Angelo Ogbonna

Farewell 'Uncle Ange'

It is nine years since Angelo Ogbonna became a West Ham United player.

Back in July 2015, though, neither the player nor his new Club could have imagined that their relationship would grow over nearly a decade of incredible highs and lows.

For the Italian defender, who signed after winning back-to-back titles and a Coppa Italia and reaching a UEFA Champions League final with Juventus, swapping Turin for London initially proved testing, as both he and his wife Laura found it difficult to settle.

It did not help that the then 27-year-old and his partner did not speak fluent English on their arrival, nor that Ogbonna scored an own-goal on his debut in an ill-fated UEFA Europa League third qualifying round tie against Astra Giurgiu.

Thankfully it was the 2-0 Premier League win at Arsenal that followed that proved to be a portent of the positive times to come, though, rather than that inauspicious bow against the now-defunct Romanian side.

Nine years on and the Ogbonnas happily call the English capital home, and both they and their two children are fully fledged members of the West Ham family.

In football, the 36-year-old has become a true cult hero among the Claret and Blue Army for his strong play, leadership qualities and amiable character that have seen the veteran christened ‘Uncle Ange’ by his teammates, coaches and supporters alike in recent years.

Ogbonna marked his debut campaign with an iconic last-gasp goal to defeat Liverpool in the FA Cup – West Ham’s final victory in the competition at the Boleyn Ground – before starting the historic farewell Premier League victory over Manchester United.

After appearing for Italy at UEFA Euro 2016 and helping the Club steer through the choppy waters of that summer’s move to London Stadium, Ogbonna then rose highest again at the Home of Football, scoring another headed winner in West Ham’s 3-2 EFL Cup victory over Wembley Stadium tenants Tottenham Hotspur in October 2017.

In August 2019, he wore the captain’s armband for the first time, in a 1-1 Premier League draw at Brighton & Hove Albion, and he was a nominated vice-captain for the second half of his stay in east London.

While competition for places and injuries meant Ogbonna made more than 30 Premier League appearances just twice in nine seasons, the Italian never complained, and was always ready to support his teammates, whether available or not.

That quality played a huge part in helping the Hammers not just to cope with the COVID pandemic, but to thrive on the pitch while the stands around them were empty.

Ogbonna started all seven games in July 2020 as the Irons steered clear of relegation, including vital wins over Chelsea, Norwich City and Watford, then netted big goals in important wins over Aston Villa and Leeds United as David Moyes’ side secured sixth place and European qualification in 2020/21.

As he moved into his mid-thirties, Ogbonna continued to impress, only for a serious knee injury suffered in a Premier League win over Liverpool in November 2021 to rule him out of West Ham’s run to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals.

Having worked hard to return to fitness, the Cassino-born player was back for the start of the 2022/23 campaign and captained the team for UEFA Europa Conference League group-stage wins over Anderlecht, Silkeborg and FCSB. 

Ogbonna started again in knockout ties against AEK Larnaca and Gent, before being introduced as a substitute late in West Ham’s historic win over Fiorentina in the final in Prague – a victory he celebrated jubilantly on the pitch with his wife, children, mother and sisters, raising the trophy high above his head in pride and delight.

Into his 35th year and ninth season, Ogbonna captained the side twice in the Europa League group stage in autumn 2023, before making his final European appearance for the Club in the quarter-final second leg draw with Bayer Leverkusen.

And, with teammates absent, he enjoyed one final run in the side as the Premier League season approached its conclusion, most notably leading the Irons to a 2-0 win at Arsenal, and finished his career in Claret and Blue with 249 appearances, 13 goals and myriad memories, on and off the pitch.

When he was not playing, Ogbonna was always a willing supporter of the Club’s community work, attending Foundation events across east London and beyond and meeting fans young and old, spreading messages of positivity and love wherever he went.

As he prepares for the next stage in his career and life, ‘Uncle Ange’ knows he will always be a beloved member of the West Ham United family.