One day in May

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Four decades ago this weekend, Second Division West Ham United took on formidable London rivals in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. Me, my dad and my cousin Wayne weren’t there – Alan Devonshire was…

Arsenal 0-1 West Ham United

Wow, forty years ago! Where has the time gone?

So what are my memories of the day’s leading up to May 10, 1980? 

I was eleven-years-old, Dexy’s Midnight Runners were top of the charts with Gino, my first year at senior school was going disastrously and adding insult to injury my beloved Southend United found themselves relegated to the Fourth Division following a painful campaign with saw the Shrimpers win just fourteen of their forty-six league matches and embarrassingly slip out of the FA Cup to non-league Harlow Town.

Elsewhere in the Jeeves household, different emotions were surfacing. Dad, a huge West Ham supporter, was a little more agitated than usual, that’s for sure. The Hammers bid for a return to the First Division had stuttered for a second successive season, while a potential trip to Wembley and a League Cup final place was concluded emphatically by Brian Clough and his Nottingham Forest side in a quarter-final replay.

Earlier in that particular competition, the Hammers had been pulled out with Southend in a plumb third-round tie. A 1-1 draw at the Boleyn Ground followed by a goalless encounter at Roots Hall prompted dads blood pressure to simmer as this particular cheeky adolescent taunted him further. However, West Ham handed the Blues a 5-1 pasting when the game was replayed for a second time. Yours truly was put in my place and from that moment our favourite team’s respective campaigns went in vastly different directions.

Despite finding themselves slightly short in the Second Division – six disappointing home defeats ultimately proving decisive – the FA Cup offered West Ham solace and a sign that John Lyall was developing a useful side.

First Division West Bromwich Albion had been dispatched via a third-round reply, while another top-flight side, Aston Villa, toppled in the last eight thanks to a last-gasp penalty from Ray Stewart. Lyall’s team were beginning to build up a head of steam and I sensed a cocktail of excitement and anguish overtaking the old man.

If dads emotions were stirring, what must have it been like on the inside? Wide midfielder, Alan Devonshire, had joined West Ham from non-league Southall in 1976 for a minimal fee of £5,000 and had established himself as a firm favourite with the Upton Park crowd during lean times: “We fancied our chances,” he told me. 

“We’d beaten Aston Villa in the quarter-final and had played well. There was Liverpool, Arsenal, Everton and ourselves in the last four. 

“I remember sitting at the training ground at Chadwell Heath, waiting for the draw. One o’clock it came on – I suppose everyone else wanted to play us. We ended up with Everton, who were probably ranked third of the four. But we really fancied our chances.”

Brian Kidd’s penalty appeared to have ended the Hammers dreams at Villa Park. However, following Kidd’s dismissal following a skirmish with Stewart, Stuart Pearson pounced from close range to ensure another opportunity and West Ham’s sixth replay of what was becoming a lengthy season.

Devonshire certainly believed that West Ham’s cup exploits proved costly as regards their promotion aspirations: “ Yes, definitely. I think that’s probably what tailed off our season a little bit. Especially as we had got to the quarter-final of the League Cup as well.

“I don’t think we meant to take our eye off the league, but the carrot of getting to Wembley – We knew we had a decent side – but we concentrated on that too much, probably.”

The following Wednesday at Elland Road, Devonshire exchanged passes with Pearson and cooly slotted the Hammers into an extra-time lead. Bob Latchford hit back with near post flick for the Toffees, but the Merseysiders joy was to be short-lived as Frank Lampard wrote himself into East End folklore, diving to head his first goal in a year and subsequently celebrating memorably with the corner-flag – West Ham were in the final.

“Although we’d needed a replay to see off Everton, we still had to wait and see who we would play in the final because Liverpool and Arsenal needed three games before the Gunners got through,” Devonshire added. 

“But to us, it didn’t really matter who we were going to play. We were there, and for me, it was the first time I’d been to a cup final in my life.” 

At the time, my cousin, Wayne, was living in Boleyn Road, literally a stone’s throw from Upton Park: “I remember the days leading up to the final,” he told me. “My dad told me stories about previous finals. Our house, like so many surrounding the ground, was decked out in claret and blue, while at school you could feel the excitement. It was literally all we talked about.”

As for West Ham, they couldn’t wait to get to the home of football: “We stayed in a hotel on the Friday,” Devonshire recalled. 

“We got their late afternoon and had some lunch. Then we actually went to Wembley that night for the Greyhound racing. Can you imagine it, we are in the stadium the night before the game, watching the dogs.

“Phil Parkes didn’t go to the dog racing. I remember telling him to give me twenty quid and I’d pick a few winners for him. I think I gave him sixty quid back. We had a few winners.

“There was no drinking, we just went there to chill out. A lot of the lads liked a bet and often went to the dogs if we were staying away somewhere. I think there was only David Cross, Parkesy and Rob Jenkins, the physio, who stayed back at the hotel. Everyone else went to Wembley on the Friday night.”

