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JOHN DILLON ON HIS BELOVED HAMMERS, EUROPEAN NIGHTS AND FACING ALBION

1 January 2019

Paul Hazlewood
John Dillon
Brighton & Hove Albion return on Wednesday to the London Stadium, the scene of their most convincing Premier League away win to date, a 3-0 victory back in October last year.
 
Previous Albion visits to West Ham, of course, were played at the London club’s atmospheric former home at Upton Park.
 
Evening Standard columnist John Dillon, formerly Football Correspondent of the Daily Mirror and Chief Sports Writer of the Daily Express, was asked to chronicle the Boleyn Ground’s 112-year history in book form, and the result was the much-praised Home of the Hammers.
 
“I had access to the Times archive, which is in East London, not far from the ground and the whole of humanity is in there, or a record of it,” he said. “So I was able to find all sorts of pictures and cuttings covering the whole history of Upton Park. If I say so myself, I think it’s the best book ever written about the club because it has a special fan’s flavour.
 
“The departure from the ground was emotional and had an extraordinary final night, which made for an extraordinary finish for the book, beating Manchester United 3-2. It had everything West Ham about it – we went 1-0 up, then 2-1 down and eventually won. And there was a bit of aggro, which wasn’t exactly unknown at Upton Park. It was the perfect finale. It had everything the place had been about, good and bad.
 
“There was a closing ceremony afterwards that was a bit tame and corporate but I walked to a pub called the Lord Stanley over towards Plaistow which has always been a supporters’ pub and there were hordes of people heading there at quarter to one in the morning.
 
The police allowed all the boozers to stay open until about half past two. I came out and walked back towards the ground, along one of those typical narrow East London Victorian terraced streets.
 
“The floodlights were still on, and the cars were making that noise driving on the wet tarmac that you hear in American films. I had had a few and I was emotional anyway but it really was framed in my mind like the final scene of a movie. You couldn’t have dreamed it up. I have never been back near that part of town but I have always got that final sight as my last memory.”
 
 
Other favourite memories include great European nights. “In common with most people of my middle-aged generation, I remember two things, and they are very West Ham.
 
There was the 1986 Cup-Winners’ Cup semi-final second leg against Eintracht Frankfurt. They’d lost the first leg in Germany and came back and won 3-1. Everyone bunked off school to get there early and queue to get in.
 
“There were 39,000 in there and it felt as if it was bursting at the seams. Trevor Brooking scored one of those goals where he would sweep across the pitch before shooting. Typically, we lost the final 4-2 to Anderlecht. But it was our second European semi-final in 11 years, which is unthinkable now.
 
“The flip side was a 4-1 home defeat by Dinamo Tbilisi in 1981. Teams from the old Soviet Union were renowned for fast, sweeping counter-attacking football and it’s one of only a couple of occasions anywhere when I’ve seen a home crowd applaud the opposition off.
 
They were that good. It’s a long time since it existed but there was an appreciation of good football at West Ham.
 
“There was the West Ham way. I discovered when I was researching the book that they played a lot of friendlies in the 1950s against foreign opposition like AC Milan, even though Wolves were more famous for it. People still talk about the 1965 Cup Winners’ Cup final victory against TSV Munich as one of the finest performances by an English team. That was the West Ham way.”
 
 
The identity of his favourite player might surprise some. “For my generation, Billy Bonds was more the all-time hero than Bobby Moore even though the club pushes the Bobby Moore thing because there is marketing value in it,” he said.
 
“But a lot of people would put Bonzo above him. He was a tough-tackling full back but he could also be a marauding midfield player and that was integral to the way they played. And if you grow up watching Trevor Brooking and Alan Devonshire, you are going to have an appreciation of what players like that can do.” 
 
 
 
Matters turned back to the present day, and despite the Hammers’ inconsistent results in their first two seasons at the London Stadium, John feels there are reasons to be optimistic going forward.
 
“The last few weeks have been good, but Man City have scored 17 goals there in four visits with one in reply. Liverpool have scored four there twice, Arsenal five. Tottenham have won there, Watford have scored four there. Brighton scored three of course as I’m sure every fan knows and that was a very good win. They got knocked out of Europe twice in the preliminary round by the same team. None of that has helped the bedding-in process.”
 
"They’ve won a comfortable run of fixtures that you’d expect a team that spent the money they have to win, but something does seem to be coming together and they’re playing some nice football,” John says.
 
“Felipe Anderson seems to have settled down. It’s a shame they’ve lost [Andriy] Yarmolenko to injury, but they get Manuel Lanzini back soon, so there’s a lot of attacking talent in the team. Pellegrini likes to play attacking football, so he seems a reasonable fit for them. He has won the title and we’ve not had that before. Perhaps the fans would like someone more demonstrative but you can’t have everything.” 
 
 
Chris Hughton’s men are likely to face a stiffer test in Stratford than they did last season, although they go into the match with three successive victories against the Hammers to their name. “Chris is a very smart manager and of course he played for West Ham towards the end of his career and he’s a local boy, born in Forest Gate,” John says. “Brighton have been impressive in the Premier League although they have their ups and downs as any club will who have been out of the top flight for so long.
 
“There is huge power in the Premier League but they have acquitted themselves well. They have a go and don’t seem afraid. West Ham are impossible to predict as usual. But they have been on a good run of late and that three-game winning run for Brighton against West Ham has to come to an end sometime, doesn’t it?”
 
Home Of The Hammers by John Dillon (Pitch Publishing, £24.99).

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