Thursday 11 Nov
Updated Thursday 11 Nov 10:00
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My West Ham Scrapbook - Pop Robson

Pop Robson

 

Striker Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson started his career in his native North East before enjoying two spells with West Ham United in the 1970s, scoring 104 goals in 254 outings in Claret and Blue.

As he celebrates his 76th birthday, Robson shares his favourite Hammers moments with Steve Blowers...

 

POPPING ONTO RON’S RADAR

Things had been going well for me at Newcastle United, where I ended up scoring 97 goals in 244 games during my seven years on Tyneside. But they still wouldn’t guarantee a Testimonial in my next contract.

In September 1970, we played West Ham at Upton Park and I think that’s when I first came into Ron Greenwood’s thoughts and onto his radar. We won 2-0 and I netted twice.

Just before half-time, I took a corner over by the Chicken Run and, when Wyn Davies’ attempt was cleared back out to me, I wellied a spinning, angled volley back over Peter Grotier. It was a cracking shot, which won the Match of the Day Goal of the Month award. Then, just after half-time, I nodded home Wyn’s cross.

 

Bryan 'Pop' Robson signs for the Hammers from Newcastle

 

That performance put me on the map down in London. After Christmas, I’d just scored the winner against Tottenham Hotspur at St James’ Park and was told someone was waiting in the Manager’s Office. I’d expected to see Spurs’ manager, Bill Nicholson, but Ron was sitting there. Bill had let him travel up on their team coach!

I didn’t need too much persuading to move South. I’d loved watching West Ham with their one and two-touch football and was really excited about being part of a squad containing Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and my boyhood hero Jimmy Greaves, while Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking and Frank Lampard were establishing themselves, too. There was a big, big attraction about coming to the Hammers.

 

FOREST FELLED

Geoff Hurst really helped me settle into London and we hit it off straight away on the pitch, too.

Having signed for a club-record £120,000, I made my Hammers debut against Nottingham Forest on 24 February 1971.

I’d always enjoyed coming to Upton Park and my father-in-law, Lennie, suggested: ‘First game? Put yourself about, tackle hard and play at high tempo.’

Everyone got excited when I put the ball into the net early on, however it was disallowed for offside. But Geoff scored seconds later and, then in the 56th minute, my moment came, when I headed in Harry Redknapp’s cross.

Greavesie waited for the celebrations to die down before jogging over and saying: ‘I’m so pleased for you, well done!’ He’d spent his life scoring for fun and that meant so much.

 

Pop Robson scores against Nottingham Forest

 

Scoring on my home debut took the pressure off and that goal – the first of the 104 that I netted in my 254 appearances for the Hammers – set the ball rolling.

People ask questions when you’ve come for big money and haven’t started to find the net but they couldn’t say anything now.

Despite scoring, I didn’t rest on my laurels and, remembering Lennie’s words, still carried on running around like a lunatic. I sprinted towards the Chicken Run to take a throw-in and a loud Cockney voice boomed: ‘C’mon Robson – liven it up son, you’re at West Ham now!’

I’d been used to the Geordies but now I needed to dance to the East End’s tune.

 

BLUNTING THE BLADES

We played ten games during the 1971/72 League Cup run, which included four eventful semi-final ties against eventual winners, Stoke City.

Trevor Brooking was coming on leaps and bounds, while Billy Bonds – a great athlete – was making things happen everywhere. They were my two favourites and it was brilliant linking up with them both.

We’d knocked out Leeds United and Liverpool along the way but the game that sticks out most was our quarter-final against Sheffield United.

Pop Robson scored a hat-trick against Sheffield UnitedThey’d just been promoted and were making a name for themselves after enjoying a great start to the season. With Trevor Hockey charging around midfield making some really aggressive tackles, Ron Greenwood had pushed me forward, telling our defence to by-pass midfield.

That plan worked an absolute treat. I put us 2-0 ahead with two goals inside the opening 35 minutes before Clyde Best netted twice with two screamers. Then, with five minutes left, Trevor set me up for my hat-trick.

There were no video recorders in those days and, after the match, my father-in-law raced us home to watch the 5-0 victory all over again on Sportsnight.

