The 2017/18 season celebrates 25 years of the Premier League. To mark the occasion we’ll be taking a look at some of the more off-kilter moments from each season. The surprise last minute signings of two mysterious Argentinians on transfer deadline day at the start of the 2006/07 season added some much needed quality to West Ham’s side, but the dramatic denouement to the season left the Hammers seriously out of pocket.
The turn of the millennium hadn’t been particularly kind to West Ham United. Narrowly relegated in 2003 after manager Glenn Roeder had been taken seriously ill, the East London side were then beaten in the Division One play-off final by Crystal Palace before a Bobby Zamora goal secured promotion against Preston North End the following year. By this point the club had appointed Alan Pardew as manager after his impressive spell in his first managerial job at Reading. Pardew had gained automatic promotion from Division Two with the Royals, and took them to the Division One Playoffs at the first time of asking, eventually losing out to Wolves. The Silver Fox quickly took to the role, demonstrating his aptitude as a manager and also his incredibly inflated ego. A famous anecdote from his first season at Upton Park appeared in club photographer Steve Bacon’s autobiography, as he sat down with the boss and fitness coach Tony Strudwick for dinner. After ordering their food Pardew turned to Strudwick and declared ‘Tell you what; if yours is better than mine when it turns up, I’m having that’. True to his word, when the food arrived the manager swapped plates with his fitness coach. When Bacon challenged his behavior, Pardew replied with the immortal line ‘When you’re the King, you can do anything’. After two seasons in charge he’d led West Ham back to the Premier League, which did nothing to assuage Pardew’s arrogance. In their first year back the Hammers finished ninth, reaching the FA Cup final. It looked as though the only way was up for ‘The King’, and the Green Street faithful were looking forward to another season of progress.
Despite scoring 52 goals the previous season – the best record outside the top four – West Ham finished with a goal difference of minus three (the worst defensive record in the top half). With this in mind Tyrone Mears, John Paintsil and George McCartney were all recruited to bolster Pardew’s defensive options, while future England goalkeeper Rob Green was brought in to replace the outgoing Shaka Hislop. Despite going behind at home to Charlton on the opening day of the season, two goals from Marlon Harewood and a debut strike for Carlton Cole gave the Hammers a 3-1 win. A draw at Watford and a narrow defeat at Liverpool followed, but it was clear Pardew’s side were lacking a little bit of quality to take the next step up the Premier League ladder. Enter Kia Joorabchian. The Iranian born businessman was the head of the Media Sports Investment group, who had ties to the Brazilian club Corinthians and financed their transfer activity. In return the group held third-party ownership over players, and towards the end of the 2006 summer transfer window they started howking the names of two unsettled stars to Premier League clubs. West Ham took the bait, and on 31st August a clearly confused but delighted Alan Pardew unveiled the signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. While many Premier League fans won’t have been familiar with the Argentinian’s duo, their names may have sounded familiar – Mascherano had played every minute of Argentina’s World Cup campaign the previous summer, and Tevez had netted in the 6-0 demolition of Serbia and Montenegro in the tournament. Manager Pardew seemed perplexed as to how the board had pulled off a transfer coup of this magnitude, but the issue of third-party ownership had not bothered him in the slightest. The two new boys were slowly integrated into the team, but their presence did not have the immediate required effect. A draw at home to Aston Villa preceeded a run of five defeats on the bounce, leaving West Ham in the bottom three. Home wins over Blackburn and Arsenal were followed by away defeats to Middlesbrough and Chelsea, and despite a narrow victory over Sheffield United at Upton Park, the pressure was starting to mount on Pards. This was due in part to the inconsistency in results, but also the seeming inability to get the most out of the club’s marquee signings. Mascherano had only made five appearances in claret and blue, before Hayden Mullins was preferred in the starting line-up, while Tevez was struggling to settle having failed to score in three months since joining. Something had to give and, after three more defeats scoring none and conceding eight, The King was asked to leave the building.
Readers of a certain age might not remember that Alan Curbishley hasn’t always been an outside bet for every management job going – at one point he was an extremely competent coach that enjoyed a long career with Charlton Athletic that cumulated in their ascension to the Premier League. After leaving The Valley by mutual consent at the end of the previous season Curbishley had spent a few months out of the game, but when West Ham came calling he immediately stepped into the breach. With the club in 18th, two points behind Blackburn, Curbishley took charge of his first game at home to league leaders Manchester United. A 75th minute Nigel Reo-Coker goal sealed a vital three points for the Hammers, and it looked as though the change in the dugout had paid off. Unfortunately it got a whole lot worse before it got better. After shipping Mascherano out on loan to Liverpool, an eleven game winless run followed as Curbishley’s side picked up three points from thirty-three, suffering a 6-0 humbling at Premier League new boys Reading, and beaten 4-0 on the managers return to The Valley. To make matters worse, the new manager of Charlton happened to be one Alan Pardew. On the 4th March, after six months without a goal, Carlos Tevez finally troubled the scoresheet for the first time as a West Ham player, giving the Hammers a 2-0 lead at home to Tottenham. Lady luck was not on their side however, and the hosts conspired to squander a 3-2 lead heading in the last five minutes to lose 4-3. With nine games to go, West Ham were rock bottom and ten points adrift in the relegation zone. Their next game, the visit to a revitalised Blackburn Rovers, saw Tevez strike again, equalizing Chris Samba’s opener with twenty minutes to go. Four minutes later Bobby Zamora popped up to earn the Hammers their first win in 2007. Even better was to come, as Zamora and Tevez both netted to earn a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough, and another Zamora goal secured a shock 1-0 victory on West Ham’s first visit to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. With six games to play, Curbishley’s side were back in touch, and only two points behind Charlton. Back-to-back defeats, including the obligatory six-pointer at Sheffield United, looked to have poured water on the Hammers resurgence, with five points separating them from safety and only four games in which to make up the deficit.
