full England cap.
Bonds’ fitness saw him continue to play week-in, week-out well into his thirties. Indeed, he was approaching 34 when he lifted the FA Cup for a second time in May 1980 following West Ham's 1-0 win over Arsenal at Wembley.
By then, the Hammers had been relegated, but Bonds showed great loyalty to the cause, playing an incredible 59 games as West Ham won the Second Division title and reached the League Cup final in 1981.
Bonds passed his great friend and mentor Moore's all-time appearance record in September 1982, playing his 545th first-team match for the club in a 1-1 Division One draw at the Boleyn Ground.
The Hammers great initially retired in May 1984, handing the captain's armband to Alvin Martin, but a number of injuries saw him return to the squad in August of the same year.
Bonds marked his comeback in memorable fashion by being voted Hammer of the Year for the fourth and final time in 1987 at the age of 40 – adding to previous awards won in 1971, 1974 and 1975.
The 1987/88 season, during which Bonds celebrated his 41st birthday, proved to be his last, with the legend making his final appearance for West Ham in a Division One fixture at Southampton on 30 April 1988 – more than 20 years after his debut in a home match against Sheffield Wednesday.
Four months before hanging up his boots, Bonds had received another honour, being made an MBE for his services to football in HM The Queen's New Year's Honours List.
To nobody's surprise, Bonds was handed a coaching role on his retirement by manager John Lyall, working alongside Tony Carr with the club's promising Academy youngsters.
In February 1990, he was appointed as first-team boss himself, leading the club to promotion from Division Two in 1991. After being relegated in 1992, Bonds led West Ham to promotion for a second time in 1993, when they reached the Premier League for the first time.
Bonds was presented with the club’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, was voted the club’s greatest-ever player in 2018 and will now be immortalised at London Stadium with a stand named in his honour.
A true West Ham legend, Billy Bonds’ achievements see him rightly sit at the top of the very best players, and people, to pull on a Claret and Blue shirt.