We’d played really well to set up those semi-final battles with Stoke but despite winning the first-leg 2-1 at the Victoria Ground, Stoke levelled on aggregate with a 1-0 victory back at Upton Park, before eventually beating us 3-2 in the second replay at Old Trafford.

That was a real downer because we’d been getting really excited at the thought of possibly winning the cup that year.

 

DOUBLE DIAMOND

The 1972/73 season would prove to be the most prolific of my career. Ever-present, I weighed in with 28 goals in 46 appearances.

And talking of weight, I remember Clyde Best – the previous season’s top-scorer – going home to Bermuda to marry Alfreida and coming back two-stone heavier than when he left!

After finishing the previous season in 14th spot, I didn’t come into the new campaign with too many expectations but maybe I’d set down an early marker by scoring twice against Leicester City and Liverpool?

In early September, Manchester United, complete with their stars – George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law – came to Upton Park, where the Hammers fans always looked forward to our games against them because there were always plenty of goals around.

 

Pop Robson

 

Bestie opened the scoring before Trevor Brooking set me up for an equaliser and, after Ian Storey-Moore put United back in front, a late John McDowell cross enabled me to level it at 2-2.

Overall, I would score eight doubles that season but despite being under the London spotlight, getting great write-ups and a really good press, sadly, there was no international recognition, which is tough when you look at some players who’ve played for their country down the years.

Managers have their favourites and as Billy Bonds unfortunately discovered, too, that England cap just never came along. And it seemed like a first league hat-trick wasn’t coming my way either...

 

GOOD FRIDAY

Our Easter schedule was tough – we’d play Good Friday, Saturday and, yet again, on Easter Monday! With eleven players and one substitute, there was no squad rotation, we just got on with it.

I loved those Good Friday matches – kicking-off at 11am, we’d get the afternoon off to recover for the following day. Despite starting early, our crowd always created special atmospheres and, in April 1973, we faced Southampton at the Boleyn Ground, where I’d just been voted Hammer of the Year.

Pat Holland and Frank Lampard both sent over perfect crosses for me to put us 2-0 ahead inside 20 minutes, before the Saints equalised, ahead of Trevor Brooking setting me up for my third goal midway through the second half. We ended up winning 4-3 and, after those eight doubles, I’d finally got myself a league hat-trick for West Ham United!

 

Pop Robson scored a League hat-trick

 

On 28 goals for the season – with three games remaining – I set myself a target to hit the 30-mark, however it just wasn’t to be. But that tally was still enough for me to win the Golden Boot – an achievement which still makes me very proud.

Although things were going well on the pitch, as a family, we just couldn’t settle in London and I was then laid low by a virus and struggled for fitness.
Sunderland showed interest and, after scoring 53 times in 139 games for West Ham, we moved home to the North East in July 1974.

I’ll always regret that decision, especially as the Hammers would win the FA Cup a few months later!

 

ROBSON RETURNS

When Sunderland came down to Upton Park in September 1976, John Lyall said: ‘Pop, why not come back?’

Although West Ham were struggling, it felt the right thing to do and, with Trevor and Billy still there,  nobody needed to tell me what I was coming back to.

Unfortunately, that 1976/77 season didn’t go well and, when Manchester United arrived for the final game of the campaign, we needed to win on a Monday night to guarantee safety.

Ron Greenwood and John Lyall welcome Pop Robson back to the ClubAlthough United were playing Liverpool in the FA Cup final that weekend, they put out a strong team and we fell behind inside 30 seconds.

Thankfully, Frank Lampard equalised with a thunderbolt before Geoff Pike blasted his penalty over the bar.

After the break, though, young Pikey made up for that miss with a brilliant goal.
Previously, I’d had some tough battles with Martin Buchan, but with Saturday’s final looming, he didn’t lay a glove on me all night and I made it 3-1. Future Hammer Stuart Pearson pulled one back to set our nerves jangling amongst the sell-out crowd but I scored again to seal the 4-2 victory that secured safety.

I went on to net 51 goals in 115 matches during that second, three-season spell but, again, London felt too big to bring up our kids and we returned to Sunderland in 1979, a year before West Ham beat Arsenal at Wembley.

Celebrating my 76th birthday today, I still live in Northumberland and, looking back, should’ve stayed but, then again, the Hammers were always delighted to see me leave because it meant they’d win the FA Cup!

 

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