'The stuff dreams are made of' - Ex-Hammer Gary Strodder on swapping the Fourth Division for the top flight, learning from John Lyall and storing Spanish cars!

Gary Strodder

 

 

Official Programme contributor, former Hammers News writer and author Steve Blowers catches up with Menorca-based former West Ham United defender Gary Strodder, who celebrates his 55th birthday on Wednesday...

 

It wasn’t just about the magic of the FA Cup – instead, he was engulfed in a whole new enchanted world of fantasy football after being catapulted into the big time down West Ham way.

“From the moment I arrived at Upton Park, everything turned into the stuff that dreams are made of,” smiles Gary Strodder, looking back on his 615-game career that included spells at both West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion. “I’d broken into Lincoln City’s first team as a teenager and, although I was doing well and knew that teams were looking at me, I certainly hadn’t expected to make the jump from bottom division to top-flight in one leap. 

“On Tuesday, I was playing in front of 1,196 people against Torquay United at Sincil Bank and, just four days later, I was sitting in the Away dressing room at Chelsea waiting to make my West Ham debut at Stamford Bridge, where the crowd was 25,000-plus,” exclaims the former Hammers and Baggies central defender, recalling his £100,000 transfer to Upton Park in March 1987. “It was incredible and – 33 years on – it’s still virtually unheard of for someone to step up like that.

Gary Strodder
“Aged 22, it was surreal. I’d grown up watching Liam Brady and Phil Parkes on television and now I was walking down the tunnel with them, alongside the likes of Tony Cottee and Frank McAvennie, who’d just finished third in the league.

“John Lyall was very good towards me saying: ‘Go out there and do the job you’ve been doing at Lincoln. Just defend because I’ve got attacking players, who’ll score goals.’ I started all of our remaining 12 games.”

But with the Hammers sadly on the wane, Lyall’s teams flirted with relegation before finally succumbing to the dreaded drop during a 1988/89 campaign, which ironically saw ‘Strodds’ enjoy the best FA Cup run of his entire career, as the Irons reached the quarter-finals before losing out in a replay at Norwich City.

“By now, some of the older professionals were approaching the end of their careers, while McAvennie and Cottee had been tracked by bigger clubs,” continues the Menorca-based former Hammer, casting an eye towards the world’s oldest cup competition.

“I remember the third-round replay at Highbury, where Arsenal were top of the league while we were bottom. They battered us but Leroy Rosenior scored and we held on before then beating Swindon Town in a replay under the floodlights at the Boleyn Ground. Those midweek cup nights were amazing because the crowd always rocked the entire stadium.” 

Following the departures of Lyall and his successor, Lou Macari, Strodder found himself on the move in summer 1990, after 81 appearances in the Claret and Blue.

During a subsequent five-year stay at The Hawthorns, he helped West Bromwich Albion win promotion to the second tier following a 1993 Play-Off final victory engineered by Osvaldo Ardiles.

“Ossie was another legend, who I’d first seen on telly playing at the World Cup and he was renowned for his FA Cup exploits with Spurs, too,” nods Strodds. “His training sessions were incredible and his philosophy was: ‘If they’ve scored three, we’ll just have to get four!’ 

Back then, the no-nonsense centre-half kept the shackles on opposing strikers, but nowadays its cars that he keeps under lock and key. 

“Menorca Car Storage Plus does exactly what it says on the tin,” laughs the father-of-two. “Our business stores cars for clients in our warehouse. Seriously, I’m from the generation of footballers, who needed to carry on working once our careers ended because there weren’t great riches in the game. My wife Allie and myself tried different things but Menorca was our go-to holiday destination and it was always our dream to live here, although you won’t find me out on the golf course every day.

“I’ve got really great memories, wake up to blue skies and life’s good,” concludes Strodder. “If I’m totally honest, I’ve fallen out of love with the game a bit, but I still follow all my old teams!”

 

COVID-19 advice