Evening Standard correspondent Ken Dyer catches up with West Ham United legend Sir Trevor Brooking at the start of an exciting season..
As a member of the media I was fortunate enough to attend a few matches at London Stadium last season.
It was truly heartening to witness some of the football produced by this West Ham United team and an added bonus was being able listen in on some of the audio out there on the pitch. With the stadium otherwise empty, though, it was inevitably a soulless experience.
Hopefully that experience is over, and never have I looked forward more to seeing a stadium packed full of humanity than I have done this month.
Hammers fans everywhere have been basking in the afterglow of a terrific season and are now full of anticipation as they face the prospect of European football.
We were all suitably impressed, mostly from afar, at the squad’s success – none more so than a man whose name proudly adorns one of the now thankfully full stands, Sir Trevor Brooking.
He is as optimistic as anyone when he talks about what lies ahead – but with a touch of realism.
I would say that David Moyes has got this West Ham team playing as well as I’ve seen, footballing wise, for a long time, perhaps 30 years or more
Sir Trevor Brooking
“When I played, we could beat anyone on our day, but lose to anyone on another,” said Sir Trevor. “For the 19 years I was at the Club we did play some great football, although we didn’t have the depth of squad to compete at the top.
“From what I saw last season and even on the opening Sunday against Newcastle, I would say that David Moyes has got this West Ham team playing as well as I’ve seen, footballing wise, for a long time, perhaps 30 years or more.
“We should be grateful for that change in the confidence and the quality in the squad and team.
“We should now try to help them even if they suffer a bad result, to cheer them on and lift them, which I think the fans will do because they’ve been away from it for a long time.
“We have to try and maintain that momentum which won’t be easy because the Premier League is becoming stronger. There is the top four and then, from five to even, there isn’t that much difference. They are all good clubs who want to take the next step.”
Sir Trevor is someone who also well understands the joys and pitfalls of playing in Europe. He was part of the West Ham team which reached the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1976 – and the third round of the same competition in 1981.
“In 1976 we reached the final but perhaps a little unluckily we played the Belgium team Anderlecht on their home pitch. We lost 4-2 and they were a good team back then,” he recalled.
“In 1981 we were again unfortunate because we were drawn against Dynamo Tbilisi, now part of Georgia – and because of circumstances, with them being part of the Soviet Union and footage being hard to come by – we hadn’t had the opportunity of seeing them play.
“We lost 4-1 at home and they had some wonderful players. We did beat them 1-0 in the second leg but the tie was effectively was over after that first game.
“My memory of those two seasons in Europe was that they were both really good experiences and there was no doubt that, the way first Ron Greenwood and then John Lyall had us playing, we could deal with European football.
“With the way West Ham have been playing over the last year, I am also confident our style will be OK for Europe.
“David Moyes’ main concern will be how to manage the extra games with his squad and still have the same sort of success in the Premier League that the team enjoyed last season.
“We did qualify for the qualifying rounds of the Europa League under Slaven Bilic in 2016, but were knocked out early on so it didn’t have a major impact on squad rotation.
“The first thing this season is to see what the draw throws up and then assess whether we are in a group which is likely to be really tight or perhaps presents the opportunity to get through without playing having to play your top team in every game, which could be draining.
“I think we will have to see where we are early in September – what we’ve achieved in our first four Premier League games – and what the squad looks like.
“It’s going to be tricky for the fans because they will want the team to be winning every game but I think David will look at things during the first international break and assess where we are, before the Europa League starts in mid-September.
“He is a very experienced manager. Like the fans, he will want to win every game, but he has the experience and knowledge to know what works and what doesn’t.
“I do think that September and October will be crucial for the remainder of the season and it is important to make that point to the fans.
“We must trust and support whatever David decides and what route he decides to take.
“It’s just a little bit of realism really – what are the priorities? Can we keep all the fires burning?”
Sir Trevor will be in his usual seat in the West Stand today and he is naturally glad to be back.
“What we saw last season is that this team can play and compete with the best in the Premier League,” he said. “We did so well last season but without the fans. Now they are back and we have the potential to generate that excitement again, with what that means to the Club, in terms of the commercial side.
“The big question is that can this squad, with the addition of one or two, do as well with the possibility of ten extra games or more? That is the unknown.”