West Ham’s Academy tribute is fitting
18:00 04 February 2016
Graduate Noble shines as old boys are celebrated
West Ham paid a special tribute to the work of their fabled Academy at Tuesday’s Premier League clash with Aston Villa – on a night when graduate Mark Noble approached his 350th first-team appearance.
And it was quite fitting that captain Noble should help to make the breakthrough as his superb diagonal pass after 57 minutes, found Michail Antonio – who grew up a Hammers fan – to head past Mark Bunn.
A selected group of former players who had come through the ranks had been introduced to the crowd during the half-time interval, including Steve Potts – who made over 500 appearances in a claret and blue shirt and is now among the academy coaching staff – and Tony Cottee, who is among the club’s greatest goalscorers.
Kevin Lock, a member of the 1975 FA Cup winning squad, was among the party and when asked what made the Academy so special said: “Just the way the club was run. From an early age we were taught good habits.”
Former Academy chief Tony Carr MBE, now an ambassador for the club, added: “We’re a welcoming, family-orientated club and we give players a chance.
“And for anyone who works in youth development, the pinnacle is seeing a young player walk out with the first team.”
Carr oversaw the progression of many great names during his lengthy tenure, including the 1999 FA Youth Cup success, but could not pick a favourite, adding: “We had a very good team – Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Richard Garcia, Stephen Bywater in goal.
“To beat Coventry 9-0 over the two legs, it’s never been repeated. It was a fantastic night and I can remember sitting in the dugout with Peter Brabrook and the crowd were streaming in. The ground was full in 15 minutes.
“But we had some great players, all with their own qualities, like Tony Cottee, Jermain Defoe, Rio (Ferdinand) and Frank (Lampard). Now we’ve got Reece Oxford, who has already had a taste and has got more to come, and Josh Cullen, who is a very good young player.”
Upton Park-born Paul Heffer came out of the academy and returned to coach youngsters himself as long-serving assistant director and said: “We developed some great players like Rio, Frank and Michael. We could’ve released all three of those for one reason or another, but were given time to develop them and for them to find themselves as players.”
The matchday programme also included special content on the academy, highlighting the history of Ted Fenton’s 1950s guide of ‘Young Soccer with the Hammers’ and told how the class of 1959, beaten in the FA Youth Cup final, won the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup with seven England youth internationals and saw nine go on to the first team – Bobby Moore (647 appearances), Geoff Hurst (503), Jack Burkett (185), Eddie Bovington (184) and Tony Scott (97) among them.
A total of 145 graduates were named at the foot of pages in the programme, from Paul Allen to Bobby Zamora, and Noble was full of praise for the academy.
“I still look back at those days, travelling on the bus to games on a Saturday morning as the best days of my football career, for sure,” he said. “The biggest things were having friends in the Academy from my school, Royal Docks. It felt right. I could sit and talk about the Academy all day.”