West Ham’s cup final opponents, Arsenal, were red hot favourites. They had finished fourth in the First Division and were appearing in their third successive final, losing to Ipswich in 1978 before seeing off Manchester United a year later in what many regards as one of the most dramatic in the history of the competition.

But despite finishing just over a full division apart in terms of league places, the Gunners freat on the day proved to be minimal: “They never really threatened us,” Devonshire explained. 

“I remember inspecting the pitch a couple of hours before the game and chatting with the Arsenal lads. You could tell they were very tense and perhaps feeling the pressure. 

“That was surprising because they’d been in the previous two finals, whereas being the underdogs, we didn’t feel any pressure at all. We just thought we could go out there and give it a go.

“We knew we had a good side. Inwardly, we fancied it. Losing never entered our thoughts.”

Although far for a classic, the showpiece final was crystallised from a West Ham perspective by Trevor Brooking’s thirteenth-minute heder.  

“I remember the goal like it was yesterday,” Devonshire enthused.

“It was a really hot day, such a hot day. I think it was around 80-odd degrees and a lot hotter pitchside because we were in the bowl of Wembley. 

“The ball went into Trevor Brooking on the halfway line – he gave the ball to Stuart Pearson and then on to me on the left. I attacked Pat Rice and Brian Talbot, got to the byline and whipped it over. 

“I know Pat Jennings got his fingertips to it – David Cross had a shot blocked by Willie Young, then Stuart sent a shot back in and Trevor scored – Delighted! Delighted to get such a good start to the game, but to be fair, we were comfortable for the whole game.”

While the West Ham players gleefully acknowledged their early breakthrough, supporters inside the stadium as well as back home celebrated wildly, including the middle-aged bloke sat next to me on the sofa and Waye, forty miles up the road. It had all been too easy, but while the scoreline remained 1-0, there was always the chance Arsenal could spring into life and retrieve the situation. Another Hammers goal would certainly kill it and with time running out, seventeen-year-old, Paul Allen, burst clear of a weary Gunners backline. But just as the baby-faced midfielder looked set to seal the contest, Willie Young, cynically clipped his heels – receiving a yellow card for his troubles but keeping the North Londoners heads above water, albeit briefly.

Surprisingly, adding a second goal wasn’t on Devonshire’s mind: “When Paul skipped through, I though go on, take it into the corner flag and kill some time. Willie Young got a booking but Paul always says to me “I would have missed it, anyway.” – we’ll never know. The occasion was great for the kid. Seventeen – I remember him crying at the end of the game.    

“But listen, we played well on the day. It wasn’t the best of games, largely due to the heat. The last ten or fifteen minutes of the game, everyone was running on empty – it was that hot!

“We’d done a job. John Lyall changed the system before kick-off and it worked.”

Referee George Courtney brought the curtain down shortly after that final act. Celebrations began in earnest at Wembley, as well as right across East London. West Ham had won the cup five years earlier, beating their legendary former skipper, Bobby Moore, and Fulham by two unanswered Alan Taylor goals. But this time was perhaps even more special. The overwhelming underdogs had written another magical chapter in the history of the world oldest, and greatest, cup competition. To this day, they remain the last West Ham side to lift a trophy of note, an achievement yet to be replicated by another side from the below the top tier of the English game.

The triumph and aftermath weren’t lost on Devonshire: “Winning at Wembley Stadium and taking the cup around afterwards was was absolutely brilliant. But the day after at East Ham Town Hall, that blew me away.

“I think there was around a quarter of a million people there. Going from Upton Park to the Town Hall on the open-topped bus was slow because of the volume of people. They were hanging out of windows, waving at us. They were all there, doing anything to get a look at us because we’d achieved something so special for them.

“It was just unbelievable. All you could see for miles was a load of heads everywhere. It was an amazing day which has probably stuck with me more so than the game itself. To give those fans that pleasure – you could tell how happy they were – It was a special feeling

“Best day of my footballing life? Yes, without a doubt!”

Back in Boleyn Road, life began returning to normal. However, there was to be a twist: “Dad had won a sizable bet on West Ham pulling off a shock, but hadn’t told any of the family,” Wayne recalled.

“I can’t remember how much it was but he’d hidden the wedge of money in a wallet under the edge of the bedroom carpet. Mum was doing the hoovering and discovered a bulge in the floor. On closer inspection, she found his winnings and after confronting him about it was he forced to take us all away on holiday. We had a great time. When you speak to Dev make sure to thank him for our week in Camber Sands.”

Arsenal: Pat Jennings, Pat Rice (Capt), David O’Leary, Willie Young, Liam Brady, John Devine (Sammy Nelson 61′), David Price, Graham Rix, Brian Talbot, Frank Stapleton, Alan Sunderland 

West Ham United: Phil Parkes, Ray Stewart, Alvin Martin, Billy Bonds (Capt), Frank Lampard, Paul Allen, Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Geoff Pike, David Cross, Stuart Pearson Sub not used: Paul Brush

Referee: George Courtney

Linesman (red flag): Alan Robinson

Linesman (yellow flag): John Byles

Reserve Linesman: J.J. Cunningham 

Attendance: 100,000

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Brian Jeeves

Email: [email protected]