My West Ham Scrapbook - Alan Devonshire
Former West Ham United and England winger Alan Devonshire, who celebrates his 65th birthday today (Tuesday), picks out his favourite memories of his time in Claret and Blue...
I’d been earning £80 per week driving fork-lift trucks at Hoover’s factory in Perivale, while playing part-time for Southall, when West Ham United signed me for £5,000 on 23 September 1976.
Within two days, I had played for the reserves and, one week later, got pulled across to train with Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking and Frank Lampard. On 27 October 1976, I made my first-team debut against Queen’s Park Rangers in a League Cup fourth round tie.
I think I’d impressed those senior players but had no idea that I was going to be involved when John Lyall told me to come along to get used to the Boleyn Ground atmosphere. He’d got injuries and those older ones had told him: ‘Chuck the kid in.’ At 6.45pm, John said: ‘You’re playing!’
Waiting in the tunnel, the noise from the 24,565 crowd made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up but, unfortunately, goals from Stan Bowles and Dave Clement would eventually give QPR a 2-0 win.
Straight from kick-off, though, Frank launched Dave Thomas – who had to go off -– onto the cinders, while I didn’t touch the ball during my opening ten minutes but as soon as I did, Eddie Kelly raked my thigh. Welcome to professional football...
SAFE AND SOUND
When I’d made my debut in October 1976, we were second from bottom of the First Division table with just one win. And by the time Manchester United arrived at Upton Park for the final game of the 1976/77 season, we were still only fourth from bottom and had to win on a Monday night to guarantee safety.
United were playing Liverpool in the FA Cup final that weekend but they still put out a strong team.
As ever, the West Ham fans in the all-ticket, sell-out crowd created a fantastic atmosphere but we made things really difficult by getting off to a terrible start, when Gordon Hill put United ahead inside the opening 30 seconds.
Thankfully, Frank Lampard equalised with a thunderbolt and, as half-time approached, we got a penalty, which Geoff Pike blasted over!
Just after the break, though, ‘Pikey’ made up for it with a brilliant goal and, although Pop Robson then made it 3-1, Stuart Pearson – who would join us three seasons later – pulled one back to set those nerves jangling. But ‘Pop’ made it 4-2 and we were safe, meaning that I ended my first season at West Ham still in the top flight.
ELLAND ROAD ECSTACY
We were the only second-tier team left in the last four of the 1979/80 FA Cup, so everyone wanted to play us in the semi-finals.
But we were a good team and didn’t have any fear when we met Everton at Villa Park 41 years ago this month.
I’d never given a penalty away in my entire career but the referee reckoned I’d pushed Andy King and Brian Kidd scored from the spot. Thankfully, Stuart Pearson equalised and, going to Elland Road for the replay, we already felt aggrieved.
I could run and run and my man-marker, John Gidman, didn’t get anywhere near me all night.
It had ended goalless after 90 minutes but, four minutes into extra-time, I went on another dash down the left before cutting in and playing a one-two with Stuart. Kevin Ratcliffe tried to slide me but keeping my balance, I bent the ball into the net. A quality goal and the most important of the 32 that I scored in my 447 games for West Ham.
Although Bob Latchford equalised, Frank Lampard famously sent us to Wembley with his unforgettable 118th-minute diving header.
What a night! Over 40 years on, people still come up and say: ‘I was there at Elland Road that night you scored that goal.’
GOING TO THE DOGS
Living in Ealing as a boy, it had always been my dream to play in an FA Cup final at Wembley.
Back in those days, it was the biggest game of the season with all the build-up, the millions watching on television around the world and the 100,000 fans in the stadium.
Having beaten Everton in that semi-final replay, we were not worried about playing Arsenal of the First Division in the final. In fact, John allowed ten of us go to Wembley dogs the night before that 1980 final and it was surreal looking beyond the greyhound track towards the pitch knowing that we’d be playing there the following afternoon!
That was good man-management because John took our minds off the final but, personally, I didn’t feel that I played that well. I’d been performing at a good level all season but maybe I’d worn myself out and it was a game too far?
People always remind me that it was my left-wing cross that led to Trevor Brooking’s header, though, and it was an unbelievable feeling to beat Arsenal. It’s fantastic to have an FA Cup winner’s medal.
We had been 2-0 up in the League Cup semi-final first-leg at Highfield Road, but Coventry City scored three goals in the final 18 minutes to win 3-2 and set up a thrilling return at Upton Park.
I have so many memories of so many great matches under those famous floodlights but this one really stands out for me because, yet again, the West Ham fans in a crowd of 36,551 created a very special atmosphere.
After that disappointing end to the first-leg, they knew we needed to win by two goals and they really drove us on that night.
Paul Goddard pulled us level on aggregate on the hour-mark before Jimmy Neighbour got our second goal in the closing moments.
Jimmy was a nice lad, who sadly passed away 12 years ago this week, but he will always be remembered for sending us into our second final inside ten months. Going back to Wembley to face Liverpool was absolutely brilliant for everyone at the Club.
The FA Cup third round tie against Wigan Athletic on 7 January 1984 left me with the worst memory of my career.
It’s my biggest regret in football – and life – that I suffered such a devastating knee injury after just 15 minutes of that tie. Aged 27, I was playing the most consistent football of my career. I was rapid, really pleased with the levels I was achieving and, game-by-game, becoming a better player.
Then ‘Bang!’, one reckless challenge smashed my knee and it cost me so dearly. I’d won eight England caps – was playing in the Euro 84 qualifiers – but never made another international appearance.
I was out for 20 months and there were lots of down moments in my life during that time. I had to totally change my game because ligament damage meant limited mobility. I lost pace, couldn’t sprint properly and, compared to where I’d been, could only operate at 75%.
Supporters still tell me that I was still a big part of the record-breaking 1985/86 season – when we came third – but I just never felt the same.
The West Ham fans were always brilliant because they understood what I could and couldn’t do and they saw that I still gave my best in every game.
John Lyall later told me that virtually every big club in Europe had enquired about me at some stage but there’s no way that I’d have ever thought about leaving for a few extra quid. I loved everything about playing for West Ham United.