Remarkably, results picked up again. A tight victory at home to Everton was followed by the emphatic dispatching of Wigan and Bolton – the latter of which saw Tevez score twice in a 3-1 win. Going into the last day of the season the Hammers were sitting safely in 17th, two points above Wigan and level with Sheffield United. In a twist of fate the latter two met on the final day at Bramall Lane in something of a relegation play-off. The Latics knew that only a win would do, while Neil Warnock’s side could settle for a draw safe in the knowledge that their visitors would take the final relegation place. The nightmare scenario for West Ham was a Wigan win coupled with a defeat of their own, which would condemn the Hammers to the drop. Luckily they only had to go to Manchester United on the final day and get a result. Fortunately Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had wrapped up the title a couple of weeks prior, with a 0-0 draw at Chelsea ensuring Jose Mourinho’s firm grasp on the Premier League trophy would be prised away. With an FA Cup final against their newest rivals the following week at the new Wembley Stadium, there was the slightest of chances that United wouldn’t be on their game. Thirteen minutes into the game at Bramall Lane Wigan took the lead through Paul Scharner, dropping the Hammers into the bottom three. West Ham survived chances carved out by Wayne rooney, Alan Smith and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before the news that Jon Stead had equalised for the Blades had filtered through. Wigan were back in the drop zone. Then, in first half stoppage time, Paul Jewell’s team were awarded a penalty, and veteran David Unsworth powered the ball home to give the Lancashire side a half-time lead. That news might have sunk Hammers hearts had they not been jumping around in joyous disbelief at the sight of Carlos Tevez giving their side a half-time lead at Old Trafford. The Argentinian played a one-two with Zamora before squeezing his shot across Edwin Van Der Saar and suddenly it was Sheffield United heading down. To the credit of a weakened Manchester United team, everything was thrown at West Ham in the second half, but Curbishley’s defence survived to pull off an extraordinary escape. With no further goals across the Pennines it was Warnock’s side that were relegated. And he was absolutely furious.
The subject of the anagrammed manager’s ire was the manner in which their savior, Tevez, had been signed. Premier League rules state that third-party ownership of players is explicitly forbidden and, after a year-long legal battle, the Hammers were eventually charged with breaking Premier League rules. Despite a points deduction being de riguer in such instances (and Warnock felt the Blades had a case to be reinstated to the league), a record £5.5m fine was imposed on the club. By this point both Tevez and Mascherano had moved on to pastures new – the latter making his loan move to Liverpool permanent while the former moved to Manchester United – Ferguson clearly impressed by the match-winner from the final day. As part of the transfers the two players were freed from their third-party ownership by MSI.
Mounting financial problems at the Boelyn saw the Hammers taken over in 2009 by former Birmingham City owners David Sullivan and David Gold, after Icelandic chairman Björgólfur Guðmundsson became a victim of the financial crash. Relations between Guðmundsson and Curbishley became strained and in 2008 the former Charlton boss quit over broken promises regarding transfers. Gianfranco Zola was brought in to replace him but after a poor 18 months was sacked and replaced by Avram Grant. The following season, West Ham were relegated. Curbishley has not managed since, spending two months as technical director of Fulham, and then rejoining as a coach in 2015. Alan Pardew’s tour of England has taken him from Southampton to Newcastle, and Crystal Palace to West Brom. Despite a crazy period in which some people were seriously touting him as the next England manager, his work has generally been met with disapproval, carving a niche as the streakiest manager in the country before making a prize prat of himself at an FA Cup final. As for Mascherano and Tevez? Well, they sort of drifted into obscurity. Winning just the three Champions Leagues, and nine league titles in spells at Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus and Barcelona. Not bad for a pair of players that Pardew couldn’t get the best out of.
Manchester United secured their first league title in four years thanks to the burgeoning partnership between Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. The two combined to score 31 of United’s 83 goals, while a solid backline of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic echoed the successful defensive partnerships that had served as Ferguson’s foundation when dominating the league in the 90s. There was to be no third party for Jose Mourinho and Chelsea. Unfortunately for Hammers fans, that wasn’t the case at Upton Park.